An Old Man Vs Wild: Exploring Hemingway Through Modern Prism

Man vs. Wild (2006-2011) the survival television series hosted by Bear Grylls on The Discovery Channel was based on Bear Grylls’ adventures in a region, mostly wild terrains – jungles, forests, or similar non-urban areas as he was left there stranded with his film crew. The series documents his efforts to survive and find a way back to civilization, usually under immensely difficult and life threatening conditions of some kind. Grylls throughout his journey shares successful and failed survival tactics, and techniques staying in the particular area while shooting a particular episode. 

The Old Man and the Sea can be said to be a precursor to the literature, television series like Man vs. Wild and the different forms of entertainment media, films, and video games in the Survival genre, which have been read, watched and played across the world. The genre centres on characters or players who must endure and overcome challenging and often life-threatening circumstances in order to survive. This genre has a rich history and has evolved over time, from  Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe’s to present day television series such as Man vs. wild, Survivor, films such as “The Swiss Family Robinson” (1960) and “Deliverance” (1972)  and Dystopian fiction. In the world of video games, the survival genre began to take shape with titles like “Don’t Starve” (2013), “Minecraft” (2011), and “The Long Dark” (2017). These games required players to gather resources, build shelters, and manage their characters’ basic needs in challenging, open-world environments. The popularity of zombie survival games like “DayZ” (2013) and “7 Days to Die” (2013) brought new dimensions to the genre.

Old Man and the Sea is an American classic written in 1949 by Earnest Hemingway, a short story writer, novelist and journalist. It is a story of a Cuban fisherman’s fishing expedition in a skiff in the Gulf Stream after going 84 days without taking a fish. In the American- Baseball-enthusiast-old fisherman’s 85th day journey, he fights not just hunger, thirst, sleep, and fatigue but also the great strength of a gigantic marlin which effortlessly tow the old man’s sail into the depth of the sea for days.

English Trade Book The Old Man and the Sea By Ernest Hemingway, EduGorilla Prep Experts

The novella shares an insight into an old man’s life spent at sea. He had aged and lost the strength of his youthful days but knew many tricks of his calling and had his ‘resolution’ for all the problems he got into. He could use both his hands, both feet and his whole body to sail, hold multiple fishing lines simultaneously, and use his entire body’s strength to catch a fish weighing much larger than the largest of the lot other fisherman had brought back from fishing trips. He believed in the precision and the discipline of fishing, he said, “it’s better to be lucky but I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready”. His technique and adventures at sea had earned him the respect and the admiration of a bright young boy of his town who had been accompanying him fishing every day before his jinxed attempt at fishing had become known to the entire town. 

The young boy had been taught fishing by the old man when he was 5 years old and as he grew he developed an affectionate bond for the old man as they went fishing together. The old man at once becomes both the conqueror, and the captive in the depths of sea. He may dare more than others, face great dangers and win glory in the face of death but like everything in the world his destiny too is bound by the natural order of the world. Old man and the Sea was published almost a 100 years after the publication of Moby Dick (1851), the popular symbolic maritime novel, and shares with it the philosophical ideas of a man who questions his existence, his vocation, the idea of sin, and his destiny through his journey in the heart of the sea.

The journey made in the depths of sea outside the presence of society and its material objects isn’t not merely motivated by survival needs but by the desire for liberation from a static existence. Life of Pi by Yann Martin (2001) has also been compared by many readers as a novel similar in theme and its philosophical moorings to The Old man and the Sea. Unlike the old and wise hero in the latter who always dreamt in his sleep of the lions, whom he had encountered as a young boy in Africa, in the former a young boy named Pi has to actually face and save himself all on his own from a living Royal Bengal tiger in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. 

The universe inhabited by Santiago, the old fisherman, is not free of tragedy and pain but these are transcended in his journey by the realization of his trivial presence in the womb of the great sea. Inside the sea he meets and observes the many creatures of the sea; the birds, the turtles, the porpoises, and the fishes etc… He talks to some and thinks deeply of others, though he can’t talk to them in their language or make them understand his thoughts but he feels less lonely and more alive in their presence. Every creature he encounters at the sea whether hostile or unthreatening, he compares their nature, action and life with his own, and judges himself no more superior to them than as an equal. Here the relationship of Nature to man isn’t anthropocentric or centred around one man but about the intertwined nature of the relationship between man and nature at every point of his journey. 

He can kill the stronger opponent with his strength and the alertness of his mind but he would learn to share his fruit of victory with the other stronger species in the game of the survival of the fittest. Ironically there is also a sense of brotherhood and love present in the natural world where seemingly everybody is killing or being killed. Even the old man who kills the marlin comes to appreciate and love the marlin as a brother for its great strength and intelligence. He feels helpless to kill him in a survival struggle and feels remorse at killing it. In a way the novel celebrates not just the heroic deeds of a man but also the natural intelligence and extraordinary sensory and survival skills of the living creatures that have their home inside the sea. 

The Old man and the Sea is often looked at as the work that brought Hemingway on the world map of the Greatest English Novelists. The novel was mentioned by the Swedish Academy in 1954, when awarding Hemingway the Nobel Prize in Literature; they praised its “powerful, style-making mastery of the art of modern narration”.  Acclaimed by many critics, it had been claimed to be a reflection of Hemingway’s own experience, punctuated by his ‘saudade’ for his Spanish roots. Drawn hugely from his own experiences in Cuba, this book placed him alongside William Faulkner and Herman Melville, the most popular American novelists of all times.

By Shrestha Chopra
By Booked4Books Network