The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Table of Contents
1. The Old Man and the Sea: Introduction
2. The Old Man and the Sea: Overview
3. The Old Man and the Sea: Ernest Hemingway Biography
The Old Man and the Sea: Summary

¨ Unlucky Boat
¨ The Truly Big Fish
¨ Destroyed But Not Defeated
The Old Man and the Sea: Chapter Summaries
¨ Day 1 Summary
¨ Day 2 Summary
¨ Day 3 Summary
¨ Day 4 Summary
¨ Day 5 Summary
The Old Man and the Sea: Essential Passages
¨ Essential Passages by Character: Santiago
¨ Essential Passages by Theme: Man Versus Nature
7. The Old Man and the Sea: Themes
8. The Old Man and the Sea: Style
9. The Old Man and the Sea: Historical Context
10. The Old Man and the Sea: Critical Overview
The Old Man and the Sea: Character Analysis
¨ Character Overview
¨ Manolin
¨ Santiago
¨ Other Characters
The Old Man and the Sea: Essays and Criticism
¨ The Old Man and the Sea: An Overview
The Old Man and the Sea 1
¨ The Deceptive Simplicity of The Old Man and the Sea
¨ A New Dimension for a Hero: Santiago of The Old Man and the Sea
¨ The Old Man and the Sea: Hemingway’s Tragic Vision of Man
13. The Old Man and the Sea: Selected Quotes
14. The Old Man and the Sea: Topics for Further Study
15. The Old Man and the Sea: Media Adaptations
16. The Old Man and the Sea: What Do I Read Next?
17. The Old Man and the Sea: Bibliography and Further Reading
18. The Old Man and the Sea: Pictures
19. Copyright
The Old Man and the Sea: Introduction
When The Old Man and the Sea was published in 1952 to wide critical acclaim, it had been twelve years since
Ernest Hemingway’s previous critical success, For Whom the Bell Tolls. His major writing effort during the
intervening period, Across the River and Into the Trees, published in 1950, had been widely dismissed as a
near-parody of the author’s usual style and themes. The Old Man and the Sea, however, was a popular
success, selling 5.3 million copies within two days of its publication in a special edition of Life magazine. A
few complaints about the stilted language of some of the Spanish transliterations came from critics. Some also
found Santiago’s philosophizing unrealistic. Nevertheless, the story won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1953.
A year later, Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Nobel committee singled out the
story’s “natural admiration for every individual who fights the good fight in a world of reality overshadowed
by violence and death,” (noted Susan F. Beegel in “Conclusion: The Critical Reputation of Ernest
Hemingway”). Although Hemingway’s writing continued to be published, much of it posthumously after the
author’s suicide in 1961, The Old Man and the Sea is generally considered by many to be his crowning
achievement. The work was especially praised for its depiction of a new dimension to the typical Hemingway
hero, less macho and more respectful of life. In Santiago, Hemingway had finally achieved a character who
could face the human condition and survive without cynically dismissing it or dying while attempting to better
it. In Santiago’s relationship with the world and those around him, Hemingway had discovered a way to
proclaim the power of love in a wider and deeper way than in his previous works.
The Old Man and the Sea: Overview
Initially appearing in a special November, 1951 issue of Life Magazine, The Old Man and the Sea was
published in book form in 1952. It encompasses the exploits of its title character, the old Cuban fisherman
Santiago over the course of three days. While Santiago is not the novel’s narrator, the tale is related from his
perspective and through his consciousness.
At the novel’s start, we are told that impoverished, aged, but admirable fisherman Santiago’s luck had gone
bad, that he had not caught a marlin or even a single fish for eighty-four days. So poorly had he fared that his
young protege, the boy Manolin, had been forced to leave his mentor to work on another boat. Nevertheless,
Manolin’s affection for the old man was so strong that he would beg or even steal to provide him with good
and bait, the boy relishing the old man’s stories of past adventures and his knowledge of American baseball
and its primary hero, the great DiMaggio. Long a widower, the old man no longer dreamed of wife but of
lions roaming on a beach.
On eighty-fifth day, the old man went out into the Caribbean waters around Cuba alone, and in short order he
caught a large marlin. The old man waited for the fish to surface before tiring, but this does not happen, and
when night fell his small boat was pulled far out to sea by the fish. On the next morning, the old man saw the
marlin jump and realized that landing such enormous fish would mean a protracted struggle. The old man
eNotes: Table of Contents 2
buoyed himself by eating bait and remembering his youth when he wrestled with “giant” men in the taverns
of Havana. But with another day’s passage the old man’s energies were virtually exhausted his hands deeply
cut from holding the rope attached to the marlin. With his remaining strength, Santiago was about to bring the
marlin in, but he found that it was too large to fit in his boat and he was forced to tie his catch to the boat’s
side. It was then that the sharks began to appear. First, a large Mako shark ripped a huge chunk flesh from the
catch. The old man fended this one off, but the smell of blood in the water drew others, and by nightfall of
second day, the sharks had ripped the marlin to pieces. All the old man could do was to steer his boat toward
lights of Havana.
Upon reaching the shore, the old man carried his gear forward, falling several times from exhaustion. At the
pier, his fellow fishermen marveled at the skeleton of a fish larger than any that they have ever seen. The old
man was greeted by Manolin, who urged him to rest and to prepare for another day’s fishing when they
would again go out together. The novel ends as the old man falls asleep, with the boy at his side, and again
dreams of lions on distant shore.
The Old Man and the Sea: Ernest Hemingway Biography
Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1899. He was the second son of Clarence Hemingway, a
doctor, and Grace Hall Hemingway, who had been an aspiring opera singer. While his father encouraged his
son’s athletic and outdoor skills, his mother fostered her son’s artistic talents. In school, Hemingway was an
active, if not outstanding, athlete. He wrote poems and articles for the school newspaper, and he also tried his
hand at stories. After graduation Hemingway became a reporter on the Kansas City Star, where he learned the
newspaper’s preferred style of simple declarative sentences that was to permanently influence his own style
of writing.
Ernest Hemingway
In May of 1918 Hemingway volunteered for duty in World War I serving as an ambulance driver on the
Italian front. This experience later served as the source material for A Farewell to Arms. He, like the novel’s
protagonist, was wounded in the legs. However, instead of being returned to the front he was sent home,
where he was greeted as a celebrity. He spent months convalescing at the family cabin in Michigan. Having
recovered, in 1920, Hemingway moved to Toronto where he functioned as companion to a disabled youth.
There, he again entered the world of writing by working for the Toronto Star. After marrying, he became a
correspondent with the paper. His position enabled him to begin pursuing a career as a novelist. He and his
wife, Hadley Richardson, left for Paris, where Hemingway associated with a group of other authors known
collectively as the “Lost Generation.” The group included James Joyce Ezra Pound Gertrude Stein and Ford
The Old Man and the Sea: Overview 3
Madox Ford.
Awaiting the birth of their child, the Hemingways returned to Toronto in 1923. Following the birth of their
son John, the family went back to Paris. There Hemingway spent a year and a half editing a literary magazine.
1925 to 1929 proved to be a prolific period for Hemingway, who wrote and published the short story
collection In Our Time and the novels The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms, as well as others. The end
of the 1920s was marred, however, by his divorce from Hadley in 1927 and by the suicide of his father in
1928. In the same period, Pauline Pfeiffer, whom Hemingway married the same year as his divorce, nearly
died while she was giving birth to their child. This experience later found its way into the death of the
character Catherine Barkley in A Farewell to Arms.
The 1930s, on the other hand, were filled with writing and adventure, as Hemingway hunted in Africa, fished
in the Gulf Stream near Cuba, and reported on the Spanish Civil War for the North American Newspaper
Alliance. During the mid-1930s Hemingway began gathering material for The Sea, one part of which
eventually became The Old Man and the Sea. The other parts, as edited by Charles Scribner, were later
published posthumously in 1970 as Islands in the Stream.
In 1940 Hemingway left Pfeiffer for Martha Gellhorn. The same year he published For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Hemingway and Gellhorn then went to China. Next, he became a war correspondent with the U.S. Fourth
Infantry Division where he met Mary Welsh. In 1946, one year after divorcing Gellhorn, he married Welsh.
The Old Man and the Sea won the Pulitzer Prize in 1952. Two years later, Hemingway was awarded the
Nobel Prize for Literature. But as he approached his sixties, Hemingway’s health began deteriorating. The
once robust adventurer now suffered from hypertension, mild diabetes, depression, and paranoia. Despite
treatment for mental health issues, Hemingway committed suicide on July 2, 1961. He is remembered as one
of the great stylistic innovators of modern American literature.
The Old Man and the Sea: Summary
Unlucky Boat
The Old Man and the Sea tells the story of Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman, who alone in his small boat
faces the most difficult fight of his life against an enormous marlin. At the beginning of the short novel,
Santiago has lost his fisherman’s luck; he has gone eighty-four days without catching a marketable fish. Even
his closest friend, a village boy he taught to fish, has left him to work on another boat. The local fishermen
make fun of Santiago or feel sorry for him, but he himself remains hopeful and undefeated. Every day he rises
early, prepares his skiff, and rows far out into the Gulf Stream in search of marlin.
Though ordered by his parents to work on a luckier boat, the boy still loves Santiago, and he visits the old
man’s simple shack when he can. Once married, Santiago now lives alone in increasing poverty. He has little
to eat, and frequently must rely on the boy or others in the village to bring him food and clothing. As they
share their meals, Santiago and the boy discuss baseball and the important players of the period, especially
“the great DiMaggio.” The old man tells of his early life working on ships that sailed to Africa. When he
sleeps, Santiago dreams of being young again and seeing “lions on the beaches in the evening.”
The Truly Big Fish
Early one morning the old man rises, shares coffee with the boy, and sets out for the far reaches of the fishing
grounds. He passes all the other fishermen, who stop to work “the great well,” the point where the ocean
The Old Man and the Sea: Ernest Hemingway Biography 4
drops off suddenly to seven hundred fathoms. He watches for flying fish or other signs of bait that might
signal the presence of larger fish. Soon he catches a small albacore and, using it for bait, quickly hooks
something very large. Though he pulls as hard as he can on the line, Santiago cannot move the great weight on
the other end. The big fish refuses to surface and begins to swim out to sea, towing the skiff behind it.
Eat it so that the point of the hook goes into your heart and kills you, he thought. Come up
easy and let me put the harpoon into you. All right. Are you ready? Have you been long
enough at table?
“Now!” he said aloud and struck hard with both hands, gained a yard of line and then struck
again and again, swinging with each arm alternately on the cord with all the strength of his
arms and the pivoted weight of his body.
Nothing happened. The fish just moved away slowly and the old man could not raise him an
inch. His line was strong and made for heavy fish and he held it against his back until it was
so taut that beads of water were jumping from it. Then it began to make a slow hissing sound
in the water and he still held it, bracing himself against the thwart and leaning back against
the pull. The boat began to move slowly off toward the northwest.
Alone and unable to release the tightening line, Santiago struggles to hold onto the fish. Without the boy to
help him, he knows that either he or the fish will die from this. His body is old but still strong, and he
maintains his grip on the line despite his age and increasing discomfort. After several hours, night falls, but he
never considers giving up. He realizes that he will need to eat to keep up his strength, and as the sun begins to
rise the next day he consumes one of the small tuna he caught the day before.
During the second day, the great fish surfaces just long enough for Santiago to see him. The sight of the great
marlin, “two feet longer than the skiff,” inspires the old man. He remembers a time in his younger days when
he arm wrestled a man in a Casablanca tavern. The match began on a Sunday morning and lasted the entire
night, ending the following morning when Santiago forced his opponent’s hand to the wood. Night comes
again and the old man realizes that he needs to sleep. He wraps the line around his shoulders and cramps his
body against it. Then he sleeps and dreams of the lions.
When Santiago wakes it is still dark, though the moon has come out. While he was sleeping, the great fish has
risen to the surface, and now Santiago can hear the marlin thrashing and jumping in the distance. As the old
man gathers all his strength to hold onto the line, the marlin begins to circle the boat, and Santiago knows he
has won. After several turns, the fish pulls closer, brushing the sides of the boat, and the old man, seeing his
chance, drives his harpoon into its side. With a final struggle that sends spray over the entire skiff, the fish
dies, its dark blood staining the blue water.
Destroyed But Not Defeated
Now many miles out to sea, the old man lashes the great fish to the side of his skiff and sets his small sail for
home. After about an hour of smooth sailing, however, his luck runs out. A shark, following the trail of blood
left by the huge fish, bites into the body, taking a large piece of flesh. Santiago manages to kill the “dentuso”
with his harpoon, but he realizes that more sharks will follow. He begins to wonder whether he committed a
sin in killing the great marlin, but before he has time to decide, the sharks close in. Fighting a hopeless battle,
the old man kills several of the large “galanos” before he loses first his harpoon and then his knife. By the
time the skiff reaches the village, little remains of the great fish but the head and skeleton.
The Truly Big Fish 5
Convinced that he “went out too far” and bears responsibility for the loss of the fish, the exhausted Santiago
returns to his shack and falls asleep. The fishermen in the village marvel at the mutilated fish; at eighteen feet,
it is the largest marlin they have ever seen. The boy brings the old man food and fresh clothes and watches
over him as he sleeps.
The Old Man and the Sea: Chapter Summaries
Day 1 Summary
Santiago is an old man, worn and weathered by the sun and by life; but his eyes are still hopeful and spirited.
He is a fisherman who has gone eighty-four days without catching a fish; he is seen as the worst kind of
unlucky. After forty days, the young boy who was fishing with the old man was forced to go to another boat.
Now Santiago fishes alone. Each day as the old man’s skiff arrives, the boy feels sad for him and helps him
carry his gear from the dejected-looking boat: “The old man had taught the boy to fish and the boy loved
Today the boy is hopeful that he can fish with Santiago again, but Santiago knows the boy’s father will not
allow it. As they walk, the boy reminds the old man about the time he went eighty-seven days without a fish
and then caught a fish every day for weeks. Santiago remembers and tells the boy he knows it was not the
boy’s choice to leave the unlucky boat. The boy offers to buy a beer for Santiago, so they stop at the Terrace.
