Top critical review
Better than I remember from high school
on May 4, 2004
There's just too much minute fishing detail going on in this story, and not enough of it is interesting. Hemingway writes well here, even though I've never cared for his style, the almost staccato short, declarative sentences. It's certainly more elegant here than in "The Sun Also Rises," (I've never cared for his dialogue), but we're talking about more than 100 pages about a fishing trip and all the interior monologue that goes with it. There are only two characters in this story, the rest are window dressing, and barely that. The old man (Santiago is his name, it took me a minute to remember it -- that should tell you something) is the central character, the boy (can't even remember his name, Manolo or Manolin, something like that) is the other. But, actually, the fish, a huge 1,800-pound marlin probably has a bigger role than the boy. There's almost no dialogue, it's all the man speaking aloud while he's alone in the boat. Just not that interesting, mainly because it takes so long for the man to really have to fight with the marlin and with his fate. I actually expected to be less interested, having read this in high school a million years ago, but once the old man starts bringing the fish up it gets more interesting.
A good place to start if you've never read Hemingway. Quick, easy read. But maybe I need to be an old man to really appreciate the messages here. To me it seemed obvious. I'll have to pick up the Cliff's Notes to see about underlying symbolism, I'm sure there's a lot more to it than just a fish story. Man fights off loneliness and death, becomes a hero despite failure; fish represents death, old age, etc., whatever. But as an entertainment, it's just average. I'm sure "Jaws" is probably a lot more entertaining, and I know "Moby Dick" has far more layers of meaning and symbolism. You might consider one of those two instead.