The Old Man and The Sea

Ernest Hemingway

Published 1952


What is it about?

An elderly fisherman attempts to break his 84 day unlucky streak by catching an 18ft marlin.

How long is it?

100 pages.

Is it easy to read?

Hemingway’s style is famously lean and simple; it’s very easy to read.

Is it any good? 

Yes. The book was met with universal acclaim when it was first published; it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and won its author the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954.

How will it inspire me?

The book is about a man’s triumph of will over nature as well as affirming the importance of self belief and perseverance in the face of great external difficulties.

When the story begins, Santiago is at his lowest point. He is old, he is alone and he has been without a catch in nearly three months. All the young fisherman put him down, they call him ‘salao’ as in jinxed, he is broke and relies on the charity of a young boy who’s parents have forbid him from helping the old man.

In the face of all this however he retains his dignity and does not lose faith in his ability as a fisherman. He doesn’t complain, he doesn’t despair, he continues every morning to take his boat out and do ‘that which I was born for.’

On the eighty-fifth morning he snares a giant marlin and the remainder of the book involves his battle to bring it in. The master stroke of the story is Santiago’s internal dialogue, in which he constantly expels doubt from his mind whenever it creeps in. Like the water around his skiff that would sink him if it got in, he doesn’t allow doubt to settle in his head and dissuade him from his goal.

Always remember, being confident does not mean that you never have negative thoughts or experience feelings of doubt, being confident in fact often involves simply the ability to expel those thoughts from your mind. It’s what Tom Bilyeu calls ‘mental jiu jitsu’.

The determination Santiago has allows him to overcome his frail emaciated frame. The fish that he is trying to catch is bigger than the skiff that he is sailing in, it is stronger than him and pulls him further and further out to sea. He could just let go, however despite the excruciating pain in his hands and across his back, he continues on. The sea is choppy, the sun is burning during the day and it is freezing at night, but Santiago has fixed it in his mind that he is going to kill the fish and bring it in no matter what.

This is the perfect book to begin this blog with as it was the first book I ever read that genuinely inspired me as a man. The story promotes these important qualities:

-Never care what others are saying about you, it’s none of your business.

-Never blame anyone for your lot, take personal responsibility for your life.

-Never complain, self pity will turn you into a victim.

-Control your thoughts, confidence and self belief begin in your own mind.

-A sense of purpose will stave off misery and despair.

And most importantly…

-Persistence is key, you are NOT defeated until you quit.

Choice lines:

‘This will kill him, the old man thought. He can’t do this for ever. But four hours later the fish was still swimming steadily out to sea, towing the skiff, and the old man was still braced solidly with the line across his back.’

‘The old man had seen many great fish. He had seen many that weighed more than a thousand pounds and he had caught two of that size in his life, but never alone. Now alone, and out of sight of land, he was fast to the biggest fish he had ever seen and bigger than he had ever heard of, and his left hand was still as tight as the gripped claws of an eagle.’

‘Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.’

‘Let him think that I am more man than I am and I will be so. I wish I was the fish, he thought, with everything he has against only my will and my intelligence.’

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