Book Review: “The Old Man and the Sea” by Earnest Hemingway

I happened to come across the audio version of the “The Old Man and the Sea” while browsing in the library. The book was short and sweet. Donald Sutherland narrated the entire book. He sounded like the old man with all the emotions, sometimes upbeat, and sometimes sad and despaired. Unfortunately, the words were sometimes hard to resolve in the noisy environment in the car.

The old man, Santiago, had gone 84 days without catching a fish. The boy, the old man’s apprentice, was told by his parents not to fish with the old man because of the aura of the bad luck. Then he went out to the ocean and caught the biggest marlin no one had ever seen. He struggled with the fish to reel him in for several days. When he eventually did, the sharks had a better part of the big fish and the old man came home empty handed.

Symbolically, the big fish was like the old man, enjoying the good long, strong life at the top of the food chain until the fate eventually caught on to him to be caught by the old man and met his death. The fish was calm and gracious/classy, putting up 3 days of fight without showing any kind of panic. Ironically, the old man felt really bad about ending the fish’s life but justified his death by enriching other village people’s life and his with this big fish. Of course, the plan did not work out as sharks had all pecked away the flesh of the fish by the time he returned to the shore. The old man fought gallantly off the sharks and killed a few sharks throughout the trip home. At times apologetically to the fish and at times feeling sorry for himself, the old man finally succumbs to the fatigue and sadly to the defeat. The old man lost a piece of himself, pride and humanity, in the entire journey.

The boy showed tremendous loyalty and respect to the old man in the entire story. The innocence of the boy was the comfort and the pride of the old man – his legacy.

From the art of the war angle, spending all your effort and resource to defeat a major competitor may be the worst thing that could happen. Because it may invite other competitors (like sharks) to come in the market and peck away your profit. Our MBA lesson on Coke vs. Pepsi is exactly that. Duopoly is a huge stabling factor in a mature market.

This story also taught me something about getting old gracefully. Having respect for life and understanding your limitation go a long way.