The Old Man and the Sea

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Important Quotes Explained

Quotes Important Quotes Explained
2. Just then the stern line came taut under his foot, where he had kept the loop of the line, and he dropped his oars and felt the weight of the small tuna’s shivering pull as he held the line firm and commenced to haul it in. The shivering increased as he pulled in and he could see the blue back of the fish in the water and the gold of his sides before he swung him over the side and into the boat. He lay in the stern in the sun, compact and bullet shaped, his big, unintelligent eyes staring as he thumped his life out against the planking of the boat with the quick shivering strokes of his neat, fast-moving tail. The old man hit him on the head for kindness and kicked him, his body still shuddering, under the shade of the stern.

This passage, which describes Santiago’s hauling in of the tuna on the second day of the narrative, exemplifies the power and beauty of the simple, evocative style of prose that earned Hemingway his reputation as a revolutionary and influenced generations of writers to come. Hemingway’s strength and mastery lies in his ability to render concrete but still poetic images using familiar words and simple vocabulary. The scene above is instantly familiar, even to the many readers who have no experience hauling in fish. For instance, the “compact and bullet shaped” fish is remarkably visible as it shivers and shudders on the floor of the skiff. Hemingway loads the passage with carefully chosen sounds. For instance, the repetition of the “k” and “s” sounds in the last sentence suggests a calm, rhythmic motion, like the breaking of waves against the boat or the side-to-side twitching of the fish’s body.

The passage also demonstrates the psychological depths Hemingway could access despite his incredible economy of language. When the old man hits the fish on the head, Hemingway qualifies the action with only two words: “for kindness.” These two words, however, give the reader full insight into the old man’s character. Hemingway renders Santiago’s connection to, and respect and love for, the world in which he lives without reporting the old man’s innermost thoughts. Instead, using two well-chosen words, he hints at a depth of feeling that makes Santiago who he is. Hemingway described this technique as the “iceberg principle,” for he believed that the simplest writing, when done well, would hint at the greatest human truths, just as the tip of an iceberg hinted at the terrific frozen mass that rested underwater.