The Interpretation to the Relationship between Human and Nature in The Old man and The Sea


校园英语·中旬 2017年2期


【Abstract】This paper is trying to analyze the relationship between man and nature in The Old Man and the Sea from the perspective of eco-criticism, through the analysis of his dialogue with the child, the monologue to fishes when he is at the sea, as well as the struggles with the big fish and sharks in detail, this paper will reveal the change of Santiagos attitude to wards the big fish and nature, vividly showing human being before the great nature.

【Key words】sustainable development; coexist; harmony; old man; sea

1. Introduction

The old man and The sea is Hemingway's most enduring work. He uses the most simple but powerful language to tell the story of a Cuban fisherman named Santiago. The old fisherman has not caught a fish for 84 days, he refused to throw in the towel, but full of fighting spirit, and finally caught a Marlins with 18 feet in length and weighing 1500 pounds in the 85th day. The big fish pulled the ship into the sea, the old man insits, even if there is no water, no food, no weapons, no assistants, left hand cramp, he didn't lose heart. After two days and two nights, he finally killed the fish, and tied it at the side of ship. But many sharks come to snatch his prize, he killed them one by one, and in the end, only a broken tiller as a weapon. As a result, big fish cannot escape the fate of being eaten up. The old man was exhausted to tow back a pair of fish bones. He went home and lay on the bed, and had to seek the good time from the dream, in order to forget the harsh reality.

Hemingway uses eye-catching contemporary style to recast the story, with classic themes of courage to face the failure and win. In 1952, the success of this novel confirmed his power and presence in the literary world, and played an important role, which made him won the 1954 Nobel Prize for literature.

2. Literature Review

The Old Man and the Sea is considered as the most important work of Hemingway's masterpiece, the advent of this great work earned him the Nobel Prize for literature, at the same time, study culmination of academia has arisen on his work. And the strong demand of natural ecology makes the ecological studies emerge. For example, Chen Maolin (2003) sees the old man and the sea is an unusually harmonious picture, the sea of Santiago is rendered extremely beautiful and magnificent. But the relationship between the old man and the sea is both unified and confrontational, so as to reflect the linkages between Hemingway and society, and pointed out that the need for harmony between human society and nature. Chen Jingyi (2013), is thinks that contradiction of the conquest and being kind to nature is like the ecological crisis that is faced by humanity, they are the results of many factors, so it needs to dig the roots to find scientific solutions and achieve harmony between man and nature. Wei Na (2001) is inspired by the cruel struggle between the old man and the big marlin and shark, the natural law cannot be contented by human. Human can take advantage of nature rationally, but humans cannot conquer nature. From the points of view of above several scholars, I will explore the relationship between Man and Sea from a new perspective.

3. A Study of Relationship between Human and Nature

In The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway expressed a love for nature, and reflects the ecological thinking that people rely on nature. At the same time, he also expressed the belief that human want to achieve the self-value through defeating nature. Hemingway used his own personal experiences to warn the world, if humans want to conquer nature, they can only be punished by nature ruthlessly.

3.1 The Relationship between Human and Nature of Ernest Hemingways Ecological Concept

Hemingway's experienced two world war, and Spain's civil war, lived in France and Cuba, hunted in Africa, saw bullfight in Spain, and worked as an ambulance driver, wounded, decorated, married four times, and divorced for three times. The fantastic and rough life sparked his love for nature, aversion to war and the disappointment for human civilization.

3.1.1 Personal Experience of Hemingways life

Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, he received baptism in Walloon Lake. Hemingway's childhood days were mostly spent in the cottage of Walloon Lake. He liked to read picture books as a child, listen to all kinds of stories, and imitate different people, and also interested in sewing. Hemingway's mother hoped her son can develop on the music, but Hemingway had inherited his father's interest, such as hunting, fishing, camping in the forest and lakes. Because the childhood spent in Walloon Lake Cottage, Hemingway loved the nature.

The luxuriant forests, flowing rivers, rough sea, and wooded hills all provide inexhaustible source for Hemingway's writing, and the love for nature makes him own a passion for hunting, fishing, swimming, skiing and other activities that was close to nature. From the early days of writing, Hemingway had praised the beauty of nature. The praise of nature runs through his early, middle and later work. The primeval forests in The Last Good Country, the Montreal mountain, Kilimanjaro's snow, the green hills of Africa in A Farewell to Arms, the pine forest in For Whom the Bell Tolls, the sea in The Old Man and the Sea all have left a deep impression on the reader. The nature in this writing is vivid, colorful, full of infinite charm. It can be said that, Hemingway is seeking for the unspoiled and undeveloped nature for his whole life and expect to find solace from it.