The younger fishermen make fun of the old man; the older ones look at him sadly. Those who already made
their catches for the day have butchered their marlins and prepared them for the market in Havana; those who
caught sharks have taken them to the nearby shark factory.
It is pleasant on the Terrace. Though he cannot fish with Santiago, the boy wants to help and offers to get the
sardines for tomorrow’s fishing. Santiago says the boy has done enough. They grow nostalgic, remembering
when the boy was five and was nearly killed when Santiago brought in a big fish too soon. The boy begs to
get four fresh sardines; Santiago compromises and says he may get one. The boy insists and they settle on
two, paid for by the boy. Santiago wonders when he learned to be humble but knows it is part of who he now
is, and he is not ashamed to accept such help.
The boy says tomorrow he will pretend to see something on the distant horizon so his captain will go far out
to sea and they will be able to help Santiago if he needs it. Santiago believes he is strong enough to handle a
big fish alone and says he knows many tricks if he needs to use them. They make their way with some of the
gear and the mast to the old man’s home, a simple shack made of palm, sparsely furnished. On one wall are
pictures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Virgin of Cobre. These belonged to his wife; he has put the
picture of his wife away because it makes him too sad. There is little else in the room.
The boy asks a few usual questions and gets the usual answers. What will the old man eat? A pot of yellow
rice and fish. Can he take the cast net for the old man? Of course. It is a charade, for they both know there is
no rice and fish, and the cast net was sold long ago. They discuss their favorite pastime—baseball. The
Yankees are the old man’s favorite team. They discuss buying a lottery ticket with the number eighty-five
because they feel lucky about tomorrow’s fishing. Santiago sits in the sun reading a newspaper that has been
given to him while the boy gets the sardines.
When the boy returns, he sees the old man has fallen asleep. He drapes a blanket around his friend’s strong,
weathered shoulders. He leaves Santiago sleeping and brings them back some dinner from the Terrace. When
Santiago says he has gone without eating before, the boy says, “You’ll not fish without eating while I’m
alive.” The old man says he will eat since he has washed, but the boy knows the nearest water is several
streets away—another fiction. He is determined to bring fresh water and some other clothes for the old man.
Destroyed But Not Defeated 6
As they eat, they talk baseball. Joe DiMaggio is Santiago’s hero, and he wishes he could take him fishing; the
great DiMaggio’s father was a fisherman, so he feels a connection. Santiago recalls his days on a ship near
Africa when he saw lions on the beach, but they talk about baseball tonight. Dick Sisler, John J. McGraw, and
Leo Durocher are the legends who have spent time in their small fishing town. The boy believes Santiago is a
legend among fishermen. Santiago hopes he will not be beaten by a fish, and the boy assures him he will not
be as long as the old man is as strong as he says he is. Again Santiago claims he has “tricks” and
They make their plan for the morning; Santiago will wake the boy to begin their day. Once the boy leaves, the
old man takes off his pants and rolls them up to use as a pillow. He rolls up in his blanket and sleeps on
newspapers covering the springs of his bed. He dreams of Africa—the white sands, the frolicking lions, the
smell of tar, and the breeze and smell off the coast:
He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish,
nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor his wife. He only dreamed of places now, and lions on
the beach. They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy.
Day 2 Summary
Day 2
The moon is still shining as Santiago dresses and walks to the boy’s house to wake him. After the boy carries
the gear, which he has helped do since he was five, they have coffee. Santiago is confident this will be the day
he will catch a fish. While the boy, Manolin, gets the sardines and baits, Santiago enjoys his coffee, the only
sustenance he will have for the day. Other than a bottle of water, the old man brings no food with him on his
boat. Eating bores him; water is all he needs.
Manolin returns and Santiago is ready to fish. As he rows he hears others silently rowing as well. He hears the
hissing of the flying fish, his “principle friends in the ocean.” He feels sorry for the birds who are always
looking but rarely finding; he believes the ocean is too strong for such delicate creatures. The Spanish name
for the ocean is la mar, which is what the old man calls her as a term of endearment. Those who see fishing as
just a business call it el mar, the masculine name. Others speak unkindly of her, but Santiago does not. He
sees the ocean as a woman, good-natured but often capricious.
He has rowed quickly, and he stops where the albacore and bonita school. He hopes for a big marlin among
them. His baits are out, one at forty, one at seventy-five, and one at one hundred, and the last at one hundred
twenty-five fathoms. The baits are on the hooks and the sardines are covering any exposed steel; everything
on the hook is tempting, and each line rests on a stick so he will see it dip when a fish pulls on the bait. He has
more than three hundred fathoms of line coiled in his skiff.
As the sun rises, Santiago rows steadily to keep the baits in straight lines, unlike those of other fishermen. He
has had no luck, but he thinks he would rather be exact than lucky: “then when luck comes you are ready.”
He continues rowing and sees only a few other boats, much closer to shore. A man-of-war bird is circling
nearby, and Santiago rows in that direction. Flying fish leap and they are too quick for the bird; a great school
of dolphins is chasing the flying fish. Santiago baits a small hook with a sardine in hopes of catching
something smaller; he hopes his big fish is somewhere near him. Below him in the water he sees plankton,
which is a sure sign of fish; he also sees stinging jellyfish, something he hates. Turtles eat the bad jellyfish,
and Santiago loves turtles. Though they are slow they are not stupid, and their heart beats for hours after they
have been butchered. Santiago eats the turtles and the eggs in May to be strong for the fall fishing season.
Each day he also drinks a cup of fish liver oil from the common barrel; most fishermen do not like the taste,
Day 1 Summary 7
but Santiago knows the oil will help him stay healthy.
Suddenly fish start jumping and frothing the water ahead of the boat, and the small line the old man dropped
is heavy with an albacore. Santiago swings him into the boat. He tells himself the ten-pounder will make a
good bait, and then he thinks about when he began talking to himself. He probably began when the boy left
him, but he knows he is not crazy. This is no time for daydreaming, though, and he watches the fish move
quickly to the northeast. He must fish well today to break the unlucky streak.
Suddenly one of his lines dips sharply, and Santiago is alert and watching. He places his hands on the line but
does not apply any pressure; six hundred feet below, a marlin is eating the sardines covering the hook.
Santiago holds the line delicately in his weathered hands so the marlin feels nothing. He thinks it must be a
huge fish to be this far out at this time of the year. The great fish bites delicately, turns, then bites again;
finally he takes the hook in the side of his mouth and dives down very quickly. The rope slides through
Santiago’s hands and the marlin goes even deeper. When he knows the hook is in the fish’s mouth, the old
man pulls hard on the line to set the hook. “Nothing happened.” It is noon.
Santiago is afraid to do more right now, and he is being towed out to sea by the fish. He is thankful the fish is
heading out rather than down, and he braces the rope across his back in case the fish decides to dive. Santiago
knows this must be exhausting the fish, but four hours pass and the fish is still towing the small boat out to
sea. In all that time, though he keeps the rope taut against his back, Santiago does not see the fish. When he is
thirsty, he crawls to the bow and gets some water. The old man hopes the fish will surface soon, as he can no
longer see land and he misses the boy. But he is not worried, for he can navigate by the glow of Havana’s
lights. The fish will have to surface sometime—if not before sundown, then by moonlight; if not by moonlight,
then at sunrise. Santiago is not worried, for he is strong and he has no cramps.
As the sun goes down it gets cold. Santiago slides a rough sack across his back under the rope. The fish is still
moving eastward, and the old man can no longer see the lights of Havana. He wonders about today’s baseball
games then reminds himself to stay focused. He wishes the boy were here to help and to experience this great
In the dark, Santiago hears a pair of porpoises blowing near the boat. They and the flying fish are his brothers.
He begins to feel sorry for the great fish who is “wonderful and strange” and must know he has been hooked.
“I wonder if he has any plans or if he is just as desperate as I am?” He recalls catching a female marlin and
seeing the male marlin sorrowful at the loss of his mate. He and the boy were sad for the fish and promptly
butchered her. He thinks of the fish on his line and knows they each made a choice and are now connected in
this journey. During the night something takes another of the baits, but Santiago has to strain and carefully cut
the line and reconnect the ropes too quickly to know what it might have been. Once the fish makes a great
lurch that causes the old man to hit the bottom of the boat, where he gets a cut on his face. He knows he will
stay with this fish until one of them is dead.
Day 3 Summary
As the sun rises, Santiago wishes the fish would surface, but he is still moving and strong. Perhaps he should
put some pressure on the line so the fish will jump and fill his air sacks so he cannot go deep to die. Though
he loves the fish as his brother, he vows to kill him. A small bird comes to visit. Then the fish jerks the old
man to the bottom of the boat again; only because he is braced does the old man keep from losing the line. He
is tired and sore, but he is still strong. Both man and fish are feeling the strain, and the rope has cut
Santiago’s hand. It is only a surface wound but he trails his hand in the water to stay the flow of blood. The
fish has slowed his pace. Santiago stands to stretch and brace himself once again.
Day 2 Summary 8
The old man knows he must eat the tuna to maintain his strength, though he does not like raw fish. He
maneuvers to cut the fish into strips, though his left hand is cramped. He tells himself he must eat, and it is not
as bad as he had feared. He knows he must eat it all to keep his strength, though his hand is still cramped. He
hopes the sun and the tuna will give it the strength to uncurl on its own; if it does not, he will make it work to
kill the great fish. He wishes again that the boy were here.
There is a slight change in the angle of the line, and the old man knows the fish is coming to the surface. If he
does that, he knows he can kill it:
He came out unendingly and water poured from his sides. He was bright in the sun and his
head and back were dark purple and in the sun the stripes on his side showed wide and a light
lavender. His sword was as long as a baseball bat and tapered like a rapier and he rose full
length from the water.
Santiago sees that the fish is two feet longer than his boat is, and he reminds himself he must not let the fish
know he has the greater strength and power. The fish is a worthy opponent but he must never know it.
Although he has seen other large fish and has caught two over a thousand pounds, this is the biggest he has
ever seen or heard of—and he had never brought in a large one by himself. His hand is still cramped but he is
able to bring in some line, and now he waits and wishes the boy were here. Santiago promises to say Hail
Marys and make a pilgrimage to the Virgin of Cobre if he catches the fish. Then he prays.
This is going to be a long ordeal, and Santiago knows he must catch another fish for sustenance. He hopes for
another tuna because dolphin is not pleasant to eat raw. In the heat of the day the fish has slowed but is still
moving steadily north and east. Santiago’s hand is no longer cramped, and he plans to show the boy he can
still catch a great fish. He thinks of the great DiMaggio, playing even with a bone spur, and he is inspired. He
hopes the sharks will not come.
As the sun goes down, Santiago recalls his great arm-wrestling match with the strongest man on the docks. It
took from Sunday morning to Monday morning, and the advantage changed from one to the other through the
ordeal. Santiago finally finished the match and was known as The Champion. His right hand was strong,
though his left hand has always been a traitor to him.
The dolphin that took the small bait now jumps and thrashes, and Santiago gathers the rope until the fish is at
the side of the boat. Santiago drags him in and rebaits the hook with another sardine. He lashes the oars as a
drag behind the boat as he prepares for another night with the great marlin. Several hours later, the old man
wishes he could lash the rope to the boat but knows he cannot afford to let the fish break the line. He tells
himself he must sleep to keep his strength. First, he eats the unpleasant dolphin to keep his strength. In the
dolphin are two flying fish, firm and edible. The weather is good but only his right hand is strong. He curls
himself into the bottom of the boat with his right hand on the line. He sleeps and again dreams of the lions.
He wakes as the fish jumps and the rope rushes through his hands. Santiago plans to make the fish pay for the
line he is taking and the cuts on his hands. The fish should tire more quickly with more line to pull. Santiago
wishes the boy were here to wet the coils of rope. The fish jumps again and again; then he begins to circle,
and the hard work begins. The man eats one of the flying fish to maintain his strength. He is as ready as he
can be for sunrise and what is ahead of him.
Day 4 Summary
As the sun rises for the third time, Santiago begins to coil the rope as the marlin circles. The fish slowly
makes large circles and is making steady progress upward. The sweat pours from the old man, and he is
Day 3 Summary 9
determined that he will not “fail myself and die on a fish like this.” He promises a hundred more Hail Marys
and a hundred Our Fathers but he cannot say them now. He is not as strong as he would like to be; he is tired
and a bit faint, but he knows the fish is tiring, too.
The marlin’s circle brings him near the boat, and Santiago cannot believe it is so big. The fish is now circling
only thirty yards away. The old man knows he will be able to harpoon his brother the marlin soon, and he
reminds himself to be “calm and strong.” He is finally able to get the fish on its side for a brief moment, but
it is not enough. Again he asks the fish not to kill him, even though the fish must die. On the next pass, the
marlin again rolls to his side and again recovers to circle again. Santiago knows this fish is his brother and
theirs is a noble battle:
He took all his pain and what was left of his strength and his long gone pride and he put it
against the fish’s agony.
The great marlin finally comes to rest by the side of the boat, and Santiago impales it with his harpoon. The
fish displays one last surge of life, leaping into the air, but when he comes to a stop he floats, belly up.
Santiago is exhausted and faint and in pain, but he has won this battle. Now the “slave work” begins, as the
fish must be lashed to the boat for transport back home, which is no easy feat because the fish is longer than
the boat. The old man wishes the boy were here. Santiago wants to take a moment to touch him, not just
because this fish will make him rich but because he feels as if they are somehow one. Santiago knows
DiMaggio would be proud of him; he has no bone spurs but his back and hands are not good.
