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5 Lions on the Beach Dream, Place, and Memory in The Old Man and the Sea Larry Grimes • Why are the lions the main thing that is left? Should we talk about Africa or about baseball? —Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea In addressing both of these questions asked in The Old Man and the Sea, I will depart from the Eurocentric answers offered by previous scholars and suggest answers that take seriously Afro-Cuban elements in the novel. I will look carefully at the location of the lions in the text, asking questions about how the lions enter the narrative, where they are located in the construction of narrative consciousness, and how the text is situated each time the lions are mentioned. My purpose, as I ponder these and related questions, is threefold: to show that Hemingway is a multicultural writer, to locate The Old Man and the Sea inside an Afro-Cuban world, and to provide a reading of the lions on the beach from this new cultural geography. I begin the process of interpretative relocation with the obvious: the novel is set in Cuba. In addition, its Canary Islander protagonist knows and is willing to talk about Africa. He says to the boy, “Should we talk about Africa or about baseball?”(OMATS22).Theboy,likemanyAmericancriticsofthestory,chooses baseball.However,Santiagoreturnsagainandagain,throughmemory,toAfrica and the lions on the beach. Further, the novelist sits in Cuba as he writes. He sits 57 Cirino & Ott.indb 57 3/23/10 9:34:36 AM 58 larry grimes intheFincaVigía,whichcontainsnumerousAfricanartifacts—huntingtrophies, a walking stick, small statues, a kudu skin on the floor. My remembered catalog ofAfricanmaterialsparallelsthatprovidedrecentlytoHilaryHemingwaybythe currentheadoftheCulturalExtensionDepartmentofHemingwayResearchand expert on Afro-Cuban artifacts, Maria Caridad Valdes Fernandez (Hemingway and Brennen 104−08). Finally, the Finca Vigía sits at the edge of the village of San Francisco de Paula, whose people, within and behind its Catholic name, practiced Afro-Cuban religions. Among those practitioners was Hemingway’s major domo and Cuban “son,” René Villarreal, a Palo Monte priest.1 Philip Melling discusses the presence of things African and Afro-Cuban in the Finca and in the novella, suggesting that Santerian elements in the novel ultimately call deep memories of slavery and the Middle Passage into the text of The Old Man and the Sea.2 Afro-Cuban religions, unlike orthodox Christianity , are not concerned with sin, grace, atonement, and salvation. Rather, they focus on the here and now, on getting through each day, on bringing balance and harmony to a discordant life. These religions, such as Santeriá and Palo Monte, provide their adherents with active control over an unruly natural world, a control is gained in a variety of ways: the reading of the cowry shells, rituals of possession and divine empowerment, rituals for appeasing the deities , and practical, mechanical actions used to manipulate people and things (potions, cures, blessings, amulets, etc.). These activities “are conducted in order to tap into Olodumare’s [“one God” from whom all others spring] ashé and its beneficial, curative, and harmonizing nature” (Nodal and Ramos 171). Divine ashé, and access to it, lies at the heart of Afro-Cuban religions. Roberto Nodal and Miguel Ramos place the quest for power sufficient to bring order to a naturally chaotic world in this context: “Each orisha [avatar or manifestation of the divine] is related to one or more aspects of nature and/or human existence. Nature for the Lukumí contains ashé, the divine energy or power that Olodumare deposits in all He creates. Ashé is a cosmological power that existseverywhereandineverything,invaryingdegrees,sincethedawnoftime” (168). What do Afro-Cuban religions have to do with Hemingway’s lions on the beach? They first relocate the question, “Why are the lions the main thing that is left?” and then accent the African setting of the lions. Hemingway uses the lions as avatars of ashé. They are, in short, totemic.3 Through the old man’s recurrent return to the lions, he obtains the power needed to change his luck, catch the fish, endure its loss, and sleep at peace. The lion as totem is private to Hemingway and not a totem of a particular Afro-Cuban religion. In Carl Eby’s study of fetishism in Hemingway’s works, Cirino & Ott.indb 58 3/23/10 9:34:36 AM lions on the beach 59 he notes that cats, including lions, “were fetishistically-invested objects, totem animals” (121). He connects Hemingway’s cats with “the mother” through an inversion of the Oedipus complex. Although...


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