3.1.2 Hemingways Ecological Concept

After a long time of thinking, Hemingway seemed to have changed his view about the relationship between human and nature. He witnessed too much tragedies and death as a soldier. And now he wanted to concentrate on the career he loved. He hoped to enjoy the life in the lovely nature.

Hemingway can be regarded as a lover of nature or a writer who always gets keens to nature. Nature, as is exemplified in most of his works, is one of his permanent themes of writings. As is stated by Robert E. Fleming in the foreword of Hemingway and the Natural World, very few writers have ever been so closely connected with nature as Hemingway has. As for Hemingway, nature is his companion and his love for nature as well as his longing for learning about the natural world covering his whole life.

3.2 The Relationship between Human and Nature in The Old Man and the Sea

In The Old Man and The Sea, although we found some eco-harmonious picture, more is the picture of mutual conquest and defeat. In the work, there are scenes of splendid sea that the old man loves most, the pictures of old man struggling to hunt big Marlin, the picture of the old man battle with the shark. We seem to hear the loud sigh of the old man behind the work, and we seem to see Hemingway struggling and thinking in his own environment like the old man.

3.2.1 The Old Man and the Sea

In The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway presents a harmonious picture with an old man and sea to readers. When the old man went to sea, he overlooked the sea with soaring petrels and billowy spindrifts. Strong and vigorous flying fishes leapt on sea surface and flamboyant jellyfishes quietly fluttered in sea. His boat lightly shook following sea waves and ardently loved the sea.

The old man liked green sea turtle and flying fishes were his main friends. A tired bird flew to his sling and he told the bird that: “Stay at my house if you like, bird. I am sorry I cannot hoist the sail and take you in with the small breeze that is rising. But I am with a friend.” Two loving dolphins were having fun in the evening. In the eyes of the old man, the sea and the creatures in the sea were so nice. He regarded the sea as a woman. The sea accompanied him every day and untangled his loneliness. This produced deep affection of him to the sea. The sea world described by Hemingway is a perfect and tranquil world integrating human and nature. One nice harmonious picture fascinates readers and reflects the ecological concept of Hemingway: human and the nature shall live and coexist in harmony. Human survives depending on the nature. It expresses the authors infinite love and esteem to the nature.

3.2.2 The Old Man and the Big Marlin

After the old man could not catch fish for consecutive 84 days, he went to sea again and got a large marlin in deep sea which was far away from the fishing village. The marlin fought with the old man in deep sea for three whole days. There was no water and food on his boat and his hands bled seriously. One of his hands pulled out a tendon but he still kept himself in high spirits to overcome tiredness and struggle with the marlin. Finally, he killed the marlin depending on his perseverance and braveness. In the fight from daytime to night and from night to daytime, the marlin demonstrated the perseverance and braveness of the old man. Whats more important, the old man began to change his thought thanks to the experience. In the long process, the old man had enough time to think even in his subconscious. These thinking could be revealed through soliloquy of the old man.

On the first day, “The other baits were still in the water but there was nothing to be done.” The next day, “Just then the fish gave a sudden lurch that pulled the old man down onto the bow and would have pulled him overboard if he had not braced himself and given some line. He felt the line carefully with his right hand and noticed his hand was bleeding. But when he was touching the breaking point he held steady and settled back against the strain of the line.” Received by the third day, “The old man dropped the line and put his foot on it and lifted the harpoon as high as he could and drove it down with all his strength, and more strength he had just summoned, into the fish's side just behind the great chest fin that rose high in the air to the altitude of the man's chest. He felt the iron going in and he leaned on it and drove it further and then pushed all his weight after it. 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.” Although the old man had been completely exhausted and taken pains, he undoubtedly won the battle and successfully conquered the big marlin. While readers immerse themselves in the harmonious and nice sea world, Hemingway presented a thrilling fighting scene to readers and pushed forward the work to its climax. This reflects humans desire of challenging natural creatures. The old man successfully conquered the nature using his tool.