The fish has been lashed to the skiff, and the old man hoists the sail to head home. He is hungry, so he shakes
some shrimp off some Gulf weed and eats them for nourishment. On the journey back Santiago wonders if
this was all real, then he sees the fish and feels his sore back and hands and he knows this was no dream. An
hour later the first shark arrives.
It is a Mako shark, which will not easily be stopped. Santiago prepares the harpoon, though the rope is short
because he had to us it to secure the fish. The shark bites the meat just above the marlin’s tail, and the old
man harpoons him precisely where he knows the brain is. Santiago throws the harpoon with “complete
malignancy,” and the shark sinks to the ocean floor, taking the rope and the harpoon with him. However, the
old man knows his bleeding fish will now attract others. The Mako’s bite took forty pounds from the great
fish, and Santiago is saddened by the gash in his brother the marlin. Now he wishes it had all been a dream
and that he had not caught the majestic fish.
To prepare himself for the next attack, Santiago holds the sail steady with his foot, keeps the tiller under his
arm, and lashes his knife to an oar. He wonders if it is a sin to kill such a fish, but he loved him before and he
loves him after, so there is no sin, he concludes. Just as fishing keeps him alive, it also nearly kills him. But he
has no regrets for killing the shark. He tastes the meat from the marlin, finds it delicious, and knows it will
bring a high price at the market—but he must first get it there.
He has two hours of smooth sailing, then two more sharks appear. They are Galanos, and they are ugly in
every way. The first Galano attacks the marlin from underneath, shaking the boat as he bites off his portion.
The second one is on the surface and Santiago manages to kill him. When the other surfaces again, Santiago
drives his makeshift spear into the shark’s brain but it does not die easily. Nearly a quarter of the fifteen
hundred pounds of the fish has been eaten, but the invaders are gone. The old fisherman soaks his hands and
tries to strengthen his knife-sword. He wishes for a stone to sharpen the blade. He thinks of nothing until the
next shark, a shovel-head, arrives as “a pig to a trough.” Santiago stabs, but the blade breaks as he kills the
Day 4 Summary 10
Armed now with the only tools he has left—two oars, a short club, and the tiller—Santiago waits. The sharks
come, of course, and he does his best to protect the marlin. He clubs them and some die, but more follow. By
the time it is dark, there is only some front meat left on the fish, and Santiago hopes he can bring that home.
He fears he tried to buy luck and paid too high a price, both with his body and with his fish. He sees the
distant lights of Havana and hopes he will not have to fight again. But he does.
They come and Santiago fights back, clubbing anything he can sense in the water below. He clubs the last
shark with the tiller and it splinters, but the shark dies. No more sharks come because there is nothing more to
Santiago fits the splintered tiller as best he can and steers for home, resting his weary body and ignoring the
last sharks who snap at the carcass for crumbs. Santiago is surprised at how smoothly and quickly he is able to
sail without the cumbersome fish to weigh him down. His boat will need little repair, and he is aware of the
sea full of friends as well as enemies. His only crime, he thinks, was going out too far.
He beaches the boat and drags it up as far as he can before tying it to a rock. As always, he shoulders his mast
and sail and walks to his home. Now he realizes his utter exhaustion and must stop. He looks back and sees
the nose and magnificent tail fin connected by an eerie white spine. He has to stop five times before finally
making it back to his shack. He takes a drink of water, covers himself with his blanket, and falls into bed face
down, palms up, on the newspaper-covered bed.
Day 5 Summary
As he had come each morning since Santiago left, the boy comes to the old man’s home this morning. The
weather is not good for fishing, so Manolin is free to spend his time with his mentor and friend. Santiago is
sleeping, but the boy sees his mangled hands and cries as he goes to get him some coffee. As he passes the
skiff, he sees a group of fishermen gathered around the carcass. One man is actually in the water measuring it:
eighteen feet. They ask Manolin how Santiago is, and the boy says he is sleeping and must not be disturbed.
The owner of the Terrace prepares some hot coffee for Manolin to take to the old man, and he praises
Santiago’s amazing fish and congratulates the boy on his two fish caught yesterday. Manolin is angry at the
praise for his fish. The owner of the Terrace sends his regrets to the old man.
Manolin keeps vigil near the old man, leaving only to find wood to build a small fire to reheat the coffee.
Santiago’s first words are “They beat me.” The boy reminds him that the fish did not defeat him, even if the
sharks did. Santiago decides the head is to be cut up and used as baits, and the boy wants to keep the sword.
Manolin tells the old man that the coast guard and others had looked for him. Manolin says he will now be
fishing with him again. He has luck and will bring it with him, and he still has much to learn. They will bring
a sharpened lance with them from now on, but Santiago must heal his hands. Santiago says he also has a
strange cough. The boy says he must heal that as well, for Santiago can teach him everything. As he goes to
get some clothes, some food, a newspaper, and some salve for the old man’s hands, Manolin is still crying.
Later that afternoon, tourists at the Terrace see a great skeleton with a glorious tail floating in the debris near
the rocks. They ask the waiter what it is, and he tries to explain what happened and tells them sharks. They
misunderstand and say they did not know sharks were so beautiful. Meanwhile, the old man sleeps on his face
as the young boy sits next to him. Santiago is dreaming of lions.
The Old Man and the Sea: Essential Passages
Day 5 Summary 11
Essential Passages by Character: Santiago
Essential Passage 1
He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone
eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him.
But after forty days without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now
definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their
orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week. It made the boy sad to see
the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him
carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the
mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent
Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman, has gone for almost three months without catching a single big fish.
Manolin, a young boy once apprenticed to Santiago, is moved against his will by his parents to another
fisherman with better luck. At the end of forty days, Manolin’s parents have decided that Santiago's luck is so
bad he might be under some type of curse. Manolin, however, is devoted to the old man, always coming back
at the end of the day to help Santiago stow his gear. Santiago’s skiff (a small boat powered by either oars or
sails) is old and sea-ravaged as well. The sail, much patched with whatever material Santiago can find, is
symbolic of defeat, but Santiago refuses to concede.
Essential Passage 2
Now is no time to think of baseball, he thought. Now is the time to think of only one thing.
That which I was born for. There might be a big one around that school, he thought. I picked
up only a straggler from the albacore that were feeding. But they are working far out and fast.
Everything that shows on the surface today travels very fast and to the north-east. Can that be
the time of day? Or is it some sign of weather that I do not know?
It is early in the morning on the first day of Santiago’s quest for a big fish. He has spotted a bird flying over a
school of tuna. Santiago hopes that this is a sign that a bigger catch is near, one that would follow the school
of small fish to feed. His mind wanders, wondering about the outcome of his favorite pastime, baseball, that
he follows in the newspapers and on the radio. He wishes that he had brought a small radio with him, but he
decides that it would prove to be a distraction. His primary mission is to catch a big fish, the first after
eighty-four days. This is his destiny, to catch a fish big enough to help him regain his pride and his standing
among the fishing community of Cuba. He sees the birds; he sees the smaller fish. They are traveling swiftly
toward the northeast, away from the islands. Santiago wonders if this is their daily cycle or a sign of
impending bad weather. He can no longer see the shoreline of Cuba. His quest is taking him far from home
and safety.
Essential Passage 3
He started to climb again and at the top he fell and lay for some time with the mast across his
shoulder. He tried to get up. But it was too difficult and he sat there with the mast on his
shoulder and looked at the road. A cat passed on the far side going about its business and the
Essential Passages by Character: Santiago 12
old man watched it. Then he just watched the road.
After three days, Santiago returns home with nothing left but the skeleton of the giant marlin, the largest fish
he has ever caught. Beset by one shark after another, Santiago’s prize was slowly devoured, despite his best
efforts to drive off the predators. Sailing into the harbour in the darkness of night, he takes down his mast and
sail, ties them up, and places them across his shoulders to carry home. As he looks back at his boat in the light
from the street lamps, all he sees is the tail, the spine, and the dark mass of the marlin's head with its long
spear. Climbing the hill to his hut, he carries his mast, falling at the top. He rests, then picks it up again to
continue on. Only a cat sees his progress; otherwise, he carries his burden alone. He at last reaches his shack,
sets his mast upright against the wall, and falls into bed, exhausted after his three-day battle.
Analysis of Essential Passages
Fishing is Santiago's livelihood, but it is also an extension of himself. With each fish caught, his personal
honor and self-worth are validated. Yet it has been almost three months since Santiago has had any success in
fishing. This could simply mean a run of bad luck (which he has overcome before), or it could mean that his
significance in life is coming to an end.
For three days, Santiago fights to bring home a prized marlin, a fish that has surpassed all others he has
caught. Desperate to prove his worth and fulfill his destiny, Santiago faces a great destructive force, the
Devourer, symbolized by the sharks who attack and destroy the marlin that he is carrying home. Having
caught the fish only partly fulfills his calling, “that day for which [he] was born.” He feels that he must also
bring it home safely, to sell it at the market, to present it in the presence of all the other fishermen. He senses,
as does the reader, that the end is fast approaching for him, that by this (perhaps) final catch, his life will be
Santiago can be interpreted throughout the novel as a Christ-figure, someone who stakes his life for a higher
purpose. After he arrives home, his fish devoured, Santiago carries his mast on his shoulders, stumbling and
falling as did Christ with His cross on the Via Dolorosa. Santiago has ostensibly failed. His life is
But as he lays down his burden, Santiago is served by his one remaining follower, Manolin. Soon, the other
fishermen see and marvel at the remains of the giant marlin, the largest they have ever seen. It was not, after
all, the successful return with the marlin that was his mission; it was the struggle itself that proved Santiago's
worth. His faithfulness is a moral victory that validates his life.
Essential Passages by Theme: Man Versus Nature
Essential Passage 1
He always thought of the sea as la mer which is what people call her in Spanish when they
love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they are always said as
though she were a woman. Some of the younger fishermen, those who used buoys as floats
for their lines and had motorboats, bought when the shark livers had brought much money,
spoke of her as el mar which is masculine. They spoke of her as a contestant or a place or
even an enemy. But the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that
gave or withheld great favours, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could
not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman, he thought.
Essential Passages by Theme: Man Versus Nature 13
Santiago leaves in the dark hours of the morning, bidding good-bye and good luck to his fellow fishermen.
His hopes are high for a catch that day, but that depends on the sea. Santiago reflects on how people personify
the sea. His younger colleagues think of it in terms of a man, one who must be fought for a prize, or
something that must be overcome. For Santiago, however, the sea is always a woman, one who gives her
“favours” (a sexual metaphor) or withholds them depending on her mood. She is uncontrollable.
Essential Passage 2
He is a great fish and I must convince him, he thought. I must never let him learn his strength
nor what he could do if he made his run. If I were him I would put in everything now and go
until something broke. But, thank God, they are not as intelligent as we who kill them;
although they are more noble and more able.
It is the second of Santiago’s struggles against the great marlin. After hours of fighting against an unseen
enemy, the fish has at last risen from deep underwater to display itself, vividly colored in purple and lavender.
The marlin’s great sword is as long as a baseball bat (echoing Santiago’s obsession with the sport of
baseball). Santiago estimates that the fish is two feet longer than his entire boat. Pulling the line swiftly and
steadily, the marlin requires the old man to keep both hands on the line so that it does not break. Santiago for
his part must keep pressure on the line in order to tire out the fish. Santiago marvels at the great strength of the
marlin, but he knows that he must never let the fish use it: a sudden surge of speed would cause the line to
snap. Santiago reflects that even though the fish is not as smart as a human, he is stronger and nobler than any
Essential Passage 3
This is the second day now that I do not know the result of the juegos, he thought. But I must
have confidence and I must be worthy of the great DiMaggio who does all things perfectly
even with the pain of the bone spur in his heal. What is a bone spur? He asked himself. Un
espuela de huseo. We do not have them. Can it be as painful as the spur of a fighting cock in
one’s heel? I do not think I could endure that or the loss of the eye and of both eyes and
continue to fight as the fighting cocks do. Man is not much beside the great birds and beasts.
Still I would rather be that beast down there in the darkness of the sea.
Santiago, on this second day of his quest, reflects on how much he has missed hearing about the baseball
scores (juegos means “games”). His hero, Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees, plays with a bone spur in
his heel. The pain that DiMaggio feels is much greater than what Santiago feels in his hands and back as he
battles against the great marlin. He thinks about the roosters in cockfighting (a “sport” in which roosters are
equipped with sharp metal spurs on their claws and then attack each other to the death) and the pain that these
animals experience as they continue to fight, often with their faces mutilated. Santiago holds that animals are
much nobler than humans are. He would rather be the marlin on the end of the line than the human holding
that line.
Analysis of Essential Passages
Essential Passages by Theme: Man Versus Nature 14
Santiago reflects on the nature of the sea, from which he procures his livelihood and his self-worth. His
younger colleagues see the waters as “male,” as an opponent that must be bested by strength alone. Yet
Santiago knows that man’s strength is minuscule compared to the sea's power. To face the sea as male is to
invite sure defeat. If, however, one views the ocean as a woman, then one has a small chance of success. In
Santiago’s view, a man must come to the sea on her own terms and gently inspire her to give up her treasures.
The marlin that Santiago catches comes to symbolize the sea as the sea itself symbolizes nature, an incredible
force of sheer strength. The great fish is caught but never dominated. Prior to the fish’s surfacing, Santiago
can only guess at its size by the power he feels through his fishing line. Once the marlin makes its appearance,
Santiago sees that its beauty is equal to its strength. His appreciation for the marlin mirrors his regard for
nature itself. From nature to the sea, from the sea to the marlin, from the marlin to all animals, Santiago
recognizes the deep nobility of the nonhuman inhabitants of his environment.
In his struggle against nature, Santiago ultimately accepts defeat. When Santiago loses the marlin, he takes up
his “cross” in the form of his mast, an act that symbolizes his submission to the natural world. Only through
defeat in the face of the overwhelming power of nature does he emerge victorious. Santiago has humbly made
peace with the world and his place in it.
