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
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.
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
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
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
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.