3.2.3 The Old Man and the Sharks

When the old man returned carrying his trophy big marlin, he encountered the attack of sharks for five times. In the first time, “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. He took about forty pounds, the old man said aloud.” In the second time, two hungry shovelnoses appeared. The old man bound his knives on quant as his weapons to respectively plunge them into eyes and brain of shark, which shook his hands and made his hands painful. The sharks ate 1/4 marlin. In the third time, the old man encountered another shovelnose. He plunged a knife bound on quant into its brain. Blade fractured at last and the old man felt very tired. In the fourth time, “the sharks did not hit him again until just before sunset.” Without fish spear and knife, the old man had to use a short stick sawed from his quant to heavily hit head of the sharks and finally drive them away. Half marlin had been eaten and spoiled. “He felt that perhaps he was already dead. He put his two hands together and felt the palms. They were not dead and he could bring the pain of life by simply opening and closing them. He leaned his back against the stern and knew he was not dead.” The fifth attack happened at midnight of the day. A group of sharks attacked the big marlin. "He clubbed desperately at what he could only feel and hear and he felt something seized the club and it was gone. He swung the tiller across the shark's head where the jaws were caught in the heaviness of the fish's head which would not tear. He swung it once and twice and again." The old man exhausted his strength to fight with the sharks. At last, the sharks left because nothing could be eaten. Bare backbone of the big marlin was like a white line without any meat. The old man was very tired and lost his breath. “They defeated me and they really defeated me.” He murmured feebly. Through depicting the fierce scene that the old man fought with sharks, Hemingway pushed forward the work to its new climax. Human could not conquer the nature this time. It reflected ruthless retaliation and punishment of the nature to human.

3.3 The Exploration to The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the sea of Hemingway depicts a sea world which is tranquil, terrifying or even sanguinary. As a person who lived at seaside, the old man had complex affection to the sea world. In one aspect, the old man ardently loved and respected the sea. The old man deeply loved both the sea and everything in the sea. In another aspect, the old man had to kill his brothers for making a living. Each time the old man went to sea, his contradiction in mind and torment in spirit would be deepened. He deeply loved his sea world, but he was just the chief culprit who damaged the pure world. The old man was very upset and repentant. After going to sea each time, he always regretted going so far away. Therefore, the old man made up his mind to stop going to sea for catching fish. The tranquil and peaceful sea world returned. In the last part of the work, the initial harmonious image reappeared to show a profound philosophy to readers: human and the nature shall coexist in harmony rather than utilize and kill each other.

4. Conclusion

The Old Man and the Sea is the representative work of Hemingway. Since it was published, many readers and experts in academic circles have done a large quantity of research work in different fields of literature. According to survey, most of the research work analyzes the image of Santiago, including his religious view and heroism. At the same time, some researchers analyze his loneliness. Hemingway utilized his personal legend experiences to complete the excellent work The Old Man and the Sea. With refined language and symbolism, the author told a series of legend stories happened to an old man who regarded the sea as his home. The figure Santiago depicted in the work was a “steel-willed man” who could maintain his elegance under heavy pressure. However, this brave, confident and indomitable “steel-willed man” who never gave up confessed that he had been defeated. Hemingway has a famous celebrated dictum: “human can be devastated but shall not be defeated”. This seams to be questioned. In this case, he anew sought and explored the relationship between human and the nature in the angle of ecology. Finally, he got a conclusion: human and the nature should be in unity of opposites; human existed relying on the nature. Therefore, human and the nature shall coexist in harmony. If human excessively exploits the nature in immoderation or feels self-important to conquer the nature, ruthless retaliation and punishment of the nature will be given. This is the profound thought of Hemingway.

In this new era, we anew think about and explain The Old Man and the Sea in the angle of the relationship between human and the nature. It offers a new and good direction for readers to know the relationship between human and the nature. This modern society has frequent natural disaster and serious environmental problems. We can learn lesson from the protagonist Santiago. The work advocates a simple life, respecting natural life and suggesting that human and the nature can coexist in harmony. Human shall not regret until the nature begins punishing human.

Nowadays, ecology deteriorates. It is a non-negligible practical significance to anew study The Old Man and the Sea of Hemingway in the angle of ecological criticism. He used his own literature work to give a vivid ecological class to people of the world. The work warns people and arouses peoples awareness of ecological protection. Its influence and functions are immeasurable. The harmonious relationship between human and the nature benefits human. It is greatly significant for achieving sustainable development of the modern society.


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[4]Edward.H.Strauch,The Old Man and the Sea[J].Aligarh journal of English Studies,1984.

[5]Hotchner A.E.Papa Hemingway,A personal memoir[M].New York:Random House,1966.







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