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Ernest Hemingway's 'The Old Man and the Sea' in Sinhala

FICTION: Several works of the well-known writer Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) have appeared in translation over the years in Sinhala along with the shortcomings in the translation process, especially the incapability of rendering the subtle nuances of his use of language and the experience blended intact in English and Spanish, and the Americanism with the symbolism.

With the publication of his parable-like allegorical short novel, The Old Man and the Sea (1952), Hemingway's skill in the symbolic art of expression and the resultant narrative technique of the internal monologue had been discussed from several quarters.

Hemingway's two individuals are the old Cuban fisherman Santiago with an indomitable spirit, and the young helper Manolin. The latter is too young to comprehend fully either the joy or the anguish of experience, but sensitive enough to recognize the skills and the wisdom imparted by the old man. The old man is left alone in the wide sea fishing and many unseen things happen in his struggle with the sea and the living beings in it.

To him, the sea sometimes is represented as a loving woman and sometimes as a monstrous being who emerges unforeseen. Santiago is portrayed as a skilled hard worker, but a dreamer when he relaxes.

This is the strange complexity of his personality where he dreams about his past experiences in various places including the forest where he comes across the lions. He is accordingly shown as a person with a good life in the terrain as well.

The reader sees Santiago as a dreamer of reality of both sea and land; in the sea he sees the deep bottom and the living structure nourished with insights into his own life structure.

Philosophical nuances

Come and go the living beings of both sea and land with the ceaseless struggles. This philosophical nuances are seen as shades of the narrative meanings giving more enrichment to the structure and the theme of the work taken as a whole. In the first instance Santiago is shown as an old man with no luck but equipped with undaunted spirit.

The old man struggles in the sea for eighty-four days; Manolin shares the first forty days with him, followed by his transfer to another boat. But the boy still serves the man bringing him foodstuff, beer, and the bait.

What happens when the old man is alone is the most important part of the novel where he tries his best to catch fish, but in the last moment of his struggle he is more or less successful with the continuing struggle. When he sees a fish caught, this time Marlin hidden far below the sea where the actual struggle in getting him out becomes an issue.

But the old man, in certain ways, wins the struggle, though, at the same time, he is a loser undergoing a painful experience with a Macko shark attacking and mutilating the corpse of the caught fish.

Santiago has qualms about killing the fish, but at the same time he realizes the man's obligatory struggle against the nature-caused defeat in order to stay alive.

Accordingly the entire narrative rests on several symbolic layers when the old man and the sea themselves stand for the series of struggles. It is a struggle in vain, yet the man has to undergo it, if he is to achieve the goal. Was Santiago able to reach the goal?

Hemingway makes the old man speak for himself about his journey gone too far to achieve the goal and that was solely the reason for his defeat.

Ravenous sharks

All he could do is to steer his boat to the harbour, the return to the starting-point place. The ravenous sharks have already stripped the Marlin fish to its skeleton. His boat is beached with only the head and tail of his catch remaining.

The old man shoulders his mast and climbs up the hill to his shack. Once he stumbles and falls, but he never gives up, for he rises once again and struggles to survive on the land thinking of the nightmare.

He sleeps well with arms outstretched and palms turned up. At this moment the boy Manolin comes to him and attends to him. They discuss the gains and losses of their lives. Then the old man sleeps dreaming about his experiences in the past, flanked by Manolin. I hope you have no grudge against this little re-narration, which might not be justifiable at all.

On reading the Sinhala translation (Mahalla saha Muhuda, an author publication 2007), I feel that Pram Deldeniya has attempted to be as honest as possible in his rendering of the subtle nuances of the original work in its entirety, leaving no adapted segments or disjointed areas with allowances for distorted meanings to the original work.

He uses a semi-classical diction in the various descriptive areas possibly with the sensitive intelligent Sinhala reader in the mind. I would have preferred Deldeniya to have presented a longer preface by way of guidance to the original, enabling the reader to know some opinions held by the literary critics of the day.

The Sinhala translation is neither an adaptation nor a misguided work detouring from the original. It has retained, as far as possible, the original flavour at least in the expressionistic mood of the author presumably paving the way for the Sinhala student and teacher of literature to know Hemingway's creative vision.

As literary works from quite a number of languages and cultures are being translated rapidly into Sinhala, with varying degrees of distortion sometimes unforgivable, this translation may help, in many ways, enrich the understanding of new trends and themes utilized by a writer of much dignity.



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