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Old Man and the Sea

July 8, 2013 - Meg Alexander
For years I listened to people complain about having to read “The Old Man and the Sea” in high school English class, so even though I’ve enjoyed many of Hemingway’s short stories, and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is one of my all-time favorite books, the idea of struggling through “The Old Man and the Sea” was an exercise in perseverance I figured I could do without. Looking for a quick read in my home library, I noticed the thin copy I picked up for a quarter at a used book sale, and figured I’d give it a whirl. It was love at first sentence. “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.” Great, right? Part of what I adore about Hemingway is the sparsity, which simply gives my imagination more room to imagine, but when he does get descriptive, there’s a beauty to the simplicity, almost like poetry. Take, for example, his second paragraph. “The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck. The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection on the tropic sea were on his cheeks. The blotches ran well down the sides of his face and his hands had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert.” Several of my friends scoffed at my initial enthusiasm. “Let’s see how you feel about it when you’re 2/3 of the way through it,” one said. But I stayed up late into the night, or rather the morning, to finish “Old Man and the Sea,” and I’ve been singing its praises ever since. I think had I read this book in high school, I too would have complained it was tedious and pointless, etc., etc. But as an adult, with a little bit of life experience and a better understanding of the pain and purpose of failure, “Old Man and the Sea” was a gorgeous little read, and a good reminder to keep on keepin’ on, regardless of the outcome.


Article Comments

Jul-09-13 1:48 AM

Looking back on my own school days, I think many of the classics we were assigned simply weren't meant for the teen years. And it hardly helps that they are made mandatory, with tests and teacher-led discussions that themselves miss the author's intended message.

Dickens, Faulkner, Heller and others: a dreary bore in HS English, a pleasure in midlife and later. If that school experience doesn't turn off any desire to reread. Your experience suggests that for many people, it does.


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