United by the line that joins them. Hunting encounters in Hemingway's Fiction

Term Paper, 2018

16 Pages, Grade: 1,0



Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Description of the Animals

3. Encounters
3.1 Relationship with the Animals

4. Impact

5. Symbolical Value

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

“But, thank god, they are not as intelligent as we who kill them; although they are more noble and more able.” (Hemingway, Old Man 47). Santiago finds a huge marlin on a fishing trip that brings him to his limits while Francis Macomber goes on a trophy hunt to slay a lion1. As different as Hemingway’s protagonists in The Old Man and the Sea and The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber are, as different are their relationships with the hunted animals and their motivations. They kill for different reasons, with different equipment, and in different states of mind while both have mixed feelings about the animals they thus encounter. Santiago as well as Francis Macomber learn much about themselves through those encounters. Macomber who is a successful and confident business man on the outside experiences true fear when meeting the lion. “When Francis Macomber woke in the night to hear it [the roar of the lion] he was afraid. He could hear his wife breathing quietly, asleep. There was no one to tell he was afraid nor to be afraid with him” (Hemingway, Macomber 11). For the protagonists of Hemingway’s fiction life can be divided into before and after the incidents. This also becomes obvious when Paul Smith refers to moments of rebirth (Smith 331).

The new approach of Cultural Animal Studies allows the reader to look at Hemingway’s texts with a different background. Animals are no longer solely objects but actors. “Wenn Tiere als Akteure in Frage kommen, dann also nicht, weil sie wie Menschen handeln können, sondern weil sie sind wie „jedes Ding, das eine gegebene Situation verändert, indem es einen Unterschied macht.“ (Latour, as cited by Borgards, Tiere 2). In his short story Hemingway goes as far as providing a description directly from the lion’s perspective. Both hunters see their lives not only impacted permanently but their struggles can be interpreted as a symbol for something far greater.

2. Description of the Animals

In both hunting episodes the descriptions of the animals are essential because they portray the hunter’s first impressions (and therefore their further relationships with the animals) and shape the atmosphere of the scene. Santiago does not catch sight of his opponent for a long time and can only assume that “he must be huge” (Hemingway, Old Man 29). Francis Macomber otherwise goes out in a determined search for a lion. Santiago’s first impression of the marlin seems to be full of respect and admiration.

The line rose slowly and steadily and then the surface of the ocean bulged ahead of the boat and the fish came out. He came out unendingly and water poured from his sides. He was bright in the sun and his head and back were dark purple and in the sun the stripes on his side showed wide and a light lavender. His sword was as long as a baseball bat and tapered like a rapier and he rose his full length from the water and then re-entered it, smoothly, like a diver and the old man saw the great scythe-blade of his tail go under and the line commenced to race out. (46).

He uses exclusively positive adjectives to describe the fish. The marlin is furthermore described to be “calm”, “strong” and “confident” (69). In this case the main focus is definitely laid on the size of the animal. He is referred to as “huge” (ibid) multiple times and the old man is fascinated when realizing that his catch really is “that big” (ibid). In the short story, Hemingway provides a description from a different point of view.

The lion still stood looking majestically and coolly towards this object that his eyes only showed in silhouette, bulking like some super-rhino. There was no man smell carried toward him and he watched the object, moving his great head a little from side to side. Then watching the object, not afraid, but hesitating before going down the bank to drink with such a thing opposite him, he saw a man figure detach himself from it and he turned his heavy head and swung away toward the cover of the trees as he heard a cracking crash and felt the slam of a .30-06 220-rain solid bullet that bit his flank and ripped in sudden hot scalding nausea through his stomach. He trotted, heavy, big-footed, swinging wounded full-bellied, through the trees towards the tall grass and cover, and the crash came again to go past him ripping the air apart. Then it crashed again and he felt the blow as it hit his lower ribs and ripped through, blood sudden hot and frothy in his mouth, and he galloped toward the high grass where he could crouch and not be seen and make them bring the crashing things close enough so he could make a rush and get the man that held it (Hemingway, Macomber 13).

