I am a feminist. And I am a Hemingway fan. A huge, gushing, lover of that man’s writing, ever since 11th grade AP English and A Farewell to Arms. But in the last couple years, as I came to grips with my identity as a feminist, I realized that his work has some pretty problematic elements. Since I started blogging, I was hesitant to read anything by him, as I’d have to actually engage with the more problematic aspects of his writing. That made me nervous.
Fortunately, The Old Man and the Sea lacks the overtly misogynistic elements that can be found in some of his other works. Instead, there’s merely (harumph) the complete absence of women. Honestly, it’s not all that aggravating, as there are pretty much only two characters in the book. There’s the old man and the young boy. Other people exist somewhere offstage, but don’t play a central role.
My favorite thing about Hemingway’s writing is that there is just the perfect sentence, that says exactly what it says, but so much more at the same time:
The line went out and out and out but it was slowing now and he was making the fish earn each inch of it.
Here’s an old man, by himself, way, way out in the open sea, attached to a hugely muscled fish by some rope and a metal hook. He’s not had a real meal in recent memory, and hasn’t caught a fish in eighty-four days. If he can’t bring a fish into the market soon, his situation is going to become even more desperate than it already is. Clearly, from the quote above, he catches a fish. But then what?
The Old Man and the Sea is not my favorite Hemingway. It’s pretty simplistic. I think that Hemingway’s fable-like works are better when they’re shorter. I don’t think that this book could have been much shorter to convey the same effect, but at the same time, it feels too long to be rather one-note.