The Old Man and the Sea: Themes
The Human Condition
In his novella about a fisherman who struggles to catch a large marlin only to lose it, Hemingway has stripped
down the basic story of human life to its basic elements. A single human being, represented by the fisherman
Santiago, is blessed with the intelligence to do big things and to dream of even grander things. Santiago shows
great skill in devising ways to tire out the huge fish he has hooked and ways to conserve his strength in order
to land it. Yet in the struggle to survive, this human must often suffer and even destroy the very thing he
dreams of. Thus Santiago cuts his hands badly and loses the fish to sharks in the process of trying to get his
catch back to shore. Yet the struggle to achieve one’s dreams is still worthwhile, for without dreams, a human
remains a mere physical presence in the universe, with no creative or spiritual dimension. And so at the end of
the story, Santiago, in spite of his great loss, physical pain, and exhaustion, is still “dreaming about the
lions”—the same ones he saw in Africa when he was younger and would like to see again.
Against the seeming indifference of the universe, love is often the only force that endures. This force is best
seen in the relationship of Santiago and Manolin, which has endured since Manolin’s early childhood. Over
the years, Santiago has taught Manolin to fish and given him companionship and a sense of self-worth that
Manolin failed to get from his own father. Manolin in return shows his love for Santiago by bringing him food
and by weeping for him when he sees how much he suffered in fighting the marlin. Manolin also plans to take
care of Santiago during the coming winter by bringing him clothing and water for washing.
Santiago’s love, of course, extends to other people as well. He loved his wife when they were married,
though when she died he had to take down her portrait because it made him feel lonely. Similarly, even in his
suffering he thinks of others, remembering his promise to send the fish head to his friend Pederico to use as
bait. Santiago’s love also extends to include nature itself, even though he has often suffered at its hands. His
love for all living creatures, whether fish, birds, or turtles, is often described, as is his love for the sea, which
he sees as a woman who gives or withholds favors. Some of the younger fishermen, in contrast, often spoke of
the sea as a “contestant” or even an “enemy.”
Youth and Old Age
The comparison and contrast of these two stages of human life runs throughout the story. Although Santiago
The Old Man and the Sea: Themes 15
is obviously an old man, in many ways he retains a youthful perspective on life. For example, he is a keen
follower of baseball, and admires players like Joe DiMaggio and Dick Sisler for their youthful skills and
abilities. His friendship with Manolin is also based partly on Santiago’s fond recollections of his own youth.
For example, he recalls the time he saw the lions on the beach in Africa or when he beat a well-known player
in a hand-wrestling match that lasted all day. His repeated wish that the boy were in the boat is not made just
because that would make it easier to fight the fish. He also misses the boy as a companion with his own
youthful perspective. Yet Santiago does not admire all youth indiscriminately. For example, he contrasts his
own attitude toward the sea as a woman with that of “some of the younger fishermen, those who used buoys
as floats and had motorboats,” who think of the sea as a male enemy who must be defeated. By the same
token, Santiago is aware that not everything about old age is attractive to youth. For example, he keeps from
Manolin the knowledge that he doesn’t care very much about washing or eating on a regular basis. Santiago
is also very aware of the disadvantages of old age. Although he retains much of his youthful strength, for
example, he knows that at his age he is no longer able to fight off the sharks that attack his fish. Yet in the
end, despite his defeat, Santiago is still able to plan his next fishing expedition and to dream again of the lions
who perhaps represent to him the strength and the freedom of youth.
Luck vs. Skill
Many people believe in the concept of destiny, a concept in which spiritual forces and luck are combined.
When one is lucky, it is considered a sign that one has the spiritual qualities to succeed. By the same token,
when one has been unlucky, as Santiago is considered after eighty-four days of not catching any fish, he is
dismissed by Manolin’s parents as salao, “which is the worst form of unlucky,” and therefore someone to
avoid. Santiago himself believes to some extent in the concept of luck. He senses that his eighty-fifth day of
fishing will be a good one and wants to buy that number in the lottery. Later in the story, when his big fish has
already been half-eaten by sharks, he says he would pay “what they asked” for some luck “in any form.”
Earlier in the story, however, before he has caught the big fish, Santiago reflects that “It is better to be lucky
[than unlucky]. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.” In this reformulation of
the luck-vs.-skill question, Santiago is clearly favoring skill. This preference is shown by his actions
throughout the novel, from the way he gauges the strength of the fish by the pull on the line to the manner in
which he calculates and conserves his own strength for the battle he knows lies ahead. After his defeat he says
the boy should not fish with him because “I am not lucky anymore.” Yet Santiago quickly changes his mind
about going out with Manolin when the boy says that “we will fish together now, for I still have much to
learn.” Toward the end, Santiago asks himself “[W]hat beat you” and answers “Nothing. I went out too far.”
So in the end, Santiago finds that it is matters of judgment and skill that determine success, not luck.
The Old Man and the Sea: Style
Point of View
All novels use at least one point of view, or angle of vision, from which to tell the story. The point of view
may be that of a single character, or of several characters in turn. The Old Man and the Sea uses the
omniscient, or “all-knowing,” point of view of the author, who acts as a hidden narrator. The omniscient
point of view enables the author to stand outside and above the story itself, and thus to provide a wider
perspective from which to present the thoughts of the old man and the other characters. Thus at the beginning
of the tale, the omniscient narrator tells us not only what Santiago and the boy said to each other, but what the
other fishermen thought of the old man. “The older fishermen . . . looked at him and were sad. But they did
not show it. . . .”
The Old Man and the Sea takes place entirely in a small fishing village near Havana, Cuba, and in the waters
of the Gulf Stream, a current of warm water that runs north, then east of Cuba in the Caribbean Sea.
The Old Man and the Sea: Style 16
Hemingway visited Cuba as early as 1928, and later lived on the coast near Havana for nineteen years,
beginning in 1940, so he knew the area very well. The references to Joe Dimaggio and a series of games
between the Yankees and the Detroit Tigers in which Dimaggio came back from a slump have enabled
scholars to pinpoint the time during which the novel takes place as mid-September 1950. As Manolin also
reminds readers, September is the peak of the blue marlin season. The story takes three days, the length of the
battle against the fish, but as Manolin reminds the old man, winter is coming on and he will need a warm coat.
Like the three-day epic struggle itself of Santiago against the fish, Hemingway’s story falls into three main
parts. The first section entails getting ready for the fishing trip; then the trip out, including catching the fish
and being towed by it, which encompasses all of the first two days and part of the third; and finally the trip
back. Another way of dividing and analyzing the story is by using a dramatic structure devised by Aristotle. In
the opening part of the story, or rising action, the readers are presented with various complications of the
conflict between the other fishermen’s belief that Santiago is permanently unlucky and Santiago and the
boy’s belief that the old man will still catch a fish. For example, readers learn that some of the other villagers,
like the restaurant owner Pedrico, help Santiago, while others avoid him. The climax of the story, when
Santiago kills the fish, marks the point at which the hero’s fortunes begin to take a turn for the worse. This
turning point becomes evident when sharks start to attack the fish and leads inevitably to the resolution (or
denouement) of the drama, in which Santiago, having no effective weapons left to fight the sharks, must
watch helplessly as they strip the carcass of all its remaining meat. Perhaps showing the influence of modern
short story writers, however, Hemingway has added to the ending what James Joyce called an epiphany, or
revelation of Santiago’s true character. This moment comes when the author implicitly contrasts the tourist’s
ignorance of the true identity of the marlin’s skeleton to Santiago’s quiet knowledge of his skill and his
hope, reflected in his repeated dreams of the lions on the beach, that he will fish successfully again.
A symbol can be defined as a person, place, or thing that represents something more than its literal meaning.
Santiago, for example, has often been compared to Christ in the way he suffers. His bleeding hands, the way
he carries the boat mast like a cross, and the way he lies on his bed with his arms outstretched, all have clear
parallels in the story of Christ’s crucifixion. In this interpretation of the story, Manolin is seen as a disciple
who respects and loves Santiago as his teacher. In this context, the sea could be said to represent earthly
existence. Humans, as stated in Genesis, have been created by God to have dominion over all other living
creatures, including the fish in the sea. Yet humans like Santiago still suffer because of Adam and Eve’s
original sin of eating the apple from the tree of knowledge. Santiago, however, says he does not understand
the concept of sin. Santiago can also be seen more broadly as a representative of all human beings who must
struggle to survive, yet hope and dream of better things to come. Hemingway himself does not seem to mind
if his characters, setting, and plot have different meanings to different readers. He once said that he “tried to
make a real old man, a real boy, a real sea and a real fish and real sharks. But if I made them good and true
enough they would mean many things.”
The Old Man and the Sea: Historical Context
Cuba and the United States in the Early 1950s
Relations between Cuba and the United States were generally friendly during most of the 1950s, as they had
been since 1934. That year marked the end of the Platt Amendment, which had given the United States the
right to intervene in Cuba’s affairs. United States’ ownership of many Cuban sugar mills, however, was a
continuing source of dispute. In 1952, President Prio Socarras was overthrown in a military coup by General
Fulgencio Batista y Zalvidar. Batista had previously ruled as dictator from 1933 to 1940, and would rule again
until 1959, when he was overthrown by Fidel Castro. Despite Hemingway’s move to Ketchum, Idaho, soon
after Castro and his supporters overthrew the Batista regime, Hemingway had supported both the overthrow
The Old Man and the Sea: Historical Context 17
and what he called the “historical necessity” of the Castro revolution.
Gregorio Fuentes, a Cuban fisherman, was Hemingway's inspiration for the title character of The Old Man
and the Sea. With a portrait of Hemingway and Fuentes hanging in the background, this photograph was
taken in 1994.
Cuban Culture
Cuban culture during the first half of the twentieth century was marked perhaps foremost by an ambivalent
view toward the Catholic Church. Unlike other Latin American countries, church and state in Cuba were
constitutionally separate during this period. Because of its long Spanish heritage, however, Cuba was still
dominated by Catholic cultural influences. The result was a contradictory situation in which 85 percent of the
population called itself Catholic, but only 10 percent actually practiced the faith. The effect of these
circumstances are seen many times in The Old Man and the Sea. For example, when Santiago battles the
marlin, he says, “I am not religious, but I will say ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys that I should catch this
fish, and I promise to make a pilgrimage to the Virgin of Cobre if I catch him.” Later after he has killed the
fish, Santiago wonders if it is a sin to hope that he will make it back to shore with the fish’s meat intact, but
he quickly dismisses the thought. “Do not think about sin,” he thought. “There are enough problems now
without sin. Also I have no understanding of it.”
Cubans, like other Latin Americans, place a high value on the innate worth of the individual. Success in life is
defined under the code of personalismo as the achievement of one’s spiritual potential or personal destiny
rather than one’s financial or career status. Thus Santiago is respected as a skilled and unique individual even
though he has not caught a fish in three months. As seen through the eyes of Manolin and the omniscient
narrator, Santiago is a heroic and majestic figure who, like Odysseus or Christ, has undergone a great ordeal
and provides a model to emulate.
Machismo, or maleness, is an important male goal in traditional Latin American society. Machismo is ideally
developed in several ways, including military, athletic, and intellectual exercises, and sexual prowess. Most
The Old Man and the Sea: Historical Context 18
men are not expected to live up to the machismo ideal in practice. Yet by cultivating these powers, one can
approach being the ideal man. Santiago, for example, is admired because of his physical power of endurance.
He takes great pride in having in his youth defeated a powerful Negro in an all-day hand-wrestling contest in
Casablanca. Santiago also places a high value on mental qualities like his self-confidence and his vast
knowledge of the “tricks” of fishing. Santiago is so confident of these qualities that he can bet “everything
[the fish] has against only my will and my intelligence.” It has often been noted that in his own life,
Hemingway also strove to challenge himself intellectually through his friendships and writing, as well as
physically, through boxing, war service, hunting, fishing, and bullfighting. Although Hemingway is
sometimes criticized for what is interpreted as an attraction to violence for its own sake, it is not hard to
understand why the Latin American belief in machismo appealed to the author.
The Old Man and the Sea: Critical Overview
The early critical reception of The Old Man and the Sea upon its publication in 1952 was very favorable, and
its reputation has been generally high ever since, notwithstanding negative reactions in the 1960s by critics
like Kenneth Lynn and Philip Young. Yet what the critics have seen worthy of special note in the story has
changed noticeably over the years.
The early reviews of Hemingway's first novel since the disastrous reception two years earlier of Across the
River and into the Trees especially praised the central character, Santiago. In his original 1954 evaluation of
the book which Gerry Brenner included in The Old Man and the Sea: The Story of a Common Man, Philip
Young wrote, "It is the knowledge that a simple man is capable of such decency, dignity and even heroism,
and that his struggle can be seen in heroic terms, that largely distinguishes this book." In his book Ernest
Hemingway: Critiques of Four Major Novels, Carlos Baker noted that critic Clinton S. Burhans saw in
Santiago "a noble and tragic individualism revealing what a man can do in an indifferent universe which
defeats him, and the love he can feel for such a universe and his humility before it." The Old Man and the Sea
won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1953 and played a large role in Hemingway's being honored with the
Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.
Though several posthumous volumes of his fiction would follow in the 1970s, Hemingway's suicide in 1961
was the occasion for a major, and perhaps less inhibited, reevaluation of his work. Philip Young's Ernest
Hemingway: A Reconsideration was one of the most influential of these. According to Young's "wound
theory," Hemingway's entire life and art was an attempt to master the traumatic event of his wounding in
World War I. To do this, said Young, Hemingway evolved a "code" by which his heroes sought to live. As
Young described this hero code, it was a "'grace under pressure' ….. made of the controls of honor and courage
which in a life of tension and pain make a man a man and distinguish him from the people who follow random
impulses, let down their hair, and are generally messy, perhaps cowardly, and without inviolable rules for how
to live holding tight."
