On the Blue Water

It seems hard to imagine that the hobby of fishing could be expanded in a way that would compare it to war. Although well known for his fiction, Hemingway was never popular for satires. Still, his involvement in World War II inevitably had an effect on his perspective of the world, and could have very possibly inspired satires on human nature. As well as being a soldier during the war, Hemingway was an avid hunter. Thus, it is no surprise that he would choose to tie an analogy between hunting and war. Hemingway’s analogy between hunting and war is a subtle, yet powerful satire upon mankind’s tendency to be animalistic, working to satirize human acts of war that result in the deliberate killing of our own species.

In his short story, “On the Blue Water,” Hemingway tells the story of two friends discussing interests in hunting. First published in 1936 in Esquire’s First Sports Reader, a hunting magazine, Hemingway’s story tells the tale of two friends discussing their favorite sorts of hunting. The story begins with a quote that is now one of Hemingway’s most well-known. “Certainly there is no hunting like the hunting of man and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never really care for anything else thereafter,” Hemingway writes. The quote is initially ambiguous in its word choice, “hunting of man” leaves one unclear about whether it is man who is doing the hunting or being the prey. However, the quote is quickly forgotten as the story continues on to compare elephant hunting with the thrill of fishing, as the two friends aim to persuade each other as to which is better. The main speaker aims to convince his friend, Richard, that the sea is a dangerous and beautiful creature, and elephant hunting is nothing compared to the thrill of fishing. Hemingway then proceeds to go very into depth about the art of fishing, and breaks into a random story where he is finishing with his friends Carlos and Julio. The story then begins to sound a lot like Old Man and the Sea, and may in fact, have inspired the later novella. However, Richard seems to remain obsessed with elephant hunting, and fails to see the beauty in fishing.

Richard’s obsession with elephant hunting is one of the tools Hemingway uses to satirize war or “the hunting of man” as he calls it. Richard’s loss of interest in anything other than elephant hunting is a satire on what men become after seeing the war. Hemingway compares the feeling of doing anything other than war (or hunting) to “drinking wine without taste buds…Wine, when your tongue has been burned clean with lye and water, feels like puddle water in your mouth…” Hemingway’s speaker states, revealing the feeling of loss men may have experienced after returning from the war. The speaker also compares elephant hunting to the “German cult of suicide climbing,” to reveal the danger in elephant hunting. Hemingway’s extended analogy on elephant hunting is a reference to being in war, and thus Hemingway makes the statement that being in war is like suicide climbing; there is no certainty of death, but there is always a chance, and there is always the thrill of surviving.

Through his use of a satirical analogy to elephant hunting, Hemingway makes the claim that man’s thrill and obsession with hunting animals can be extended to hunting men. After his short fishing story, Hemingway adds an ironic ending that seems to tie together with his famous quote. At the end of the short story, the speaker and Carlos, a fishing mate, return with a fish. However, they make little money off of the fish and conclude that “the fisherman [is] always poor.” The last two sentences of Hemingway’s story elude back to the beginning:

“’What we need for prosperity is a war,’ Carlos says. ’In the time of the war with Spain and in the last war the fishermen were actually rich.’”

“’All right,’ you say. ‘If we have a war you get the dinghy read.’”

These final statements seem to take us back to the dual meaning in “there is no hunting like the hunting of a man,” and while the basis of the fishing story inclines us to believe the quote refers to hunting animals, the mention of a war brings us back to the idea that it is in fact man that is being hunted by man. Thus, on the surface level, Hemingway’s short story seems to be like any other fishing story in a hunting magazine, but a further analysis reveals that it is in actuality a satire on war.

Although one must take a delve into “On the Blue Water” in order to find the satire within, it does not take much searching to uncover the satire in the Hemingway’s famous quote when it is printed on the back of an police officer’s shirt. “New York Cops See Us as Human Prey” is an article that appears in the Socialist Worker, an online news and blog site that is appalled by the message. The article displays a picture of an NYPD police officer with the famous quote printed on the back of his shirt. The article makes claims that the NYPD “treats residents as subhuman” as it criticizes the police officers for “wearing T-shirts that compared their job to hunting animals.” However, regardless of the offense this display creates, the satire still works in gaining attention from the public, even if the attention is negative. The article argues that the police officers view themselves as heroes while dehumanizing civilians and treating them poorly. The T-shirt’s claim, however, brings a different perspective from the police officers, and satirizes them as men that put themselves through great danger in order to hunt down their dangerous “prey.”

Although the ambiguity within Hemingway’s famous quote was not originally taken to be satirical or particularly critical in nature, the “hunt of man” seems to be particularly offensive today when it is applied to our own lives. In this sense, Hemingway’s satirical quote turned out to be successful, as it works both to criticize people for being killers and for being animals of prey, causing dispute in analysis even today.





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