Obviously, the lion’s outer appearance is described as well. He is “looking majestically” (ibid). In contrast to the marlin the lion’s thoughts and feelings are presented in great detail. First, he is “not afraid, but hesitating” (ibid) but after being wounded the reader suffers with him.

All of him, pain, sickness, hatred and all of his remaining strength, was tightening into an absolute concentration for a rush. [...] As he heard their voices his tail stiffened to twitch up and down, and, as they came into the edge of the grass, he made a coughing grunt and charged (16).

Nevertheless, a certain caution is appropriate at this point. What Hemingway shows in this case is not truly the lion’s perspective. According to Roland Borgards truthful animal perspective will never exist in fiction. Hemingway provides no lion-perspective but rather the human idea of one (Borgards, Tiere und Literatur 233). In The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, a second hunting episode takes place. In the description of the buffalo the focus lay on the animal’s rage, too (Hemingway, Macomber 23). In both texts the descriptions of the animals shape the atmosphere. The description of the fish is calm, tranquil and full of awe while the one of the lion is marked by pain, rage, and unease.

3. Encounters

When looking at those life changing encounters, it is necessary to look at the surroundings first. Santiago goes out to sea and thereby places himself in the fish’s territory. In this case the “killing of animals, while still an inescapable fact of life, takes places outside of human-controlled domains” (Stephens 105). The marlin therefore has an advantage over the old man. Francis Macomber meets the lion in his natural habitat, yet the animal has no realistic chance of survival. The safari is arranged specifically for the Macomber’s and is therefore more equivalent to a staged nature. Both hunters are unequally equipped. While the old man owns only a small boat and basic weaponry Francis Macomber plays in a different league. He hired Robert Wilson as a professional hunter, and they have numerous expensive guns and cars. After the incident with the lion Macomber only feels brave while hunting the buffalo because they chase the animals with their car (Pingelton 91f.). This professional equipment and support convey a feeling of safety that the old man lacks. “The conceit that this ordeal can only end in the death of the marlin evaporates” (Stephens 98) during the fishing process. In the light of Cultural Animal Studies these differences in equipment should raise the question of fairness. Margot Macomber is first to address this issue. “‘It seemed very unfair to me,’ Margot said, ‘chasing those big helpless things in a motor car.’” (Hemingway, Macomber 23). Santiago on the contrary “knows he fought a good fight” (Pingelton 121). Another important aspect to consider is the duration of the disputes. Santiago’s fight with the marlin lasts for several days during which the old man sleeps sparsely. With the hunting episode in Hemingway’s short story, no exact time is given. Nevertheless, it could be no longer than a fraction of one day. Other than the old man, Francis Macomber is free to leave the scene as he pleases. One last aspect to take into consideration is the power balance in the different situations. In The Old Man and The Sea, the marlin is not only fighting in his element but he additionally is bigger and physically stronger. Santiago is well aware of that. “I wish I was the fish, he thought, with everything he has against only my will and my intelligence.” (Hemingway, Old Man 48). Macomber’s hunting party is superior to the lion in terms of numbers and equipment. Still the old man is mentally better prepared. He has a lot of experience in fishing and knows how to act when the marlin takes his bait. “He reached out for the line and held it softly between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. He felt no strain nor weight and he held the line lightly.” (29). Macomber is inexperienced and unsure how to act. “He only knew that his hands were shaking and as he walked away from the car it was almost impossible for him to make his legs move” (Hemingway, Macomber 13). For him this is most likely his first hunting trip and it is therefore imprinted by anxiety and fear. “The next thing he [Macomber] knew he was running; running wildly, in panic in the open, running toward the stream” (17).

3.1 Relationship with the Animals

The relationships between Hemingway’s protagonists and the lion and the fish can be subdivided into different aspects. Starting at the beginning, the question of reason arises. Why is the old man fishing in the first place? Throughout the whole novel it is mentioned multiple times that he is very poor. Therefore, he is not hunting for fun or amusement but rather something called “Subsistenzsicherung” (Tuider and Wolf 36). Santiago needs food and other economic resources and is thus dependent on fishing. Tuider and Wolf add that these (mostly indigenous) hunters treat the animals with a certain respect (37). The other villagers also live off the sea. Donna Haraway claims that this form of hunting is not necessarily negative. “Moreover, Haraway suggests, in a world where to eat is to kill and to deplete resources for others and where to live is necessarily to live off another, it may be a ‘misstep to pretend to live outside of killing’” (Haraway, as cited by Weil 117). If to eat really means to kill is debatable though. Viewed from this angle Santiago is just “part of nature’s cycle of life and [...] dependent upon others for survival” (Bonynge 17). Still, he doubts his own reasons after killing the marlin.