In his life and his heroic struggle against the fish, Santiago fits Young's definition. His pride in his physical
strength, still noteworthy in his old age, is shown in his fond recollection of the time he beat a "giant" in an
all-day hand-wrestling match in Casablanca. In his mental suppression of physical pain, Santiago also reminds
the reader of Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises and Frederic Henry in A Farewell to Arms.
Young's "wound theory" and "code hero" concepts continued to influence much of Hemingway criticism in
the 1960s and 1970s, despite the posthumous publication during this period of nine new volumes of
Hemingway's fiction and nonfic-tion, including his Toronto newspaper dispatches, his high school literary
efforts, his poetry, A Moveable Feast (a nonfiction collection of acid-witted accounts of Hemingway's days in
Paris as a young writer in the 1920s), and Islands in the Stream. In fact, as Susan F. Beegel has pointed out,
"the idea of the code hero would smother the originality of lesser critics and stifle alternative views for a long
The Old Man and the Sea: Critical Overview 19
time." The best source of basic facts about Hemingway's life, however, remains Baker's 1969 biography,
Ernest Hemingway.
Though the Hemingway "industry" of posthumous publications, memoirs of old friends, and newsletters and
annuals of Hemingway critics continued to mount, it was not until after 1986, with the publication of The
Garden of Eden, that Young's theory began to be replaced in most critical readers' minds by Kenneth Lynn's
"theory of androgyny," or the state of having both male and female characteristics, as described in Lynn's
influential psychoanalytic biography, Hemingway. According to Lynn, Hemingway's androgyny was partly
the result of his mother's having dressed Ernest as a toddler in girl's clothes that were identical to his older
sister's. In Hemingway's Quarrel with Androgyny, Mark Spilka sees Santiago's androgyny as a typical
example in Hemingway's late fiction of the "return of the repressed" female side of the author's personality.
The androgyny theory allows readers to view Santiago, and indeed Manolin, from a wider perspective. Many
people see, for example, that while women themselves play only a small role in the novel, nevertheless, the
sea itself is regarded as feminine in Santiago's eyes, unlike some of the other younger fishermen in the story,
who regard the sea as a male enemy to be conquered. Santiago describes the sea (la mar), like a woman, as
"something that gave or withheld great favours." Hemingway also describes how Manolin cries not once, but
twice, after seeing the old man's condition soon after he returns to shore. This is perhaps more significant than
it may appear, because Manolin, although called "the boy," is actually at least twenty-two years old as noted
by Bickford Sylvester in "The Cuban Contest of The Old Man and the Sea." A critic laboring under the more
rigid notion of the code hero would probably expect Manolin, as a full-grown man, to keep his emotions held
in check.
No matter through which prism the reader analyzes Hemingway's great sea story, it seems there will always
be new revelations to find. Beegel notes that new areas for study may be found in Hemingway's ecological
consciousness or the multicultural background of several of his novels. And with the increased use of the
computer to analyze prose text and style, who knows what other discoveries await the Hemingway scholars of
the future.
The Old Man and the Sea: Character Analysis
Character Overview
Character Overview
The Old Man and the Sea gives a unique opportunity for a detailed study of one character—the old man. He
appears in all but two brief scenes in the novel and, for much of the story, is the only human character. His
lengthy solitude gives the reader a deep insight into his motivations and inner workings.
We first meet the old man, Santiago, as a seemingly defeated fisherman. He has not caught a fish for
eighty-four days and is seen by the other fishermen as unlucky. His apprentice, Manolin, has left him to join a
luckier crew (at the behest of his parents), and Santiago relies on Manolin’s charity to get baits for his fishing
and food for his table. Yet despite this, his eyes are “cheerful and undefeated.” He continues to put to sea
each day and believes he will live to catch more fish. The bulk of the novel follows Santiago’s quest to catch
one more big fish and his struggle with the marlin he manages to hook.
Santiago is a complex, multi-faceted character. He is humble and unpretentious. His simple life and recent
lack of success mean that he has nothing—he has no food, his sail is patched and he relies on Manolin for bait
and other supplies. Yet at the same time he has the courage to continue to dream. He sets off on a quest not
just to catch a fish but to catch the biggest fish he has ever caught. To do this, he is willing to go far beyond
the limits of younger, more successful fishermen and to test his physical and mental endurance.
The Old Man and the Sea: Character Analysis 20
Santiago recognizes that his strength lies in his “resolution.” This resolve allows him to keep on fishing,
despite his age, despite the loss of his apprentice and despite the fact that he has not caught anything for
eighty four days. When he eventually hooks the fish, it is his resolve that keeps him holding on to it,
regardless of his fatigue. He is prepared to keep fighting the fish until it kills him.
The old man has a love and respect for the sea not felt by the other fishermen. He calls her “la mar,” a
feminine form, full of love, whereas the younger men call her by the masculine “el mar,” seeing her as an
opposing force to be conquered. His eyes, his most lively feature, are the same color as the sea. The sea also
keeps him company—healing his wounded hands and bringing him safely home. Yet, at the same time, he
battles the sea. It provides shelter for his adversary, the fish. To successfully catch the fish and get it home, he
must do battle with sea and its inhabitants. In the end it is the creatures of the sea (the sharks) who deprive
Santiago of complete victory.
Santiago is one of Hemingway’s “code heroes”—heroes whose courage and dignity in the face of adversity
provide an ideal for mankind. Santiago is, however, different from earlier code heroes in that he is the first to
be shown as an old man. This is possibly a reflection of the stage of Hemngway’s life and career—The Old
Man was his last major work and written following a period in which he had written little that was well
received. Many critics have suggested that Santiago’s struggle mirrors Hemingway’s own—that the writer’s
dry spell was the equivalent of the fisherman’s eighty four days.
The close of the novel sees Santiago seemingly defeated—he is suffering exhaustion, his hands and back are
injured and his great fish is just a skeleton, ravaged by sharks and left to be taken out to sea by the tide. Yet he
has gained—he has proven he is still able to catch a fish and has gained the respect of the other fishermen.
They are awed not just by the size of the fish, the biggest they have ever seen, but that Santiago has managed
to land it unaided. He has also gained companionship. As Manolin tends to him, he notes how nice it is to
have human company, instead of talking to the sea as he has done for the past three days. The boy promises to
fish with him again and is keen to learn all he knows. Of course underneath this victory is the unspoken
awareness of both men that this may not happen. As Manolin leaves the shack he is crying, aware that the old
man may never regain his strength.
Although appearing only in the opening and closing pages of the novel, Manolin is also an important
character. He is Santiago’s apprentice and disciple. He has been trained by Santiago since the age of five and
sees him as a father figure. Although he no longer fishes with the old man, he still has a respect for his
abilities which the other fishermen do not have. Manolin’s most important attribute is his loyalty. He stands
by Santiago despite the jeers of the other fishermen and helps him with both his fishing equipment and with
staples such as food and clothing. Manolin’s loyalty to Santiago is also a reflection of Santiago’s
character—he has instilled in Manolin some of the qualities we admire in him, notably courage.
A final significant character un the novel is the marlin. This fish fights determinedly to avoid capture, towing
the boat and struggling for two days before Santiago lands him. His struggle is paralleled by Santiago’s
struggle and, in the end, so too is his defeat. While Santiago succeeds in capturing him, he then loses the fish
to the sharks. In the end of the novel, both the skeleton of the fish and the old man, nearly reduced to a
skeleton himself, are objects of admiration for the other fishermen.
Manolin is a young man, based on someone Hemingway knew in Cuba who was then in his twenties. In the
story, however, Manolin is referred to as “the boy.” Like Santiago, Manolin comes from a family of
fishermen and has long admired Santiago as a masterful practitioner of his trade. Although Manolin’s father
has forbidden him to go fishing with Santiago because of the old man’s bad luck, Manolin nevertheless
Character Overview 21
continues to visit Santiago and to help him in whatever ways he can. Manolin shows great concern for
Santiago’s health, especially after he sees how Santiago has suffered in catching the big marlin. As a mark of
his friendship and respect for Manolin, Santiago has given him certain responsibilities from an early age, such
as fetching bait and carrying the lines. By contrast, Manolin’s own father only belittles his son’s relationship
with Santiago.
Even though Manolin appears only at the beginning and the end of the story, he is an important character.
Manolin’s conversations with Santiago, and Santiago’s longing for the boy’s company when he is alone,
reveal the character of both men. Santiago is seen as a loving, patient, and brave man, both proud and humble,
who accepts and appreciates life, despite all its hardships. Manolin is shown to be someone who loves and
respects Santiago, and who realizes that he can learn things from the old man that he cannot learn at home.
Manolin undergoes an important change between the beginning and end of the story. At the beginning he still
defers to the wishes of his parents that he not accompany Santiago fishing since the old man’s luck has turned
bad. By the end of the story, however, Manolin has resolved to go with the old man, lucky or not, in spite of
his parents’ wishes.
Santiago is an old fisherman of undetermined age. As a young man he traveled widely by ship and fondly
remembers seeing lions on the beaches of East Africa. His wife died, and he has taken her picture down
because it makes him sad to see it. Now he lives alone in a shack on the beach. Every day he sets forth alone
in his boat to make a living.
When the story opens, Santiago has gone eighty-four days without catching a single fish. As a result, he is
pitied and regarded by the other fishermen as unlucky. Santiago is still respected by some, however, because
of his age and his perseverance. He is a very experienced fisherman who knows well the tricks of his trade,
including which fish to use as bait.
Santiago also loves baseball and occasionally gambles. He identifies with Joe DiMaggio, the great center
fielder for the Yankees in the 1940s and 1950s. Santiago admires how DiMaggio, whose father was a
fisherman, plays in spite of bone spurs in his feet that cause him pain whenever he runs. As an old man,
Santiago must also cope with the physical demands of his job in the face of the infirmities of his aging body.
Yet he suffers without complaining, and it is this stoic attitude that has won him much respect in the
Santiago is not a religious person, but he does think about the meaning of life, and his religious references
show that he is very familiar with Roman Catholic saints and prayers. Through the author’s revelation of
Santiago’s own thoughts, and the conversations between Santiago and his relatively young companion,
Manolin, readers come to sense that despite his setbacks and shortcomings, Santiago remains proud of
himself, and this makes his humility both touching and real. Though he strives to attain the most he can for
himself, Santiago also accepts what life has given him without complaint.
Manolin 22
Spencer Tracy starring in the title role of the 1956 film The Old Man and the Sea.
This largeness of vision also allows Santiago to appreciate and respect nature and all living creatures, even
though he must kill some of these creatures in order to live. For example, the old man recalls how he once
hooked, brought in, and finally clubbed to death a female marlin, while her faithful mate never left her side
once during the ordeal. “That was the saddest thing I ever saw,” the old man comments. “The boy was sad
too and we begged her pardon and butchered her promptly.”
Hemingway first wrote about the true incident upon which his story is based in an article entitled “On the
Blue Water: A Gulf Stream Letter” for the April 1936 issue of Esquire magazine. The actual incident took
only two days; the fisherman, “half crazy” and crying, was picked up by others after fighting the sharks; and
half the carcass was still left at the end. Hemingway’s intentions in creating the character of Santiago may
perhaps best be seen in examining how the author altered the true events to shape his telling of The Old Man
and the Sea.
In Hemingway’s later version, Santiago’s hooking the fish, hauling it to the boat, fighting the sharks, and
then bringing it home takes three days and is completed in heroic fashion with no outside help. Nothing
remains of the fish at the end except its skeleton. No mention is made of the fisherman’s state of mind other
than that he wants to fish again as soon as he can.
Hemingway’s changes clearly make Santiago more of a single heroic and tragic figure who fights alone, loses
almost everything, and yet still is ready to meet life again. Thus, after a night’s sleep and a promise from
Manolin that from now on they will fish together, Santiago is making plans not just to resume his life but to
strive even harder next time. Similarly, Hemingway turned an anecdote about a piteous, helpless fisherman
into a parable of man’s tragic but heroic struggle not merely to survive but, as fellow Nobelist William
Faulkner expressed it, to endure.
Other Characters
Bodega Proprietor
Although he is unnamed in the story, the bodega proprietor serves the important function of representing those
in the village who show their respect and admiration of Santiago by supporting him—in this case, by giving
Santiago free coffee and newspapers.
Female Tourist
Although she has only one line in the story, the unnamed female tourist is important since in her mistaking the
Santiago 23
carcass of the marlin as that of a shark, she acts as a foil for Santiago’s extraordinary knowledge of the sea.
Manolin’s Father
Manolin’s father forbids Manolin from going out with Santiago after the old man’s fortieth day without a
fish. By the end of the story Manolin decides to disobey his father out of his love for Santiago.
Old Man
See Santiago
As a friend of Santiago, Pedrico helps the old man by giving him newspapers. After the old man’s return
from the sea, despite his wounds and exhaustion, Santiago remembers to carry out his promise to give Pedrico
the head of the fish carcass.
The Old Man and the Sea: Essays and Criticism
The Old Man and the Sea: An Overview
Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is a study of man’s place in a world of violence and
destruction. It is a story in which Hemingway seems to suggest that, at least in the natural order, man can find
his own dignity and beauty in learning to understand the mystery of human power that is at the heart of so
much that appears violent and cruel. As such, it is a brilliant expression of the stoicism which characterized so
much of Ernest Hemingway’s work as a novelist and a short story writer.
The novel deals with the concept of courage, but courage is objectified in the narrative. The novelist never
seems to have had much faith in either concepts or ideals. Hemingway and his heroes simply turn their backs
on a sick society and all efforts to cure it. They will have none of the sociological, the metaphysical, the
spiritual—the World War had made a ghastly farce of all such pretentious activity. They fall back on primal
instincts and emotions, reducing life to its simplest elements: physical sensations.(1)
The Old Man and the Sea presents a world in which man and beast survive and are at their best only when
acting courageously. For “in a bad world there is no love nor mercy nor charity nor justice unless a man can
keep his courage.”(2) Santiago, the old fisherman, after hunting for eighty-four days, finally lands a giant
Marlin. In his staunch belief that there is a big fish waiting for him, Santiago achieves respect and dignity. It is
enhanced when he struggles with the great fish: “Christ, I did not know he was so big. I'll kill him, though,”
he says, “In all his greatness and his glory.”(3) In the exercise of the physicality of both man and fish,
Hemingway is demonstrating a kind of nobility that exists only in this world when two creatures achieve
brotherhood in a trial of endurance which demands every ounce of strength and every skill they possess.
