Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Art of Ending a Novel: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The old man caught a big fish, bigger than any fish he had ever caught. To him it was his greatest personal triumph. Hemingway skillfully ended the novel in a realm of human consciousness. Dr  Abe V Rotor 
This novel earned Hemingway the Pulitzer Award which focused him to win the Nobel Prize for Literature later. To me The Old Man and the Sea is Hemingway’s real masterpiece.  Perhaps it is because I am an old man myself searching for meaning in life, the way the character in his sunset years sought to catch the biggest fish in his whole life.

He caught a big fish, bigger than any fish he had caught. And he caught it all alone in open sea to the point of fighting for his own survival. To him It was a singular personal triumph.

On his way back with his prize catch, sharks relentlessly attacked and reduced it to a mere skeleton.  Which was all that he was able to bring to shore.

Now Hemingway was caught at a dead end.  It is not the end of the story, of course.  This is not an unusual dilemma many novelists face. In fact they must create the appropriate scenario in the epilogue to guide the reader to a post-ending within a realm of freedom of thought and creativity. In many stories, the boundary of The End and the Epilogue is but a thin line.

To end a novel maybe simple with “boy meets girl” theme. It may be a puzzle like “The Lady or the Tiger.”  Or ends like a fairy tale, “they lived happily ever after.” Realism tells us that a story is but a chapter of a bigger story, and can be understood better in a series.

In my readings, the great writer had  a wastepaper basket by his side as he wrote, and needed it most towards the last part of his novel.  The author skipped the last chapter in lieu of a few pages like finishing the mortise and tenon of a master craft.

Tactfully Hemingway worked his message across, typical of his characteristic signature of his writings as shown in  For Whom the Bell Tolls, Snows of Kilimanjaro, Farewell to arms, among his novels: forceful, concise, ephemeral yet memorable, ordinary yet classical.  The old man got his biggest fish the world may never know.  This is the way of a hero - unsung and remaining incognito, leaving it to the world to judge. The hero is pitted to a cause, lives or dies in tragedy, for that cause - the human spirit lives on.  

The characters presented in The Old Man and the Sea deviate from the conventional, and even contemporary. Here are the symbolic roles played by the living and non-living, man and nature, and ultimately man and himself, leaving a great part of humanity in a bandwagon. Literature has indeed evolved into our postmodern times yet it retains the philosophy and values on which literature was founded and preserved. ~ 
pp 126-127 (last two pages) Schribner NY

That afternoon there was  a party of tourists at the Terrace and looking down in the water among the empty beer cans and dead barracudas a woman saw a great white spine with a huge tail at the end that lifted and swung with the tide while the east wind blew a heavy steady sea outside the entrance to the harbour.

"What's that?" she asked a waiter and pointed to the long backbone of the great fish that as now just garbage waiting to go out with the tide. 

"Tiburon," the waiter said.  "Eshark."  He was meaning to explain what had happened.  
"I didn't know sharks had such handsome, beautifully formed tails."

"I didn't know either," her male companion said.

Up the road, in his shack, the old man was sleeping again.  He was still sleeping on his face and the boy was sitting by him watching him.  The old man was dreaming about the lions. ~


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