Date of Graduation

Spring 1999

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of English


Joanne V. Gabbin


The Old Man and The Sea leads to a reading of The Epistle of James through Ernest Hemingway's deep understanding of Spanish Catholicism and Cuban culture; Hemingway's greatest work, it is his cante jondo, his "deep song" in homage to the suffering of his generation. Cante jondo, like The Old Man and The Sea, moves at a ballad tempo, speaks to life and death struggles, and embraces sorrow and joy in equal measure. Cante jondo, similarly, casts a mournful tone in its flamenco rhythms not unlike that Hemingway reveals in The Old Man and The Sea. What Flamenco Sketches is to the lexicon of Miles Davis - a highly-crafted, lyrical, deeply spiritual, and passionate expression of Davis' jazz aesthetic framed in the cante jondo of Spanish flamenco music - The Old Man and The Sea is to Hemingway's work: an impassioned expression of Hemingway's lyric voic evoking the soul of Spanish culture and Cuban culture, rich in spiritual and mythological connections.

Santiago is a fitting protagonist for Hemingway's greatest work. Like Hemingway all of his life as a writer, Santiago is willing to enter the seas of life with joy for the journey before him, with faith to endure any struggle and a will to survive. Cuba, as the contemporary Cuban scholar Mary Cruz relates, "is a land of Santiagos" (Cruz 204). Cuba is a land of fisherman poor in material possessions but wealthy beyond measure in spirit. It is no coincidence that Hemingway comes upon the tale of a Cuban fisherman towed out to sea by a great marlin, and after four days, rescued by other fishermen who drove off sharks circling his small skiff, lashed the skiff to their craft, and brought him home to Havana in 1934 (Scribner xxvii).

Hemingway is in Cuba in the early 1930s because he, like Santiago, follows his calling. Hemingway's calling leads him to his greatest catch as a writer, just as Santiago's refusal to abandon his calling leads him to his greatest catch, the spiritual victory at the end of his odyssey at high sea on the Gulf Stream. Santiago's journey of the soul in The Old Man and the Sea is at one with his outer journey to catch the great marlin in the hurricane season in the Caribbean, when he goes to sea knowing that death may storm down upon him.

Santiago, like Hemingway and other artists of his time, does not hesitate to follow his calling in the face of death. We witness his pain, his suffering, and his survival on his four-day journey as Hemingway witnesses the pain, suffering, and survival of his comrades in desperate circumstances throughout his life: in Northern Italy in the Great War, in the mountains of the Guadarrama and the streets of Madrid in teh Spanish Civil War, and in Europe in the Second World War.

Cante jondo, at its core, is a classical flamenco expression of suffering. Hemingway's generation suffers in its struggle to defeat totalitarianism like no other generation in American history. The Old Man and The Sea reads to me as only natural for Hemingway to write. Ultimately, it is his destiny as a writer. Everything in his life as a writer directs him to create this passionate and lyrical story or a man's struggle to fulfill his destiny. I argue The Old Man and The Sea is Hemingway's cante jondo, his "deep song" for the tremendous sacrifices his generation endures to sustain Western culture in the face of oppressive forces of fascism and communism in Asia and Europe; likewise, it is Hemingway's lyrical "deep song" inspired by a Cuban fisherman in 1934 who goes far on a journey for a great marlin on the Gulf Stream and loses his dream catch to sharks on his return to his home shores of Cuba (Scribner xxvii).

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