In the novel, life is portrayed as a constant preparation for the test that proves the worth of a creature. When
Santiago wakens his young friend, he apologizes for getting him up so early. “It is what a man must do,”(4)
the boy replies. Every one knows the price that must “be paid for dignity, self-respect, even fulfillment.
Therefore, the physical combat takes on a certain heroic tone since it is the most fitting act any creature can
perform in life. Santiago’s body is covered with signs of age and wounds from the sea; but these battle scars
seem to be more in the nature of medals than sources of weakness or exhaustion:
When the boy came back the old man was asleep in the chair and the sun was down. The boy
took the old army blanket off the bed and spread it over the back of the chair and over the old
man’s shoulders. They were strange shoulders, still powerful although very old, and the neck
was still strong too and the creases did not show so much when the old man was asleep and
Other Characters 24
his head fallen forward.(5)
There is dignity, too, in the manner in which the old fisherman accepts the challenge of each new day’s
He always thought of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in Spanish when they
love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they are always said as
though she were a woman. They spoke of her as a contestant or a place or even an enemy. But
the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great
favours, and if she was wild or wicked it was because she could not help that. The moon
affects her, he thought.(6)
Santiago philosophically accepts whatever the sea offers, as he would countenance favor or rejection from a
lovely lady. Thus, his struggle has a grace, a sympathy that can extend itself as indeed it does to the giant
creature that will give him the greatest battle of his life.
The theme of man’s need for courage to achieve his own dignity and destiny permeates The Old Man and the
Sea. The actualization of this ideal can even be seen in the moments when Santiago and the boy entertain
themselves. They speak of baseball and the great DiMaggio and John J. McGraw. All of life to these simple
fishing people is reduced to struggle and conflict. But there is graciousness in their acceptance of the grim
reality and pride in their ability to bring the best of what they are to that struggle.
In a discussion of the Hemingway style, Ray B. Vest, Jr. quotes a criticism of the novelist’s approach: “The
short simple rhythms, the succession of coordinate clauses, and the general lack of subordination—all suggest
a dislocated, ununified world.”(7) In the opinion of this reader, such an accusation cannot be directed at The
Old Man and the Sea. Santiago’s world is a very unified one; its singlemindedness is strengthened by the
simplicity of the narrative which alternates between omniscient teller and dialogue between characters. There
is a scriptural clarity in the work which seems to emphasize one aspect of reality in such a way that a feeling
of symbolic truth touches the reader. The ritualistic implications of the lives Santiago and Manolin live grows
from the novelist’s concentration upon single facts which are presented one after another. As the old man
waits during the night and day of his vigil with the Marlin, he remembers an earlier test of strength with
the great negro from Cienfuegos who was the strongest man on the docks. They had gone one
day and one night with their elbows on a chalk line on the table and their forearms straight up
and their hands gripped tight. Each one was trying to force the other’s hand down on the
table. There was much betting. . . . They changed the referees every four hours after the first
eight so that the referees could sleep. . . . the bettors went in and out of the room and sat on
high chairs against the wall and watched.(8)
This passage is characteristic of what Robert Spiller has termed “a detachment as cool and impersonal as that
of the soul regarding its useless body on the morning after death.”(9) The economy of language is here
indicative of the economy of vision that is Santiago’s. He is not dull; he simply observes those things which
entered into the experience of that great moment when he defeated the champion from Cienfuegos. Although
speaking of Hemingway as novelist, Spiller might very well be referring to the fisherman when he notes that
such “dispassionate compression is . . . the essential part of his attitude toward life.”(10)
If the style of Hemingway’s language in The Old Man and the Sea is relentlessly direct and simple, his
narrative technique is equally clean and stark. As may be seen in the passage dealing with the hand combat
with the man from Cienfuegos, the emphasis is upon the immediate struggle; what is intense is what the
novelist focuses upon. But gradually, the attention is shifted to include other aspects of the scene which
Santiago himself is gradually aware of. There is a clinical impassiveness about his manner in which each
The Old Man and the Sea: An Overview 25
aspect of the surrounding reality is reflected within the fisherman’s consciousness. But it is most effective in
establishing that pervasive mood of ritual and ceremony that so distinctly colors this work. It is noteworthy
that Hemingway, with the exception of the final page, deals almost entirely with but two characters. Certainly
this adds to the solemnity of the adventure. Even when Santiago is alone, and that is for a considerable portion
of the novel, there is an effective balance of austere description and speech which the fisherman delivers to
himself, the fish and his absent companion. These speeches maintain the simplicity of earlier descriptive
passages, as well as underlining the intensity of the great combat that is about to take place.
The most significant element in the novel, however, is the author’s handling of symbol. “A symbol is
something which is itself and yet stands for or suggests or means something else.”(11) Santiago, Melvin
Backman indicates, is Spanish for Saint James who was an apostle, martyr and fisherman from the sea of
Galilee.(12) In his depiction of the old man, Hemingway frequently presents him bound by the same ropes
which hold the Marlin against the skiff. His lacerated hands, constantly torn by the coiled ropes, are pressed
against the wood of his small craft; the image of a crucified figure maintains itself throughout much of the
narrative. When Santiago returns home from the sea, exhausted after the capture and loss off his fish, he
collapses under the weight of the mast he carries; when Manolin finds him sleeping later on, the fisherman is
stretched out, face down, in a posture resembling the crucified Christ, perhaps, some martyr. The scope of the
symbol, as the definition has suggested, allows for an area of freedom. Santiago is an old fisherman, first of
all. However, in the selection of his name, the simplicity of his existence, the ceremonial quality of his work
and the way in which he accomplishes it, Hemingway is surely suggesting, at the very least, a figure who
brings a form of sanctity to a seemingly cruel and uncompromising world around him. In Santiago’s eyes, the
cruel sea is a whimsical lady; the fish is his partner in the struggle for life and dignity; Manolin, the boy, is his
The sea is many times used in literature as a symbol of quest, uncertainty, even death. The theme of the
voyage is also a known literary device. However, in the opinion of this reader, Hemingway’s major symbol is
the simple Santiago. He invests the man with some of those qualities already touched upon, and the
fisherman, in turn, brings to all the violence and vulgarity of the reported incidents a transforming grace.
Santiago makes man’s predestined failure a spectacle of grace. A struggle of endurance and a battle of wits
becomes the joyous expression of a creature’s self-realization of divine gifts; a strong, hard-fighting foe
becomes a brother and co-sharer in the dignity of human life, a dignity which diminishes in the ordinary
course of events with every breath a man takes.
1. Herbert J. Muller, Modern Fiction: A Study of Values (New York, 1937) pp. 397-398.
2. Norman Mailer “The White Negro,” in Perspectives on Modern Literature, edited by Frederick J. Hoffman
(Evanston, Illinois 1962) p. 222.
3. Ernest Hemingway The Old Man and the Sea (New York, 1952) p.66.
4. Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, p.28
5. Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, p. 18.
6. Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, p. 29-30.
7. Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren Understanding Fiction as quoted by Ray B. West, Jr. “Ernest
Hemingway: The Failure of Sensibility,” Modern American Fiction, edited by A. W. Litz (New York, 1963)
p. 149.
The Old Man and the Sea: An Overview 26
8. Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, p. 69.
9. Robert E. Spiller, The Cycle of American Literature (New York, 1955) p. 204
10. Spiller, The Cycle of American Literature, p. 204
11. W. F. Thrall and Addison Hibbard, A Handbook to Literature, revised by C. H. Holman (New York,
1960) p. 478.
12. Melvin Backman, “Hemingway: The Matador and the Crucified,” in Litz, p. 212-213.
Backman, Melvin. “Hemingway: The Matador and the Crucified.” In Modern American Fiction: Essays in
Criticism, edited by A. Walton Litz. New York: Oxford University Press, 1963, pp. 201-14.
Brooks, Cleanth, and Robert Penn Warren, Understanding Fiction, as quoted by Ray B. Vest, Jr., “Ernest
Hemingway: The Failure of Sensibility,” Modern American Fiction: Essays in Criticism, edited by A. Walton
Litz. New York: Oxford University Press, 1963. pp. 244-45.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952.
Mailer, Norman. “The White Negro.” In Perspectives on Modern Literature, edited by Frederick J. Hoffman.
Evanston, Illinois: Row, Peterson and Company, 1962.
Muller, Herbert J. Modern Fiction: A Study of Values. New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1937.
Spiller, Robert E. The Cycle of American Literature; A Brief History of American Writers and Writing. New
York: The New American Library, 1955.
Thrall, William Flint, and Addison Hibbard. A Handbook to Literature, revised by C. Hugh Holman. New
York: The Odyssey Press, Inc., 1960.
The Deceptive Simplicity of The Old Man and the Sea
From its publication in 1952, The Old Man and the Sea has played an important role in defining and
confirming Ernest Hemingway’s position as a major voice in twentieth-century fiction. Long famous for his
short stories and the early novels The Sun Also Rises in 1926 and A Farewell to Arms in 1929, Hemingway
built his public image upon that of his wounded, isolated heroes. His passion for bull fighting, fishing, and big
game hunting inevitably led him to dangerous places and activities. He covered the Spanish Civil War as a
reporter and later served as a war correspondent during World War II. By the 1950s, he was at the height of
his fame, living on a small estate or finca in Cuba and playing out his role as “Papa’’ Hemingway, the
white-haired, white-bearded symbol of virility and intellectual heroism. With the publication of The Old Man
and the Sea, a taut, technically brilliant short novel, his reputation as a master craftsman of prose narrative
was reaffirmed. More importantly, however, the story of Santiago, the isolated old man who fights a great fish
for three days, seemed to bring together all the major elements of Hemingway’s life and work. Indeed, it
remains a concise expression of what it means for Hemingway to live and act as an individual in the modern
On first glance the most striking aspect of The Old Man and the Sea is its combination of compression and
depth. Like many of Hemingway’s early stories, the novel takes full advantage of the author’s widely
The Deceptive Simplicity of The Old Man and the Sea 27
imitated prose style—a mixture of simple sentence structures, limited adjectives, and spare but suggestive
description. As he himself explained in his examination of bullfighting in Death in the Afternoon, good
writing should move like an iceberg, only one-eighth of which appears above the water. The writer who truly
knows a subject should be able to leave much of the content unstated, and the reader will “have a feeling of
those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.’’ Accordingly, The Old Man and the Sea offers
a deceptively simple surface story of an aging fisherman who catches a great fish only to lose him to
marauding sharks. The fable-like simplicity of the plot, however, suggests that the story may yield broader
symbolic meanings.
One such symbolic interpretation of the novel focuses upon the ancient and often repeated pattern of a hero
confronting a natural force. In this reading, Santiago the fisherman is more than just a poor Cuban hoping to
break his streak of eighty-four days without a fish. He represents the skillful, courageous individual who
willingly undergoes a test of character against an equally worthy opponent. The sea, the feminine and possibly
maternal “la mar,’’ becomes the site of his encounter with nature itself. Far away from the other fishermen
and even further from any sort of civilized society, Santiago must test his own strengths alone and without
help. Not even the boy he has taught to fish can be present at such a moment. Like the bullfighter or the
soldier in battle, the old man struggles as though against his own death. However, to catch his “brother,’’ as
he calls him, is not to prove himself better than the fish, only its equal. Indeed, Santiago’s failure to save the
dead marlin from the sharks serves to reaffirm his limits as an individual and remind him of the need for
humility in the face of nature’s power.
Santiago’s actions suggest that he is more than just a courageous individual, however. He also shows great
concern for the quality of his work and the precision of his actions. As tutor to the boy, he fills the archetypal
or mythic role of the master craftsman who not only represents the height of artistic skill but also upholds the
ethical standards of heroic action. He stands above the other fishermen both in terms of experience and skill,
but he is also marked, set apart as the one for whom fishing has become more than just a livelihood:
“Who is the greatest manager, really, Luque or Mike Gonzalez?’’
“I think they are equal.’’
“And the best fisherman is you.’’
“No. I know others better.’’
“Que va,’’ the boy said. “There are many good fishermen and some great ones. But there is
only you.’’
Like the “great DiMaggio’’ whose father was also a fisherman, Santiago stands alone in the level of his
commitment to his craft and in his role as the hero who must test himself against his own frailty. His defense
against the randomness of experience is precision. Unlike the other fishermen who let their lines drift with the
current, Santiago keeps his “with precision. . . . It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then
when luck comes you are ready.’’ The value of such a method is confirmed by the presence of the great fish.
Just as Santiago goes “far out’’ beyond the lesser ambitions of the other fishermen, he finds the great fish
not simply because he is a better fisherman but because, in a symbolic sense, he deserves it. His “religious’’
devotion to the precision of his craft has made it difficult for him to catch ordinary fish, reserving him instead
for the extraordinary, mythic creature whose quality equals Santiago’s “purity.’’
Such a deep concern with the quality of Santiago’s actions reflects Hemingway’s own concern with style,
both in writing and in behavior. In much of his work, heroic characters face dangerous and even impossible
situations as a test of their devotion to an unwritten code or method of behavior. The more courageous the act,
The Deceptive Simplicity of The Old Man and the Sea 28
the greater its beauty, clarity, and ethical purity. The same can be said of Hemingway’s own prose style,
which aims to reproduce the uncluttered grace and control of the bullfighter or the boxer. In fact, Santiago’s
struggle with the great fish may also reflect Hemingway’s own difficulties in writing the story itself. The act
of catching the great fish only to lose it in the end may suggest the combination of triumph and failure that
comes with attempts at artistic perfection.
