Great writers make good use of literary devices and techniques in an exceptional manner to demonstrate their mastery in the art of writing. In the history of American literature, The Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemingway is a worthy notification as a novel that mastered the use of literary devices and techniques as well as symbolism to give the readers a literary value of the book (Hartman, p 24). The language employed in the book is simple and but unique and deliberate in nature. The story in the novel reflects an epic struggle that happens in an old fisherman from Cuba known as Santiago and his greatest catch in his lifetime. Literature often echoes our daily lives and the society’s characteristics as well while giving the readers a pleasure and this is only attainable by proper and masterful use of literary devices and techniques by the author. The purpose of this paper is to explore and assess the technical aspects of the book, the themes employed by the author and the meaning of the story.
The book though called a novel is not divided into chapters and only has 27500 words thus making it long to be classified as a short story (Cooperman, p 23). The book as stated revolves around an old fisherman in Cuba known as Santiago and who is having a bad run with fishing as he has gone for eighty-four days without a catch. His lack of success does not ruin his spirit of fishing. His only friend is Manolin, but this lasted only for forty days before Manolin was forced to join another team of fishermen. Luckily, one day he catches a marlin, and after struggling with the fish for two days, he finally defeats the fish and begins sailing home where again his is forced into another war by sharks. He successfully makes it back home but only with the skeleton, exhausted, he collapses in his bed and is taken away by sleep.
Analyzing the Language Style
The most dominant aspect that is evident through this book is the idea that the author rarely uses abstract nouns and adjectives and avoids using complicated syntax but heavily relies on short sentences that are direct with details. The main use of short sentences is to add weight to the tension of the story, and this is a style that is used by authors who want to replicate what they see in real life (Foerster, p 56). In the book, where the author is not utilizing the short sentences, he brings together various parts of a given sentence in a sequential and straightforward manner, mostly characterized by the use of ‘and’. In several areas, the author omits the use of ‘he said’ to make his words colloquial, and this helps the reader understand the characters as if he was listening to the conversation. In creating the sentences, it is evident that they are simple sentences with repeated rhythms making most of the conversations connotative and suggestive reflecting the strong underlying emotions. For example (Hemingway, p 18),
“Age is my alarm clock,” the old man said. “Why does old man wake so early? Is it to have one longer day?”
“I don’t know,” the boy said. “All I know is that young boys sleep late and hard.”
In addition, it is evident in this conversation that though there are emotions that the characters are trying to communicate, the author does not allow them to express their feelings directly. In a case where a writer of a story has sufficient knowledge of what he is communicating about, then he may perhaps skip things that the writer and the reader will associate with as if the writer had included them in the real sense (Xie, p 157). Earnest Hemingway employed this technique to give the readers an image of compression also known as the iceberg effect, where the readers learn the disguised meaning and thoughts of the author.
Owning this knowledge helps us understand that the whole idea of the novel is encompassed in fishing. When we keenly look at Santiago and his attitude towards fishing, then we come to realize that to him, fishing is not about the contest but rather part his life that he must fulfill.
The Use of Facts
Besides the language style used by the author, the story is also commonly respected for the author implemented writing techniques and among them is the use of facts. Stating chief events that happen within a prose help readers familiarize with the plot of the story and create the notion that the stories are based on real incidences. In this book, the facts are selected such as the Santiago, the boy, sea, sharks and fish are not mainly built detail by detail in our minds, but rather we share same imagination with the author who relies on selection. It is important to understand that the novel is not a manual of how we need to fish but rather a narrative. The author therefore in this book implicates the imagination of the readers by appealing to the practical knowledge that we already possess and this is proof that facts are techniques of heartening our sense of real life. An example of this technique is the utilization of color when he describes, “The clouds over the land now rose like mountains, and the coast was only a long green line with the gray-blue hills behind it. The water was a dark blue now, so dark that it was almost purple. As he looked down into it, he saw the red shifting of the plankton in the dark water and the strange light the sun made now.” (Hemingway p 21). Such details appeal to the reader’s fishing process but based on the author’s experience but still satisfy the readers’ sense of the real world.
