The Old Man and the Sea
In The Sun Also Rises there is affirmation. Though most of the characters of the novel, members of Gertrude Stein’s “lost generation,” lead lives that are meaningless and trivial, there is a value system, expressed through the figure of Romero, that suggests that human beings can live in a noble and dignified way and that it is important that they do so. At no point is The Sun Also Rises nihilistic; its very despair is a witness to the author’s strong beliefs. Thematically, there are many similarities between The Old Man and the Sea and The Sun Also Rises. Both novels see the meaning of life as being rooted in struggle, both involve a mystique of killing, both assign paramount importance to bravery and to stoicism as elements of character.
But in The Sun Also Rises we have what might be called a “sociological” look at these themes. We see them worked out against a backdrop of certain types of social behaviors. In The Old Man and the Sea we have something quite different. Here we have something akin to the old epics and something that is essentially a religious interpretation of life. The Old Man is an archetypal figure in a way that Romero is not. His battle with the fish is fraught with an utterly transparent symbolism in a way that Romero’s battles with the bulls only hints at. There is something wholly fundamental and primal in The Old Man and the Sea that is not present in the earlier novel and makes it a much more prophetic type of work. The Old Man and the Sea reaches at something that the younger Hemingway did not presume to reach at. It is Hemingway’s attempt to be a Jeremiah or Homer. Attention must be paid to such an attempt. For even if it failed—and this student believes that it did not—it indicates that whatever flaws Hemingway had as a writer and a man, a lack of aspiration and a lack of imagination were not among them.