Critical Assessment

“. . . one should not forget that his narrative skill often attains its highest point when cast in a smaller mould, in the laconic, drastically pruned short story, which, with a unique combination of simplicity and precision, nails its theme into our consciousness so that every blow tells. Such a masterpiece, more than any other, is The Old Man and the Sea (1952), the unforgettable story of an old Cuban fisherman’s duel with a huge swordfish in the Atlantic. Within the frame of a sporting tale, a moving perspective of man’s destiny is opened up; the story is a tribute to the fighting spirit, which does not give in even if the material gain is nil, a tribute to the moral victory in the midst of defeat. The drama is enacted before our eyes, hour by hour, allowing the robust details to accumulate and take on momentous significance. ‘But man is not made for defeat,’ the book says. ‘A man can be destroyed but not defeated.'”

Anders Österling, Presentation Speech, Nobel Prize in Literature, 1954.

First Excerpt

“He was sorry for the birds, especially the small delicate dark terns that were always flying and looking and almost never finding, and he thought, the birds have a harder life than we do except for the robber birds and the heavy strong ones. Why did they make birds so delicate and fine as those sea swallows when the ocean can be so cruel? She is kind and very beautiful. But she can be so cruel and it comes so suddenly and such birds that fly, dipping and hunting, with their small sad voices are made too delicately for the sea.

“He always thought of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they are always said as though she were a woman. Some of the younger fishermen, those who used buoys as floats for their lines and had motorboats, bought when the shark livers had brought much money, spoke of her as el mar which is masculine. They spoke of her as a contestant or a place or even an enemy. But the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favours, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them.”

tumblr_mgtwzfw8J21qb8ugro1_500Second Excerpt

“‘Fish,’ the old man said. ‘Fish, you are going to have to die anyway. Do you have to kill me too?’

“That way nothing is accomplished, he thought. His mouth was too dry to speak but he could not reach for the water now. I must get him alongside this time, he thought. I am not good for many more turns. Yes you are, he told himself. You’re good for ever.

“On the next turn, he nearly had him. But again the fish righted himself and swam slowly away.

“You are killing me, fish, the old man thought. But you have a right to. 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.

“Now you are getting confused in the head, he thought. You must keep your head clear. Keep your head clear and know how to suffer like a man. Or a fish, he thought.”