The Old Man and the Sea: An Alternate History of Pequod

31 Jan

The Old Man and the SeaThe Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The wolves will come…

I started this in high spirits as my updates show: “Fifth re-read, this is surely a koan. How thrilling it is to plumb new depths in old wells of wisdom…”

But, as I read on towards the last few pages, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this is Moby Dick set in an alternate universe.

In this alternate universe:

The Giant Leviathan is a noble, unseen fish – steady and without malice.

Captain Ahab is transformed into a gentle, wise old zen master. Santiago – a humble fisherman with no legendary crew to command and only his frail body instead of a Pequod to do his bidding.

Ishmael is a young boy, who instead of being a “end is nigh” Nostradamus is a loving, weeping young boy who cares deeply about the world.

Queequeg is probably the dolphin which was the old man’s only hope against his foe, his brother.

Now Moby Dick for me was the grand struggle of an obsessed genius with his destiny (in fact, about the creative struggle) – it proves that life is a tragedy and in the grand conclusion, you go down with a mighty confrontation and your ambitions take you down to the depths of the sea – no trace left of either you or your grand dreams except a mist of madness propagated as a half-heard story.

This was profound and it moved me to tears – but it was still grand, was it not? The great struggle, the titanic battle and the heroic capitulation! It was operatic and it was uplifting – even amidst the tragedy, the mighty bellow of man’s cry in the face of the unconquerable; that gave me goosebumps.

But Hemingway and his Old Man has turned the story in its head.

It takes you beyond the happily-ever-after of Moby Dick (!) and as always those unchartered waters are beyond description. This alternate universe is much more cruel and much more real. There is no grand confrontation that ends in an inspirational tragedy.

It turns it into a battle of attrition – you are inevitably defeated even in success and life will wear you down and leave no trace of your ambitions.

It makes you battle to the last breaking point of every nerve and sinew and lets you win a hollow victory that you cannot celebrate as life has worn you out too much in your pursuit of your goals and the destiny, the destiny too now seems more and more unreal and you ask yourself if you were even worthy enough to start the battle.

And as you turn back after that jaded victory, then comes the sharks, inevitably, inexorably. And then begins the real battle, not the grand epic, but a doomed, unenthusiastic battle against reality – with the knowledge that no grand ambition can ever succeed.

And the old man tells it for you – “I never should have gone out that far!”

The alternate universe is depressing and it is Zen at the same time, I do not know how. I probably have to read this many more times before any hope, any secret light in it comes to illuminate me – for today, for this reading, Hemingway has depressed me beyond belief and I cannot remember how I always thought of this as an inspirational fable!

The scene in which the restaurant lady sees the bones of the once great fish sums it up for me – In the end you give up hope of success and only wish that at the very least you might be able to bring back a ghost of the fish so that people can see how great your target really was – but all they see is the almost vanished skeleton of your idea; your grand dreams are just so much garbage now and who will have the imagination to see the grandeur it had at its conception?

“They beat me, Manolin,” he said. “They truly beat me.”

“He didn’t beat you. Not the fish.”

“No. Truly. It was afterwards.”

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Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books, Creative, Thoughts


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9 responses to “The Old Man and the Sea: An Alternate History of Pequod

  1. ging717

    January 31, 2012 at 04:56

    Reblogged this on ging717 and commented:
    Thoughts of a writer well echoed..


  2. tom brady jersey

    February 15, 2012 at 15:10

    This is my first time i visit here. I found out so quite a few of entertaining stuff within your blog, particularly its discussion. through the use of the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one getting all the leisure here! Keep up the beneficial work.


  3. cantueso

    March 1, 2012 at 07:41

    Yes, Hemingway is depressing. The greatest of writers, but no thinker. His philosophy doesn’t hold water. (Oooops, I am not a native speaker and can’t be held accountable…) Try again: his philosophy is drab.
    Drab! Get out of it!
    Do not do as he himself did, which was to sink INTO it.

    Most of USA art is depressing. “Most” is technically speaking an euphemism or a white lie. However, if you knew of an exception, I would be glad to hear….


    • SuperTramP

      March 1, 2012 at 08:06

      Depressing art can still be great art. So I don’t feel the need to look for an exception 🙂


      • cantueso

        March 2, 2012 at 20:02

        It could be great, ok, but not if there is little else and so, to see it for what it is, you have to move out…..


  4. cantueso

    March 1, 2012 at 07:52

    I saw this yesterday by accident (my post on Hemingway is a filler), and I thought what a good example it was to show the line where prose turns into poetry which would be where reason recedes:
    ” It was raining. The rain dripped from the palm trees. Water stood in pools on the gravel paths. The sea broke in a long line in the rain and slipped back down the beach to come up and break again in a long line in the rain.”

    Pretty, no? But bad, both for the author and the reader.


    • SuperTramP

      March 1, 2012 at 08:07

      On this point I agree with you… It took me three tries to finish that sentence!

      Thanks for stopping by.


  5. joanna

    November 25, 2014 at 23:14

    I’ve always thought that depressing art is the art in its purest form. it makes you feel in a way that happy endings never do, it touches you in strange ways, it feels like you’re ripped apart on the inside, it’s so beautiful that makes you wanna


    • SuperTramP

      November 26, 2014 at 09:07

      You are right. Tragedy has always been considered the highest art.

      Thanks for commenting!



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