This fundamentally religious dimension to Hemingway’s thinking appears even more forcefully in the
novel’s many allusions to Christianity and Christ in particular. The name, Santiago, for instance, is Spanish
for Saint James, himself a fisherman, like Christ, the symbolic “fisherman’’ for souls. Also like Christ,
Santiago undergoes a test and a type of “crucifixion’’ when the sharks attack the marlin: “‘Ay,’ he said
aloud. There is no translation for this word and perhaps it is just a noise such as a man might make,
involuntarily, feeling the nail go through his hands into the wood.’’ Yet Santiago’s suffering does not
appear to lead to any sort of traditionally Christian resurrection. At the novel’s end he is not reborn, literally
or spiritually. Though he admits his fault in going too far out, he is simply tired and empty. He acknowledges
his weaknesses but upholds the quality of his actions and his “brotherhood’’ with the fish: “‘Half fish,’ he
said. ‘Fish that you were. I am sorry that I went out too far. I ruined us both. But we have killed many sharks,
you and I, and ruined many others. How many did you ever kill, old fish? You do not have that spear on your
head for nothing.’’’
The combination of triumph, endurance, and loss that The Old Man and the Sea offers says a great deal about
the Hemingway of 1950s. Shortly after the novel’s publication Hemingway was awarded the Pulitzer Prize
for fiction in 1953. The following year, he received the Nobel Prize for literature for his life’s work, though
many acknowledge that the success of The Old Man and the Sea played a crucial role in the decision. About
this same time, however, Hemingway suffered serious injuries in two separate plane crashes in Africa and was
even reported dead by many newspapers. For the next seven years he lived in deteriorating health on his ranch
in Ketchum, Idaho. In 1961, his ability as a writer severely compromised by his physical problems,
Hemingway killed himself. Whether viewed as an act of courage or surrender, such a choice by the author of
The Old Man and the Sea was no surprise. As the critic Earl Rovit speculates, “Having chosen to do battle
with nothing less than eternity on a day-to-day basis, it may have been his way of complying with the rules
insofar as the rules required the unconditional surrender of one of the combatants.’’
Viewed in light of Hemingway’s long-held interest in suicide, The Old Man and the Sea might also be the
author’s way of thinking through the ethical and philosophical problems of taking his own life. In this
respect, the fish, already a symbol of death in general, becomes the representation of the writer’s self, his
identity as a living thing. To wrestle with and conquer this “other’’ identity suggests a measure of
self-control, a way of reaffirming your strength as an individual. To lose such a conquest to the attacks of
voracious sharks undermines any certainty the individual might have gained from such a victory. Thus
suicide, as a method, suggests the ultimate sort of self-control, a removal to safety beyond the mouths of the
sharks, an ironic self-taking that precludes the attacks of others.
It is in the context of such crucial issues that The Old Man and the Sea continues to evoke comments and
questions from its readers. It presents a fundamentally human problem in graceful form and language,
proposing not an answer to the limits of individual existence but a way of facing those limits with dignity and
Source: Carl Davis, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 1999. Davis is an associate professor of English
at Northeast Louisiana University.
The Deceptive Simplicity of The Old Man and the Sea 29
A New Dimension for a Hero: Santiago of The Old Man and
the Sea
[In] the portrayal of Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea there is no uncertainty of being, no confusion of
self and values. The old man is presented from beginning to end as one who has achieved true existence. His
response to every situation is the response of a spiritually fulfilled man. The story, then, is not concerned with
the familiar Hemingway search for values; rather it is concerned with the depiction of conflicting values.
Throughout five carefully delineated sections of the novel, the center of focus is always on the image of the
old man. The first section concerns the old man and the boy; the second, The Old Man and the Sea; the third,
the old man and the marlin; the fourth, the old man and the sharks; the fifth section returns to the old man and
the boy.
In the opening section Santiago is shown to be something of a pathetic figure. He is old, alone, except for the
friendship of a young boy, and now even dependent to a degree upon the charity of others for his subsistence.
His situation is symbolized by the condition of his sail which was “patched with flour sacks and, furled, it
looked like the flag of permanent defeat.” For eighty-four days he had fished without success and had lost his
apprentice because the boy’s parents had considered him “salao,” “the worst form of unlucky.”
But almost at once the tone of the writing changes. Only in external appearances is the old man pathetic.
Hemingway reverses the attitude toward the old man in a single stroke:
Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and
were cheerful and undefeated.
The contrast in meaning is evident: To be defeated in the business of fishing is not to be a defeated man. The
theme begins and ends the novel; never, after the opening lines, does the reader regard Santiago as defeated.
The point is made emphatic in the final conversation between the old man and the boy:
“They beat me, Manolin,” he said. “They truly beat me.”
“He didn’t beat you. Not the fish.”
And the old man, whose thoughts have been on a much more profound level of contesting, replies,
“No. Truly. It was afterwards.”
The novel’s concern, then, is with success and failure, more precisely, with kinds of success and kinds of
failure. The central contrast is between the two fundamental levels of achievement: practical success and
success in the achievement of one’s own being. Similarly the novel posits two kinds of defeat: Failure to
compete successfully in a materialistic, opportunistic world where this only is the measure of a man and
failure to maintain one’s being regardless of external defeat. Thus the real story concerns the meaning, in
terms of fundamental human values, of human existence.
Almost at once we become aware that the misleading initial depiction of the old man as a somewhat pathetic
figure is the direct result of viewing him only from the standpoint of his recent prolonged ill luck. Had
Hemingway continued to present Santiago through the eyes that measure a man’s worth merely in terms of
his practical success or failure, the novel would necessarily have been a naturalistic one. Santiago’s skill,
determination, and nobility of spirit would simply have contributed to the greater irony of his finally catching
a prize fish only to worsen his lot by losing it.
A New Dimension for a Hero: Santiago of The Old Man and the Sea 30
But the key to all of Hemingway’s major characters is never to be found . . . in merely what happens to them.
Rather it is to be found in what they essentially are. This is not to discount the importance in Hemingway of
environmental forces, both man-made and cosmic, acting to condition and even to determine human destiny.
In fact, those whose values do not follow from the shaping forces of environment are few in number, rarely to
be encountered. Santiago is one not determined by environment. And in his age and wisdom and simplicity he
constantly reminds himself and the boy, who is learning from him, of the distinction. It is a subtle but vital
distinction, one which Santiago never loses sight of. When the boy complains to Santiago about the attitude of
his new master, Santiago’s response is central to the underlying theme of the novel. The boy points out:
“He brings our gear himself. He never wants anyone to carry anything.”
“We’re different,” the old man said.
The real story of The Old Man and the Sea begins with this distinction. In the first section two indistinct
characters are introduced who embody the values of the practical world, the boy’s father and the successful
fisherman to whom the boy is assigned. In the old man and the boy’s discussion of their enforced separation,
we see the old man’s simple recognition of the problem.
“Santiago,” the boy said to him as they climbed the bank from where the skiff was hauled up.
“I could go with you again. We’ve made some money.”
The old man had taught the boy to fish and the boy loved him.
“No,” the old man said. “You’re with a lucky boat. Stay with them.”
“But remember how you went eighty-seven days without fish and then we caught big ones
every day for three weeks.”
“I remember,” the old man said. “I know you did not leave me because you doubted.”
“It was papa made me leave. I am a boy and I must obey him.”
“I know,” the old man said. “It is quite normal.”
But the old man’s response means something more than that it is quite normal for a boy to obey his parents; it
means the acknowledgment that materialism is the central criterion for action and values in the practical
world. And the passage also suggests that the boy has been taught something more than how to fish; he has
been taught love and respect, values which he now finds conflicting with the practical demands of his parents.
The successful fisherman, the unnamed “he” who is the boy’s new master, is, in spite of his success at
catching fish, totally without respect in the boy’s eyes. When Santiago promises to awaken the boy in time
for his day’s work with his new master, the boy declares,
“I do not like for him to waken me. It is as though I were inferior.”
The missing quality in the boy’s new relationship is evident: The old man wakens the boy in order to share
living with him; the impersonal ‘him’ wakes the boy in order to use him.
Both the old man and the boy are keenly aware of their loss of each other, and both plan ways to regain their
former partnership....
A New Dimension for a Hero: Santiago of The Old Man and the Sea 31
The novel’s second section presents the full significance of what it means to possess the sense of true
existence. Just as the “he” who wakes the boy to use him is blocked by his practical ends from the experience
of love so also the “younger fishermen” whose intention is to exploit are prevented from regarding the sea as
anything more than “a contestant or a place or even an enemy.” Again the distinction is one of individual
He always thought of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in Spanish when they
love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they are always said as
though she were a woman. Some of the younger fishermen, those who used buoys as floats
for their lines and had motorboats, bought when the shark livers had brought much money,
spoke of her as el mar which is masculine. They spoke of her as a contestant or a place or
even an enemy. But the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that
gave or withheld great favours, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could
not help them.
The moon affects her as it does a woman, he thought.
The passage is an important one in the development of the novel. Hemingway’s theme is clear: Success in the
achievement of being carries with it the most valued of man’s possessions, the capacity for love. And
Santiago’s capacity is everywhere evident. Once far out in the Gulf the old man takes his place as a true
inhabitant of his true environment. He responds to the sea and the sky and the birds and the fish with the pure
response of his achieved being:
He loved green turtles and hawkbills with their elegance and speed and their great value and
he had a friendly contempt for the huge, stupid loggerheads, yellow in their armour-plating,
strange in their love-making, and happily eating the Portuguese men-of-war with their eyes
One is reminded of the philosopher’s statement, “Being consents to Santiago’s being responds to the
creatures about him.”
During the night two porpoises came around the boat and he could hear them rolling and
blowing. He could tell the difference between the blowing noise the male made and the
sighing blow of the female.
“They are good,” he said. “They play and make jokes and love one another. They are our
brothers like the flying fish.”
Nowhere in all of Hemingway’s works can be found such a direct treatment of genuine sentiment. One is
reminded of Pound’s statement that the writer in our time must necessarily be ironic and indirect to be
effective. But in the simple image of the old man's identification with the creatures of the sea we have a rare
instance of positive values being directly and effectively presented. Yet perhaps it is because there is
everywhere present the lurking dangers of the dark water and the old man’s realistic awareness of those
malevolent forces that his love emerges fully as realistic as the ever-present threats which surround him.
Santiago’s struggle with the marlin is the principal subject of the long third section. From the moment he
feels the fish touch the bait, his feeling is one of joy for the anticipated contest:
Then he felt the gentle touch on the line and he was happy.
“It was only his turn,” he said. “He’ll take it.”
A New Dimension for a Hero: Santiago of The Old Man and the Sea 32
He was happy feeling the gentle pulling and then he felt something hard and unbelievably
Throughout the long contest his attitude toward the fish remains constant:
“Fish,” he said. “I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this
day ends.”
Let us hope so, he thought.
The events of the struggle are dramatic: From the time the fish is hooked, about noon of the first day, until the
fish is killed, about noon of the third day, the old man is forced to place his own body between the fish and
boat. Fastening the line to the boat would result in the breaking of the line by any sudden lurch or swift
motion by the fish. Thus the contest means for Santiago the summoning of his greatest efforts in skill and
endurance. He carefully plans his strategy: Constant maximum pressure on the line must be maintained in
order to wear down the resistance of the fish and to encourage him to surface in an attempt to dislodge the
hook. Santiago knew that once having surfaced, the fish would be unable to dive deep again. Nourishment and
rest must be systematically apportioned to his body so that he would not lose the battle prematurely through
physical exhaustion. All effort must point to the final struggle which would involve not merely skill and
physical endurance but will, his own will in mortal contest with the will of the marlin.
But the real power of the novel’s impact does not lie merely in the events of the old man’s dramatic struggle.
It lies, I believe, in Hemingway’s successful creation of a new dimension in dramatic portraiture. In each of
the five carefully delineated sections of the novel, the reader’s attention is always on Santiago. But in each,
Hemingway alters with subtle but masterful strokes his changing image of the old man. In each he modifies
the dramatic focus to isolate, intensify, and thereby magnify the novel’s central and controlling image, the
portrait of Santiago.
In the setting of the simple fishing village we are presented with the aged fisherman, initially pathetic in his
meager existence, but admirable in his determination to break his run of bad luck, at once lovable in his
touching relationship with a young boy and quaint in his concern for American baseball. But as a solitary
figure on the sea, against a backdrop of cosmic nature, the image of the old man takes on new and greater
proportions. He becomes a being among the beings of the sea, a human force among the forces of the natural
world. But it is at the point at which the old man engages the great marlin that a more profound level of
meaning is reached. Hemingway marks the shift with characteristic restraint. The change is simple but
The boat began to move slowly off toward the North West.
It is here, I think, that the reader becomes aware that he is experiencing the achievement in prose which
Hemingway had tried vaguely to explain in Green Hills of Africa. He had referred there to “a fourth and fifth
dimension that can be gotten.” And in speaking of the complexity of such writing, he had declared, “Too
many factors must combine to make it possible.” He had called such prose “much more difficult than
poetry,” but “one that can be written, without tricks and without cheating. With nothing that will go bad
afterwards.” In the amazing combination of simple realism of narrative and complex symbolism of image at
once contained in The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway has, I believe, constructed his closest approximation
to his goal.
Source: William J. Handy, “A New Dimension for a Hero: Santiago of The Old Man and the Sea,” in
Contemporary Novels, The University of Texas, 1962, pp. 62-69.
A New Dimension for a Hero: Santiago of The Old Man and the Sea 33
The Old Man and the Sea: Hemingway’s Tragic Vision of
In Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway uses an effective metaphor to describe the kind of prose he is trying to
write: he explains that “if a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things
that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as
strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only
one-eighth of it being above water.”
