I’ll make a confession to you and I’m shy about it. For 27 years of my life, I had never read a book by Ernest Hemingway. Well, it’s now a thing of the past. The Old Man and the Sea was my first Hemingway’s experience. I can say I’ve really appreciated it. To make a little background, the book was written in 1951 in Cuba and published in 1952. It is the work that made Hemingway well known. He won a Pulitzer Prize for it in 1953 and it was one of the main reasons for is Nobel prize of 1954.
In this book, the author bring us into the life of an old cuban fisherman named “Santiago”. The whole book is a battle between a fisherman and a huge fish (a large marlin). At the beginning of the book, the protagonist is out of luck. He didn’t catch any fish in the last 84 days. On the 85th day, he sail far on the Gulf Stream with the intention of turning the tide. By noon the first day, a fish bait is line. The battle begin. After days of struggle, he finally catch the giant fish. Unfortunately, he’s unable to get the fish inside the boat. The marlin is simply too heavy. The catch will be devoured by sharks on his way back. The fights that Santiago had with the marlin, nature and sharks can offer many life lessons. Here are my three favorite lessons.
One of the main message of the book is that luck isn’t something we should depend on. Santiago is called a “Salao” by the villagers. It means that he is doom by the worst luck. He even lose is fishing partner, a young boy, because of that. Santiago believe in his own skills. He thought that with perseverance he can shift to momentum. “To hell with luck,” he thinks. “I’ll bring the luck with me.” The old man work hard and he use the best techniques. He knows that good things don’t happen to those who wait. He’s a great example to follow. As Thomas Jefferson said:“I’m a great believer in luck, and I have found the harder I work, the more I have of it.”
Another important lesson of the book is to accept the present moment for what it is. The fight between Santiago and the fish is long. It last a few days. The fisherman hurt his hands during the battle. He’s alone and he doesn’t have anything to cook food. Even with all those problems, he doesn’t quit. He knew that all of it is a temporary situation. “He was shivering with the morning cold. But he knew he would shiver himself warm and that soon he would be rowing.” He accept the suffering without complaint.
Finally, the book put a lot of emphasis on the idea that we must refuse to give up. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated“. Being destroyed is something you don’t have control on. You can die, but it doesn’t mean it happened because you gave up. To be defeated you need to give up. If you don’t, you can’t be defeated. The best example is the American conflict against communists in Vietnam (1959-1975). The south of the country was occupied by US army but Viet Congs never surrendered. Therefore, they were never defeated. Even if Santiago only brought back the fish bone, he wasn’t defeated by the sharks because he never abandoned the fight.