Ernest Hemingway is an American literary icon. His simplistic, ruggedly masculine novels are easy to read and yet hard to define, much like himself. The Old Man and the Sea is no exception. It is quintessential Hemingway, through and through.
The Old Man and the Sea takes us on a fishing trip with an old man who takes his small fishing boat (little bigger than a rowboat) out to sea everyday. The man is on a bad run of luck at the start of the novel. He is determined to take a fish the day the reader goes out to sea with him. As the novel progresses, his bad luck and determination only get stronger.
The two main themes in The Old Man and the Sea, and the only two worth talking about, are respect and perseverance. Both appear particularly concerning the natural world, but there is also a significant respectful relationship between the fisherman and a fisherboy. This relationship plays a large role in the book, though the boy is absent for the main part of it.
Nearly the entire book is about the man fighting with a monstrous marlin in the Gulf of Mexico. He does not have enough food, strong enough tools to ward off predators and an assistant. All alone, he allows the fish to drag him for days, while still determined to catch him. His hands and back are wounded by fishing line, but he catches the fish, only to be plagued by sharks on the return trip. The sharks eat his marlin, but kills as many of them as he can, even when he knows the struggle is lost. In his mind, he is apologizing to the fish for killing it only to have eaten by sharks.
This brings us to respect in The Old Man and the Sea. There seems to be a reason Hemingway did not name it The Old Man and the Marlin. Much of the book's narrative is the Old Man's thoughts. His thoughts convey a great respect for the sea and the creatures that live in and around it, including the fish that is giving him so much trouble.
The Old Man and the Sea is a quick, but memorable, read. It is also appropriate for all ages.