Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea vs John Steinbeck, The Pearl
The Old Man and the Sea speaks to me of a journey, venturing towards a goal no matter what, daring to fight and not giving up, staying the storm and holding on despite adversity. It doesn’t say this in a fierce way; it says this in the way of the underdog, enduring much. The old man is old. He is weak. Yet his heart and spirit is strong. And his enduring strength is beautiful. And I love the wisdom, humility, and thirst for learning of Santiago, his young friend, helper, and protégé. Sadly, the story made me wince at the lack of completion; it almost presents life as a series of almost-wins and disappointments, sacrifice for naught. I am rooting for the old man. And Hemingway isn’t.
The Pearl speaks to me of the unappreciated, undervalued wisdom of ‘uncivilised’ cultures. It says: you know more than you think you know. And if I could sum it up in one quote it would be this: ‘Absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ John Dalberg-Acton
They are both must-reads if you are a fan of classic literature.
The books are so different yet so similar. The congruent parabolic nature of both stories, the centuries-old traditions so deeply ingrained made me wonder in amazement at the way tradition can stymie personal happiness and enjoyment of life’s miracles. They both also make you appreciate where you are in life; that where you are, what you have and who you are is enough. It is okay to reach and strive for more, but at what cost?
The painful irony is that the quest for riches in each story is a selfless venture that becomes such a point of fixation it becomes a question of whether the harm ultimately outweighs any potential benefits for the recipient of the treasure they acquire. In other words, when do you let go of your treasure and dream?
Top quotes and phrases
The Old Man and The Sea
‘I try not to borrow. First you borrow. Then you beg.’
‘Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.’
‘It was considered a virtue not to talk unnecessarily at sea and the old man had always considered it so and respected it.’
The affluent Parisian doctor: ‘Have I nothing better to do than cure insect bites for ‘little Indians’? I am a doctor, not a veterinary.’
When he brings the oyster to the surface: ‘Juana sensed his excitement, and she pretended to look away. It is not good to want a thing too much. It sometimes drives the luck away.’
‘In the surface of the great pearl he could see dream forms.’
‘For his dream of the future was real and never to be destroyed, and he had said “I will go,” and that made a real thing too. To determine to go and to say it was to be halfway there.’
‘”This pearl has become my soul,” said Kino. “If I give it up I shall lose my soul.”’
‘He looked into his pearl to find his vision.’
Thank you for reading. Take a look around! Why not view my last book review on Sir Richard Branson’s ‘Business Stripped Bare’ or Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday?
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