Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Old Man and the Sea

A book club pick. Hemingway won the Pulitzer in 1953 for this. I've read it a couple times before. I like it better every time I read it; I suppose that has something to do with getting older and being better able to imagine the burdens of physical decline and to appreciate the dignity in fighting against it.

I understand that Hemingway despised Moby Dick, so one of my amusements as I read it this time was to wonder to what degree The Old Man and the Sea (at about 100 pages) was a response to Moby Dick, sort of a "See -- You can write a man-goes-fishing story rich with allegorical meaning and religious symbolism and details about the fishing process without boring people to tears for hundreds of pages on end." Apparently, oodles of others have done the same exercise; maybe everyone who reads it in a lit class is tasked to do the same thing.

I also wondered whether the story is any sort of comment about Social Security which came into existence about 20 years prior to publication of the Old Man. I don't think it is, but I could not stop thinking how Santiago would not have to be risking life and limb to catch a fish if he had social security, but also how Santiago's need to fish to make a living gives him purpose, gives him the opportunity to prove his vitality and usefulness to himself and his community, and how the lack of the safety net of SS yields the rich friendship and care of Manolin (the boy).

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