Classic American Literature – With Sharks

Ernest Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 and was very influential in his understated style, but I didn’t know much else about him when I read The Old Man And The Sea.

It’s a short novel about an old fisherman who goes out in a small boat and catches a large fish. The majority of the story centres around his thoughts and feelings while he is on the boat for the next few days with a large fish hooked on this line. He considers how to actually get the thing and not let it escape, all his aches and pains, how tired he is.

It’s a great book and absolutely a classic but it’s not exactly an action adventure – until near the end.

You’re about three quarters of the way through, the old man is finally starting to sail back to the shore, and you’re used to the slow, steady pace of the plot. But then

He was a very big Mako shark built to swim as fast and the fastest fish in the sea and everything about him was beautiful except his jaws. […] Inside the closed double lip of his jaws all of his eight rows of teeth were slanted inwards. They were not the ordinary pyramid-shaped teeth of most sharks. They were shaped like a man’s fingers when they are crisped like claws. They were nearly as long as the fingers of the old man and they had razor-sharp cutting edges on both sides. This was a fish built to feed on all the fishes in the sea, that were so fast and strong and well-armed that they had no other enemy.

I’ll admit that I didn’t see that plot twist coming. I appreciate he was on the ocean in his little boat for a long while but, well, I wasn’t expecting sharks given the content and the thoughtful pace up until that point.

The old man battles this massive shark and wins by harpooning it – but in doing so loses the harpoon.

So the old man ties a small knife to the end of an oar (What? Wow!) and then kills two more sharks that come at the boat. Then another, but this one snaps the knife as it dies.

More sharks come at sunset and he’s all out of sharp things, so he just hits them with his club then wrenches the tiller free from the rudder

[…]and beat and chopped with it, holding it with both hands and driving it down again and again.

So don’t be fooled – he might seem like a quiet, thoughtful old man for most of the book, but by the end he’s ripping the tiller off his boat and using it to fight sharks.

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7 thoughts on “Classic American Literature – With Sharks

    1. I haven’t read Jaws but you’ve got me intrigue so I’ve just got hold of it. I’ll let you know what I think and I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on The Old Man and the Sea, if Santa is generous.


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