What could be the book cover ideas for a title as direct as ‘The Old Man and The Sea’? You get the image of an ‘Old Man’ and ‘the Sea’ in the first instance.
‘The Old Man and The Sea’ is the story of an old experienced fisherman, named Santiago facing a dry spell of 85 days and his indomitable spirit in the sea as he catches a prized marlin to finally lose it. The book, though quite straightforward in the narrative portrays the themes of man’s struggle against nature, man’s resolute spirit in trying times and accepting one’s defeat. The book also points to the deteriorating condition of the fishing community in the wake of industrialization through the 1940s.
I am not sure if I could say I am impressed by this first cover. On the cover, there is the blue sea and brown land with few houses and even fewer boats alongside. These houses nowhere resemble the old man’s shack on the beach as described in the book. And, why would it be the tranquil picture of a settlement by the seaside?
Then, there is the first UK edition where there is a lot of red and a cartoon-ish fish. In the later editions, there are more varied versions of the shovel-nosed sharks that attack Santiago’s catch.
‘They were hateful sharks, bad smelling, scavengers as well as killers, and when they were hungry they would bite at an oar or the rudder of a boat. It was these sharks that would cut the turtles’ legs and flippers off when the turtles were asleep on the surface, and they would hit a man in the water, if they were hungry, even if the man had no smell of fish blood nor of fish slime on him.’
The shovel-nosed sharks hungrily attack the marlin. As opponents of the old man, they stand in bold contrast to the marlin, which is worthy of Santiago’s effort and strength. As the shovel-nosed sharks are base predators, Santiago wins no glory from battling them.
Coming to the cover of my copy, the black cover has a turbulent dark sea with tall waves. I feel it kind of gives the feel of pages immersed on a life at sea in the book without giving away the key of monstrosity of the shovel-nosed sharks.
‘The Old Man and The Sea’ is said to be a reflection of Hemingway’s own determination to prove his writing career was not over, and the portrayal of the sharks point to the critics who had been claiming for the ten years that his writing career, after the successful release of For Whom the Bell Tolls in 1940, was over.
In April of 1936, Hemingway had published an essay in Esquire magazine entitled “On the Blue Water: A Gulf Stream Letter,” which contained a paragraph about an old man who went fishing alone in a skiff far out at sea, landed a huge marlin, and then lost much of it to sharks. Later on, Hemingway began to develop this idea into a fully developed story.
‘The Old Man and The Sea’ was published in entirety in Life Magazine in 1952. It is said that within just two days, the book sold over 5 million copies. And, today ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ is a prominent Classic.