You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food, he thought. You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more? (Hemingway, Old Man 81)

Nevertheless, he has a certain sense of morals. He feels sorry for the fish after hooking him, but especially after the marlin has been mutilated by the sharks. He has not only killed but humiliated the fish. Santiago does revert to feeling sorry for himself (Pingelton 121). He explains his pity through the greatness of the fish. “Then he began to pity the great fish that he had hooked. He is wonderful and strange and who knows how old he is, he thought. Never have I had such a strong fish nor one who acted so strangely.” (Hemingway, Old Man 35). Santiago has his own standards about killing fish. He wants them to “die properly” (Weil 102) (like Robert Wilson but unlike Francis Macomber). This becomes particularly clear when he thinks about the female marlin he had hooked before and how they quickly clubbed her to spare her the pain (Hemingway, Old Man 36).

Another important aspect to consider is equality. Santiago “treats nature like people” (Pingelton 122) meaning he has a close relationship to the sea and all other animals, not just the marlin. Miriam Mandel calls it “intense responses” (Mandel, Reading Hemingway 347). Santiago sees the fish as his “brother” (Hemingway, Old Man 73) and therefore his equal. Fiona Bonynge suggests that this union is caused by their joint struggle: “During their struggle a sense of similarity draws Santiago to the marlin: he declares his love and respect for it, calls it his ‘brother’ and eventually they became allies rather than enemies” (Bonynge 22). The old man truly declares the marlin his equal when he grants him the right to kill him: “You are killing me, fish, the old man thought. But you have a right to. Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than you, brother. Come on and kill me. I do not care who kills who.” (Hemingway, Old Man 71). As already mentioned, their closeness is caused by mutual suffering. The old man is not only inflicting wounds on the fish, he is also receiving injuries on his hands that are caused by the marlin, therefore developing a brotherhood (Stephens 96). This pain helps Santiago to understand the fish better. It “carves new perspectives in his thinking” (98).

Lastly, the fishing line is a symbol for their connection and solidarity. At this point it is important to recognize the different ends of the line. Santiago obviously is superior through holding the controlling end. All else aside, they are if not enemies at least working towards opposing goals. The old man is “too human in his determination to dominate and kill” (97), but he does not assume that he is in some way superior over the marlin. Still, he does not give in and wants to prove his strength to either himself or the fish. ‘Fish,’ he said softly, aloud, ‘I’ll stay with you until I am dead.’ He’ll stay with me too, I suppose, the old man thought and he waited for it to be light. It was cold now in the time before daylight and he pushed against the wood to be warm. I can do it as long as he can, he thought (Hemingway, Old Man 38).

Through courage and determination, he believes to withstand all challenges (Bonynge 14f.). What is astonishing is his resolve to kill the marlin even though he loves and respects him. “Although it is unjust, he thought” (Hemingway, Old Man 49). This determination hints at a hidden need to prove “what a man can do and what a man endures” (ibid).


1 In the following paper I will be using “he” as a pronoun for both the fish and the lion because the effect on the humans lives and their intimate relationships present them as individuals rather than objects.

Excerpt out of 16 pages


United by the line that joins them. Hunting encounters in Hemingway's Fiction
University of Frankfurt (Main)  (Anglistik)
Why look at animals? - Animal Studies in Literature
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Hemingway, Hunting Literature, Animal Studies, Old Man and the Sea, Francis Macomber, Ernest Hemingway, Human Animal Relation, Animal Personification, Masculinity, Hemingway Short Story, Fiction
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2018, United by the line that joins them. Hunting encounters in Hemingway's Fiction, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/973888


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