Literary Criticism on The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

''The Old Man and the Sea'' is the story of Santiago and his struggle to show that age had not made him an incompetent fisherman. This lesson focuses on the literary criticism that the novel and author received.

The Old Man and the Sea

The world of Santiago is focused solely on his home, his village, and his boat. He had been his village's best fisherman until a recent stroke of bad luck. In his desperation to regain the respect he had lost, he goes farther out than any fisherman, ends up catching a giant fish, and fights with it for three days. He heads home happy to have finally regained his honor. However, the sharks smell the blood off the dead fish and eat it down to bones. All Santiago has left to show the people is a skeleton.

This story is primarily about Santiago's self reflection. He feels like he is the brother of the fish and it is his role to kill his brother.

The Old Man and the Sea was Hemingway's last novel. He wrote it as a way to redeem himself because his previous book was unsuccessful. When it came out, he had the full book published in an issue of Life magazine. He wanted people to have access to his work more than he wanted the money from book sales. Life Magazine subsequently sold five million copies of the issue in two days.

Positive Literary Review

The Old Man and the Sea was a resounding success for Ernest Hemingway. Most reviews and critics were positive. William Faulkner, a peer of Hemingway and one that had a contentious relationship with him, admitted to liking the novel. He said ''His best. Time may show it to be the best single piece of any of us, I mean his and my contemporaries. This time, he discovered God, a Creator.'' Faulkner continues: ''Praise God that whatever made and loves and pities Hemingway and me kept him from touching it any further.''

Another positive review was from the New York Times's own Orville Prescott. Prescott wrote this about his thoughts on the novel ''Since they are admirable and Mr. Hemingway admires them, the moral climate of 'The Old Man and the Sea' is fresh and healthy and the old man's ordeal is moving.''

However, Prescott is not completely glowing in his review. He seems to think Hemingway needed to flesh out Santiago's character a bit more. He says ''But good as 'The Old Man and the Sea' is, it is good only in a limited way. The fisherman is not a well-characterized individual. He is a symbol of an attitude toward life. He often thinks and talks poetically and symbolically and so artificially.''

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