Literary Immortality. Countless writers and artists that have graced the centuries, yet few and rare are those who create works so powerful they are considered true classic. True classics, work so strong it stands any test of time and speaks to all creed, culture or generations. Hemingway was one of those writers and for many “The Old Man and the Sea” his best. Hemingway said, “It is as fine as I can write.” A writer’s finest moment and that sweet spot for his talents. A beautifully simple story of a man and a fish. But really so much more.
Hemingway said “There isn't any symbolism… The old man is the old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are sharks, no better, no worse." It’s the story of an old man and a fish nothing more.” It was a genius move. If he would have answered some of the questions about the book on what means what he would have stifled the endless search for treasure and the debate on what’s what. The story stays energized and timeless. All of its ideas he lets us wonder about or answer for ourselves.
It is one of the gifts of great literature or art. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Every time you engage, it remains fresh, yet familiar you always seem to a get a little more and a little better for it. I would argue all great art is personal. What does it mean to you. You become connected to the characters and sense yourself as a contemporary not just a reader. You care what happens to them and why. You feel their triumphs and struggles. Great writing is a magical thing and Hemingway was a Master. Arranged just right black marks on paper can become transcendent, can move you deeply and change your outlook on life.
Santiago will always be one of the great characters of literature. Maybe Santiago represents all men who burned bright in youth their spirit still eager as they see their once strong bodies betraying them. He knows like all old men there are just so many days left in him. Can he be great once more? How many more times at plate like the great DiMaggio? In this dusk would he once again hear the roar of the lions on the beach in Africa just one more time?
In my view the most dramatic moment in the book is when Santiago and the great fish meet face to face for the first time. This is the moment I chose to sculpt.
Then the fish came alive, with his death in him, and rose high out of the water showing all his great length and width and all his power and his beauty. He seemed to hang in the air above the old man in the skiff. Then he fell into the water with a crash that sent spray over the old man and over all of the skiff.
Blood brothers. An old man in an old boat and a great and stunningly beautiful fish showing power, grace and agility. They are connected by a thin taut line but so many more ways. But like the book I wanted the sculpture to be inviting for discovery. Flying fish lay at his feet, the dorado, his water bottle, the harpoon patiently waiting its deadly duty, the mast tethered waiting to be filled with the warm wind to take Santiago back to shore in triumph or defeat. In the movements of water, I sculpted a series of Sirens, legend of their seductive song luring Sailors to peril. Their abstract faces part of waves you would never find unless I showed them to you.
On the far side of the boat fawning and rolling out of the waves is a Mako shark. Impending doom and the loss of what Santiago has fought so hard for and the marlin has given its life. Is the shark any different than Santiago or the marlin and just less noble and more honest? Death inevitably awaits us all, but our battles are real many grasping for immortality knowing the end waits. The marlin, who could be the most grand, proud and beautiful creature that ever graced the earth ends up a skeleton in the lazy lapping waves and Santiago inevitably a similar fate. Comets that had burned so bright in life.
The Old Man and the Sea is full of Christian imagery. Hemingway was Catholic but seemed to have little use for organized religion. The story of Christ is the best-known story in the history of humanity and Hemingway would know the brunt of his readers care deeply and know of Christs sufferings and overcoming. If the right reader senses this the story becomes deeper and more meaningful to them. Santiago translates from Spanish to “Saint James”, the brother of Christ or is Santiago Christ? The fish?? The harpoon the Romans spear? The mast and sail his cross…his death shroud??? The bird the Holy Spirit? The Sharks sin? Satan? The ocean and it’s creatures the Universe of God? Or is Santiago, Pontius Pilate ordering Christs death, destined to destroy the most perfect thing and burdened with the ultimate eternal sin, victim to duty and pride. Santiago's injured hands recall Christ's stigmata, the line burns across his back his scourging. Exhausted, Santiago “settles against the wood” and simply “takes his suffering as it comes”. When Santiago returns to shore he bears his mast up to his shack on his shoulder, just as Christ was forced to carry his own crucifix; lurching, stumbling and falling only to rise again transforming loss into triumph. He faces the inevitability of death without complaint and, in doing so, transcends it.
With this imagery in mind I sculpted some opportunities for discovery. Three spikes are fastened near Santiago that look like fishing gear but will be used to help lash the fish to the wooden boat. In the slightest writing the boat name Sangre De Cristo, ”The Blood of Christ.” Blended into the waves under the shark in slight text “1-Peter-5.8” (The Fisherman) which says "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."
Much has been written on the book and its meanings and its impact on literature undeniable. But never does it feel bogged down in self importance. A book for all ages, a 12 year old with the lust for adventure or a man who has run the best part of his race and understands Santiago more and more each day. It can mean many things to many people, after all its just an Old Man and a Great Fish.
This limited edition bronze is available for purchase. It weighs 75 pounds and is 36 inches long. It comes accented with a vintage leatherbound illustrated collectors copy of the story.