The Classics Circuit is an awesome opportunity to tour classic books falling under different themes. This circuit is on "The Lost Generation" of American writers - those who "came of age and were called to service during the 'Great War.' (Quoted from the Classics Circuit web page). While at first I thought I would choose F. Scott Fitzgerald as my topic to write about for the tour because he is one of my favorite writers, I decided instead to dive into Hemingway, for a couple of different reasons.The first reason is a little bit silly. When I was in Paris, I happened across a gorgeous little bookshop in the Latin Quarter called Shakespeare & Company. One of the little quirks of this shop is that the second floor houses writing tables, shelves of used books for references, and a few beds for any struggling artist/writer to put up for the night. Hemingway allegedly slept on one of those beds, and I took a picture there. I feel a little like a poser, being so excited about my Hemingway-bed-picture and having only read one Hemingway.
The second reason is because of that solitary Hemingway that I have read. I read A Farewell to Arms for pleasure in high school, and liked it decently. It was not a favorite or anything that made a huge enduring impression, but I didn't hate it either. However, a few months later I was required to read it for my junior English class. I've noticed that I don't hate books that I'm "forced" to read the first time, but if I'm "forced" to reread a book it usually leaves a bad taste in my mouth. After that experience I had a professed distaste for the novel and how dark and cynical it was. It put me off Hemingway for quite a while, although I knew that eventually I'd have to try again.
And here we are with the results of my second try.
The most noticeable aspect of Hemingway is, for me, his writing style. His voice is distinct and different from any other writer I have ever read. It is clean cut, straightforward, and obvious. I think this style is the main reason why people either love or hate Hemingway. I remember my first boyfriend going on about a Hemingway book - he said, "It's just Hemingway talking and it's awesome." It took me a little while to make up my mind if I was in the loving or hating camp, but I think I am a Hemingway convert. His voice is slow, soothing, and obvious, but still manages to paint images in a beautiful, clear way. My favorite passage describes a shark coming to attack the man and his hard-won fish -
He was a very big Mako shark built to swim as fast as the fastest fish in the sea and everything about him was beautiful except his jaws. His back was as blue as a swordfish's and his belly was silver and his hide was smooth and handsome. He was built as a swordfish except for his huge jaws which were tight shut now as he swam fast, just under the surface with his high dorsal fin knifing through the water without wavering. Inside the closed double lip of his jaws all of his eight rows of teeth were slanted inwards.The language is simple, but the picture is completely obvious in my mind.
I also loved getting to know the strength and fortitude of the old man. He is alone for most of the story, but his actions speak volumes about his character. We are first introduced to him by this description: "Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same colour as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated." We learn that he is strong and unwavering, despite his age and his destitute circumstances. We learn he has nothing except the love of a boy who used to fish in his boat, but who has since left it to fish in a "luckier" boat (under command of his father). We see some pathos and loneliness in his life, despite his inner strength and resolve to go forward and catch a big fish - "Once there had been a tinted photograph of his wife on the wall but he had taken it down because it made him too lonely to see it and it was on the shelf in the corner under his clean shirt" and "If the boy were here he would wet the coils of line, he though. Yes. If the boy were here. If the boy were here." We hear the old man suffering as his hands are cut and bleeding, as he rations his water and eats raw fish to stay alive in pursuit of his big fish, as we watch him curled up against the line to snatch just a few minutes of sleep.
As I read, I had to ask myself, what is the point of this story? Because, okay, it's cool that Santiago caught a huge fish, and that he struggled with it over many days and nights. It's touching that the boy cares so much for him, even though he isn't allowed to fish on his boat anymore. The writing is beautiful. But the story itself isn't a cliff hanger - the events are not especially interesting. I think the answer is in Santiago, and I think there are two messages. I haven't really studied literature, and I'm not familiar with the "philosophy" of Ernest Hemingway, if he has one. But the message, to me, was this - that man is noble, and he will fight to achieve his goals to his very limits, but that he is conquerable by circumstance and fate. It isn't a happy ending, but I think it is moving because it rings true with all of us. Whether or not we actually believe in fate, there are moments when things overcome us that we fight and fight, but that may still win. Although the details of Santiago's fishing line and the cuts across his hands would not usually make a powerful story for me, the underlying sense of the human condition made this simple tale a great classic.