Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

The gills of the dolphin and Hemingway’s reputation

The Old Man and the SeaThe Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Yesterday afternoon I started to read The old man and the sea. I couldn’t remember if I had read it before, but as it is a short book it couldn’t do any harm to read it again. I think before I started but did not finish it. It’s about an old fisherman who has been unlucky for 84 days, and really needs to catch something. So he goes out to catch a big fish.

But it struck me as weird. I have this image of Hemingway as the grand macho hunting’, shootin’ and fishing type, who knows all there is to know about game animals and game fish, and yet here he is describing dolphins as having gills. It sticks out like a sore thumb. I’m reading a school edition, with notes. Surely there must be a note on that. But no, there isn’t. Is it just that the people who wrote the notes are equally ignorant, or that they don’t want to suggest any weakness in the great master?

And it strikes me that if Hemigway is so ignorant of such an elementary fact of marine biology as that, does the rest of what he writes count for anything at all? How can he write about an old man and the sea and its creatures when he is that ignorant?

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3 thoughts on “The gills of the dolphin and Hemingway’s reputation

  1. Pip on said:

    Thought you might be interested to know that colloquially in Florida and elsewhere, mahi-mahi were often referred to as “dolphins”. Hemingway’s description of the dolphin’s colour also supports this explanation.

    He definitely knew enough about fishing to know that true dolphins don’t have gills!

  2. Nate on said:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed that. It bothered me a bit, but I just took it as the fisherman being ignorant or not having the necessary vocabulary to explain it.

  3. Dude on said:

    The dolphins in the Story are not real dolphins, but another species called dolphinfish, aka mahi-mahi.

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