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Adrift without an Outline

I finished reading Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea yesterday and I’ve been talking about it or thinking about it ever since. Despite devoting an unusually large amount of time to thinking about the book, though, I still don’t have anything written so far.

Now, I’m nearly as concerned with why I am suffering writer’s block as I am with why I can’t write anything about this particular book. After all, I use to consider graduate classes in English pure entertainment and stopped taking them only because I felt guilty about spending money that should have been going into my kids’ college fund, or later, after the divorce, because I needed the money to eat on a regular basis.

One possible reason for the writer’s block is that I discussed the book with Leslie, and she let me know in no uncertain terms that she didn’t like Hemingway. This immediately reminded me of some nasty graduate class "discussions" where women just plain went after Hemingway, and after the professor, because of Hemingway’s obvious sexism and disdain for women, particularly his mother who he apparently blamed for his father’s death. Now, I’m beginning to wonder if this isn’t going to turn into one of those nasty Mars/Venus things.

It’s quite obvious, after all, that Hemingway’s philosophy could be classified as a "jock" philosophy. His references to DiMaggio and to the arm-wrestling championship are not unintentional. His code is the kind of code that you were likely to learn while competing in sports, and it is definitely the kind of mentality you need to survive in combat. In my opinion, though, that doesn’t mean that it can’t serve as a philosophy for life in general, and that’s certainly what Hemingway intended.

Another possible explanation of the writer’s block is simply that this book means more to me than I originally thought. There were poems that I would never teach in high school because they meant too much to me to have them put down by students. Or, they just meant so much that I wasn’t willing to try to explain them over and over again to students. You can ruin any work of art if you talk about it too much.

Hearing favorite works openly criticized or attacked can be painful. Perhaps Hemingway’s philosophy is very close to my own philosophy, and I subconsciously realize that it is an inadequate philosophy. Though it may well carry you through some of the life’s more traumatic of events, it doesn’t do a very good job of guiding you to positive experiences with others.

It is certainly a stoical philosophy that would have served a Greek soldier well. Whether such a philosophy is an effective guide to getting through everyday life is still open to question.

Meanwhile, that’s what I’m doing, questioning. So far I have copious notes that I’m pushing around trying to organize into something that truly reflects what I feel about the novel. I’m getting there, wherever there is, and I should actually have something worth saying shortly.

It would certainly be difficult to come up with much worse than what I found browsing the web. My god, a teacher’s organization in California had the nerve to suggest on the basis of one short quotation that the novel would be a good vehicle to start the exploration of the endangered status of the turtle. If that’s a teacher’s quide to this novel, heaven help the state of education in California.