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“The Old Man and the Sea” Reveals Hemingway’s Green Streak

“The Old Man and the Sea” Reveals Hemingway’s Green Streak

“Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than you, brother. Come on and kill me. I do not care who kills who.”

Thus Santiago, the protagonist of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” expresses his affinity with the natural world. He is strengthened and sustained by his connection to the giant marlin that he has hooked.

Hemingway’s beautiful novella was first published just 60 years ago, on September 8, 1952. Since then, it has sold millions of copies, been translated into numerous languages, and has never been out of print. It earned Hemingway a Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and was instrumental in his being awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.

As Vladimir Nabokov famously said: “One cannot read a book: one can only reread it.” As I reread the tale of Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman who kills a giant marlin after fighting it for three days and struggles to lash it alongside his tiny skiff, only to have it devoured by sharks before he can reach the shore, I understood what Nabokov meant. On first reading, I was caught up in the plot: this time I knew that this was a story about the place of humans on planet earth.

This slim volume may have been published sixty years ago, but it has an urgent message for us today. The title says it all. As Santiago states, “No man was ever alone on the sea.” We are all one, all part of the same planet, and we must work to protect the world around us. And one way to do that is to observe carefully our natural surroundings.

Hemingway does this brilliantly

The line rose slowly and steadily and then the surface of the ocean bulged ahead of the boat and the fish came out. He came out unendingly and water poured from his sides. He was bright in the sun and his head and back were dark purple and in the sun the stripes on his sides showed wide and a light lavender. His sword was as long as a baseball bat and tapered like a rapier and he rose his full length from the water and then re-entered it, smoothly, like a diver and the old man saw the great scythe-like blade of his tail go under and the line commenced to race out.

Such careful observation of nature leads us to realize that we too are part of this natural world. The movement to re-connect children to nature is growing, but all of us, not just our children, need that connection in order to be complete human beings.

Go read (or reread) “The Old Man and the Sea,” and you will feel that deep communication that exists between Santiago and the giant marlin who pulls him so far out to sea.

Ernest Hemingway is a masterful writer, but his macho attitude often prevents readers, especially women, from appreciating his talents. But in this novella, he uses his considerable experience of marlin-fishing to bring to life this important message: there is a powerful energy in nature that connects us all.


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Photo Credit: Freerk Knobbe

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12:26PM PDT on Sep 13, 2012

Who did the painting that illustrates this article and what's its title? It's nice. The style looks like Miró.

9:50AM PDT on Sep 12, 2012

Yes, I've also read this novella - second time when I was already vegan. It's sad that how much strengh anв effort a human puts into doing things against nature... The writer could have also written a book about hunting and how it 'connects' people to nature. But in what way? It's better to seek harmony than destroy natural habitat and living beings. Only people do that in such extent . And it's depressing...

9:28AM PDT on Sep 11, 2012

One of the best things about retirement is that I'll be able to spend more time in nature.

1:14AM PDT on Sep 11, 2012

It's one of my fav novels .. I like Hemingway's works

2:14PM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

"The Old Man & the Sea" has a green streak in that the beauty and power of the sea and nature come thru, but Hemingway was into patriarchal dominance over nature. The novella is about man's (not womyn's) inhumanity to man. Santiago struggles w/ senility, loneliness, depression. He soldiers on, confused, making choices that almost do him in. In trying to keep his chin up, he refuses to see that his village has abandoned him. He longs for the help and companionship of the boy he had trained, and the boy--the real hero of the novella--comes thru in the end, against his parents' wishes, a shining glimmer of compassion and loyalty.

Teen reading was superficial. Like "The Little Prince," surprising metaphors surface upon re-reading decades later. Unlike "The Little Prince, " two readings of the dour Old Man and the Sea are sufficient for a lifetime, imo. In these times, we need inspiration. Much preferable: Barbara Kinsgolver, the Lappe's, Alice Walker, Joanna Macy, Diane Ackerman, Jeffrey Masson, Michael Parenti, Howard Zinn, Cecile Pineda and political writers w/ humor like Greg Palast and Michael Moore. We cannot afford to wallow in old depressing tales. The world--on the brink now more than ever--needs us awake, aware, and active please. That choice is also personally healthier. I want to fill my heart/mind w/ useful info and uplifting examples of creative people choosing to live fully while enacting positive change.

10:59AM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

interesting thanks!!

7:41AM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

A wonderful story of the fragile relationship between man and nature. Written in a time when American authors still had a sense and use of the English language.

6:07AM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

It was required reading for me in high school. Didn't really enjoy it and have no plans to read it again. Thx for your post though.

3:19AM PDT on Sep 10, 2012


11:34PM PDT on Sep 9, 2012

some how I don't think Hemingway was a naturalist ..he might be a good observer ,but he was not for animals and their rights ...don't forget all the bull fights ... It saddened me to read this book also way back in school ....Not for the old man !!! but for the huge fish ..what ever it represents in our world ...... that humans have the "audacity" to take over the see , the huge fish ....
Hemingway had the same hunger ....bull fighters too !
sorry I can not see his "green" side as you put it .

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