The author most of the time through the story draws the connection that Santiago and his environments such as the stars, the birds, and the fish are illustrated as his friends or brothers. Santiago is also stated to be having the heart of a turtle, and he eats the turtle egg to gain strength. Additionally, elements are contradicted through the novel to show the aspect of being unified as a whole such as the sea is described as both kind and cruel, sometimes it is feminine while at certain moments it is masculine. The Portuguese man of war is described as beautiful, but still, he is deadly; the shark known as Mako is a noble shark but at the same time cruel. Another form of unity is the perspective that Santiago holds towards success and failure as to him both are same facets from the same point of existence.
Honor in Perseverance
From the beginning of the book, Santiago is represented as an individual going through battles in his life, and he is constantly having a struggle with defeat. First and the dominant form of perseverance is when we are told that Santiago had gone for eighty-four days with no chance of catching a single fish. Instead of giving up, Santiago persevered every day and not giving knowing that one day, he would catch a fish. The old man refuses defeat in every turn where most people would give up and decides to sail further than where other fishermen have ever gone in hopes that there is a bigger catch in the forsaken territories. After eighty-seven days, he finally catches the marlin, but even in this time where he should enjoy his victory, he is attacked by sharks and still does not give up. He fights the Sharks despite the fact that he realizes the fight is useless. Though it can be said that the book is about someone battling against the ordinary world, the story is precisely telling of man’s position in nature as Santiago, and his fish illustrate bravery, honor, and pride (Melling, p 11). Though he only arrives at the shore with the skeleton, Santiago is honored by the task that he had accomplished and no one remembers him as the fisherman with a bad day at sea.
Meaning and Symbolism
The book has used symbolism as one of the major techniques in amplifying the meaning of the story, and therefore the book cannot be literally taken as the story of a fisherman but rather the life of the author. The sea plays a great role in the novel as it represents a setting in the story since all the main events if the story happens in the sea. The sea thus symbolizes the universe and represents Santiago’s isolation in the universe. Using the sea as the universe and Santiago as a representation of being, we clearly understand that people have different identities on this earth and are helpless from each other hence ending alone. Back in the village, which represents home, we see Santiago is known as a fisherman and is sometimes helped by Manolin and others, but it is at the sea that Santiago faces his ultimate challenge every day. At sea, he has no face and no help, and according to Hemmingway, man can prove his worth only in isolation.
The other notable symbolism we encounter in Santiago’s eyes that stay the same color and never changes, and this symbolizes determination of the old man. The author states that everything about the character was old apart from his eye that never changed their color but remained the matching color as the sea and was cheery and undefeated. It thus means that despite how life had been unkind to Santiago his determination stayed the same, hopeful and determined.
Santiago, on the other hand, is a representation of an average man who has the nature of not declining to defeat as well as he symbolizes the nature that man needs to attain and hold to be successful in life. There is so much suffering when Santiago is at sea such as when fighting with Marlin and then fighting against the Sharks. However, it is noticeable that he bears these sufferings without complaining about the hardship of his life. Santiago represents a man’s true nature, which is to never give into defeat.
To make The Old Man and the Sea a unique book, the author implemented unique skills in passing his message while using the symbolism as a technique to bring to the surface the art of narration. The language as noted is natural and straightforward but artificial and deliberate hence hiding the emotion aspect of the prose. The author uses an old man in the quest of acquiring his greatest catch and his struggle to protect his achievement, and without having a keen eye at what the story is about, it is easy to miss out on the meaning of the book.
Cooperman, Stanley. Ernest Hemingway’s The old man and the sea: a critical commentary. 1st ed., New York, NY, Monarch Press, 1965.
Foerster, Norman. A survey of American literature: image of America. Tokyo, Kinseido, 1965.
Hartman, Melissa. “Fascinating Classics: The Old Man and the Sea.” Imagine, vol. 5, no. 5, 1998, pp. 24–25., doi:10.1353/imag.2003.0107.
Hemingway, Ernest. The old man and the sea. 2nd ed., New York, Scribner, 1952.
Melling, Philip H. “Cultural Imperialism, Afro-Cuban Religion, and Santiago’s Failure in The Old Man and the Sea.” The Hemingway Review, vol. 26, no. 1, 2006, pp. 6–24., doi:10.1353/hem.2006.0050.
Xie, Yaochen. “Hemingway’s Language Style and Writing Techniques in The Old Man and the Sea.” English Language Teaching, vol. 1, no. 2, 1 Dec. 2008, pp. 156–158., doi:10.5539/elt.v1n2p156.