Among all the works of Hemingway which illustrate this metaphor, none, I think, does so more consistently
or more thoroughly than the saga of Santiago. Indeed, the critical reception of the novel has emphasized this
aspect of it: in particular, Philip Young, Leo Gurko, and Carlos Baker have stressed the qualities of The Old
Man and the Sea as allegory and parable. Each of these critics is especially concerned with two qualities in
Santiago— his epic individualism and the love he feels for the creatures who share with him a world of
inescapable violence—though in the main each views these qualities from a different point of the literary
compass. Young [in Hemingway] regards the novel as essentially classical in nature; Gurko [in College
English] sees it as reflecting Hemingway's romanticism; and to Baker, [in Hemingway] the novel is Christian
in context, and the old fisherman is suggestive of Christ.
Such interpretations of The Old Man and the Sea are not, of course, contradictory; in fact, they are parallel at
many points. All are true, and together they point to both the breadth and depth of the novel's enduring
significance and also to its central greatness: like all great works of art it is a mirror wherein every man
perceives a personal likeness. Such viewpoints, then, differ only in emphasis and reflect generally similar
conclusions— that Santiago represents a noble and tragic individualism revealing what man can do in an
indifferent universe which defeats him, and the love he can feel for such a universe and his humility before it.
True as this is, there yet remains, I think, a deeper level of significance, a deeper level upon which the
ultimate beauty and the dignity of movement of this brilliant structure fundamentally rest. On this level of
significance, Santiago is Harry Morgan alive again and grown old; for what comes to Morgan in a sudden and
unexpected revelation as he lies dying is the matrix of the old fisherman’s climactic experience. Since 1937,
Hemingway has been increasingly concerned with the relationship between individualism and
interdependence; and The Old Man and the Sea is the culminating expression of this concern in its reflection
of Hemingway’s mature view of the tragic irony of man’s fate: that no abstraction can bring man an
awareness and understanding of the solidarity and interdependence without which life is impossible; he must
learn it, as it has always been truly learned, through the agony of active and isolated individualism in a
universe which dooms such individualism.
Throughout The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago is given heroic proportions. He is “a strange old man,” still
powerful and still wise in all the ways of his trade. After he hooks the great marlin, he fights him with epic
skill and endurance, showing “what a man can do and what a man endures.” And when the sharks come, he is
determined “‘to fight them until I die,’” because he knows that “‘a man is not made for defeat. . . . A man
can be destroyed but not defeated.’”
In searching for and in catching his big fish, Santiago gains a deepened insight into himself and into his
relationship to the rest of created life—an insight as pervasive and implicit in the old fisherman’s experience
as it is sudden and explicit in Harry Morgan’s. As he sails far out on the sea, Santiago thinks of it “as
feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favours, and if she did wild or wicked things it was
because she could not help them.” For the bird who rests on his line and for other creatures who share with
him such a capricious and violent life, the old man feels friendship and love. And when he sees a flight of
wild ducks go over, the old man knows “no man was ever alone on the sea.”
The Old Man and the Sea: Hemingway’s Tragic Vision of Man 34
Santiago comes to feel his deepest love for the creature that he himself hunts and kills, the great fish which he
must catch not alone for physical need but even more for his pride and his profession. The great marlin is
unlike the other fish which the old man catches; he is a spiritual more than a physical necessity. He is unlike
the other fish, too, in that he is a worthy antagonist for the old man, and during his long ordeal, Santiago
comes to pity the marlin and then to respect and to love him. In the end he senses that there can be no victory
for either in the equal struggle between them, that the conditions which have brought them together have
made them one. And so, though he kills the great fish, the old man has come to love him as his equal and his
brother; sharing a life which is a capricious mixture of incredible beauty and deadly violence and in which all
creatures are both hunter and hunted, they are bound together in its most primal relationship.
Beyond the heroic individualism of Santiago’s struggle with the great fish and his fight against the sharks,
however, and beyond the love and the brotherhood which he comes to feel for the noble creature he must kill,
there is a further dimension in the old man’s experience which gives to these their ultimate significance. For
in killing the great marlin and in losing him to the sharks, the old man learns the sin into which men inevitably
fall by going far out beyond their depth, beyond their true place in life. In the first night of his struggle with
the great fish, the old man begins to feel a loneliness and a sense almost of guilt for the way in which he has
caught him; and after he has killed the marlin, he feels no pride of accomplishment, no sense of victory.
Rather, he seems to feel almost as though he has betrayed the great fish; “I am only better than him through
trickery,” he thinks, “and he meant me no harm.”
Thus, when the sharks come, it is almost as a thing expected, almost as a punishment which the old man
brings upon himself in going far out “beyond all people. Beyond all people in the world” and there hooking
and killing the great fish. For the coming of the sharks is not a matter of chance nor a stroke of bad luck; “the
shark was not an accident.” They are the direct result of the old man’s action in killing the fish. He has
driven his harpoon deep into the marlin’s heart, and the blood of the great fish, welling from his heart, leaves
a trail of scent which the first shark follows. He tears huge pieces from the marlin’s body, causing more
blood to seep into the sea and thus attract other sharks; and in killing the first shark, the old man loses his
principal weapon, his harpoon. Thus, in winning his struggle with the marlin and in killing him, the old man
sets in motion the sequence of events which take from him the great fish whom he has come to love and with
whom he identifies himself completely. And the old man senses an inevitability in the coming of the sharks, a
feeling of guilt which deepens into remorse and regret. “I am sorry that I killed the fish,” he thinks, and he
tells himself that “You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food. You killed him for pride
and because you are a fisherman.”
Earlier, before he had killed the marlin, Santiago had been “‘glad we do not have to try to kill the stars.’” It
is enough, he had felt, to have to kill our fellow creatures. Now, with the inevitable sharks attacking, the old
man senses that in going far out he has in effect tried “to kill the sun or the moon or the stars.” For him it has
not been “enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers”; in his individualism and his need and his
pride, he has gone far out “beyond all people,” beyond his true place in a capricious and indifferent world,
and has thereby brought not only on himself but also on the great fish the forces of violence and destruction.
“‘I shouldn’t have gone out so far, fish. . . . ’” he declares. “‘Neither for you nor for me. I’m sorry,
fish.’” And when the sharks have torn away half of the great marlin, Santiago speaks again to his brother in
the sea: “‘Half-fish,’ he said. ‘Fish that you were. I am sorry that I went too far out. I ruined us both.’”
The old man’s realization of what he has done is reflected in his apologies to the fish, and this realization and
its implications are emphasized symbolically throughout the novel. From beginning to end, the theme of
solidarity and interdependence pervades the action and provides the structural framework within which the old
man’s heroic individualism and his love for his fellow creatures appear and function and which gives them
their ultimate significance. Having gone eighty-four days without a catch, Santiago has become dependent
upon the young boy, Manolin, and upon his other friends in his village. The boy keeps up his confidence and
hope, brings him clothes and such necessities as water and soap, and sees that he has fresh bait for his fishing.
The Old Man and the Sea: Hemingway’s Tragic Vision of Man 35
Martin, the restaurant owner, sends the old man food, and Perico, the wineshop owner, gives him newspapers
so that he can read about baseball. All of this the old man accepts gratefully and without shame, knowing that
such help is not demeaning. “He was too simple to wonder when he had attained humility. But he knew he
had attained it and he knew it was not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true pride.”
Santiago refuses the young boy’s offer to leave the boat his parents have made him go in and return to his,
but soon after he hooks the great marlin he wishes increasingly and often that the boy were with him. And
after the sharks come and he wonders if it had been a sin to kill the great fish, the old man thinks that, after all,
“everything kills everything else in some way. Fishing kills me exactly as it keeps me alive.” But then he
remembers that it is not fishing but the love and care of another human being that keeps him alive now; “the
boy keeps me alive, he thought. I must not deceive myself too much.”
As the sharks tear from him more and more of the great fish and as the boat gets closer to his home, the old
man's sense of his relationship to his friends and to the boy deepens: “I cannot be too far out now, he thought.
I hope no one has been too worried. There is only the boy to worry, of course. But I am sure he would have
confidence. Many of the older fishermen will worry. Many others too, he thought. I live in a good town.” In
the end, when he awakens in his shack and talks with the boy, he notices “how pleasant it was to have
someone to talk to instead of speaking only to himself and to the sea.” This time he accepts without any real
opposition the boy’s insistence on returning to his boat, and he says no more about going far out alone.
This theme of human solidarity and interdependence is reinforced by several symbols. Baseball, which the old
man knows well and loves and which he thinks and talks about constantly, is, of course, a highly developed
team sport and one that contrasts importantly in this respect with the relatively far more individualistic
bullfighting, hunting, and fishing usually found in Hemingway’s stories. Although he tells himself that “now
is no time to think of baseball,” the game is in Santiago’s thoughts throughout his ordeal, and he wonders
about each day’s results in the Gran Ligas.
Even more significant is the old man’s hero-worship of Joe DiMaggio, the great Yankee outfielder.
DiMaggio, like Santiago, was a champion, a master of his craft, and in baseball terms an old one, playing out
the last years of his glorious career severely handicapped by the pain of a bone spur in his heel. The image of
DiMaggio is a constant source of inspiration to Santiago; in his strained back and his cut and cramped left
hand he, too, is an old champion who must endure the handicap of pain; and he tells himself that he “must
have confidence and be worthy of the great DiMaggio who does all things perfectly even with the pain of the
bone spur in his heel.”
But DiMaggio had qualities at least as vital to the Yankees as his courage and individual brilliance. Even
during his own time and since then, many men with expert knowledge of baseball have considered other
contemporary outfielders—especially Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox—to be DiMaggio’s equal or
superior in terms of individual ability and achievement. But few men have ever earned the affection and the
renown which DiMaggio received as a “team player”—one who always displayed his individual greatness as
part of his team, one to whom the team was always more important than himself. It used to be said of
DiMaggio’s value as a “team player” that with him in the line-up, even when he was handicapped by the
pain in his heel, the Yankees were two runs ahead when they came out on the field. From Santiago’s love of
baseball and his evident knowledge of it, it is clear that he would be aware of these qualities in DiMaggio.
And when Manolin remarks that there are other men on the New York team, the old man replies: “‘Naturally.
But he makes the difference.’”
The lions which Santiago dreams about and his description in terms of Christ symbols further suggest
solidarity and love and humility as opposed to isolated individualism and pride. So evocative and lovely a
symbol is the dream of the lions that it would be foolish if not impossible to attempt its literal definition. Yet
it seems significant that the old man dreams not of a single lion, a “king of the beasts,” a lion proud and
The Old Man and the Sea: Hemingway’s Tragic Vision of Man 36
powerful and alone, like the one from which Francis Macomber runs in terror, but of several young lions who
come down to a beach in the evening to play together. “He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on
the beach. They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy.” It seems also
significant that the old man “no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of
great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife”—that is that he no longer dreams of great
individualistic deeds like the one which brings violence and destruction on him and on the marlin. Instead, the
lions are “the main thing that is left” and they evoke the solidarity and love and peace to which the old man
returns after hunting and killing and losing his great fish.
These qualities are further emphasized by the symbolic value of the old fisherman as he carries the mast
crosslike up the hill to his shack and as he lies exhausted on his bed. His hands have been terribly wounded in
catching the great marlin and in fighting the sharks, and as he lies sleeping “face down on the newspapers
with his arms out straight and the palms up” his figure is Christlike and suggests that if the old man has been
crucified by the forces of a capricious and violent universe, the meaning of his experience is the humility and
love of Christ and the interdependence which they imply.
Such, then, are the qualities which define man’s true place in a world of violence and death indifferent to
him, and they are the context which gives the experience of the old fisherman its ultimate significance as the
reflection of Hemingway’s culminating concept of the human condition—his tragic vision of man. For in his
understanding that “it is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers,” the fellow creatures who share
life with us and whom he loves, the old man is expressing Hemingway’s conviction that despite the tragic
necessity of such a condition, man has a place in the world. And in his realization that in going alone and too
far out, “beyond all people in the world,” he has ruined both himself and also the great fish, the old man
reflects Hemingway’s feeling that in his individualism and his pride and his need, man inevitably goes
beyond his true place in the world and thereby brings violence and destruction on himself and on others. Yet
in going out too far and alone, Santiago has found his greatest strength and courage and dignity and nobility
and love, and in this he expresses Hemingway’s view of the ultimate tragic irony of man’s fate: that only
through the isolated individualism and the pride which drive him beyond his true place in life does man
develop the qualities and the wisdom which teach him the sin of such individualism and pride and which
bring him the deepest understanding of himself and of his place in the world. Thus, in accepting his world for
what it is and in learning to live in it, Hemingway has achieved a tragic but ennobling vision of man which is
in the tradition of Sophocles Christ, Melville, and Conrad.
It is not enough, then, to point out, as Robert P. Weeks does [in the University of Kansas Review], that “from
the first eight words of The Old Man and the Sea . . . we are squarely confronted with a world in which man’s
isolation is the most insistent truth.” True as this is, it is truth which is at the same time paradox, for Santiago
is profoundly aware that “no man was ever alone on the sea.” Nor is the novel solely what Leo Gurko feels it
is—“the culmination of Hemingway’s long search for disengagement from the social world and total entry
into the natural.” If the old man leaves society to go “far out” and “beyond all people in the world,” the
consciousness of society and of his relationship to it are never for long out of his thoughts; and in the end, of
course, he returns to his “good town,” where he finds it pleasant “to have someone to talk to instead of
speaking only to himself and to the sea.” To go no further than Santiago’s isolation, therefore, or to treat it,
as Weeks does, as a theme in opposition to Hemingway’s concern with society is to miss the deepest level of
significance both in this novel and in Hemingway’s writing generally.
For, surely, as Edgar Johnson has shown, the true direction of Hemingway’s thought and art from the
beginning and especially since 1937 has been a return to society—not in terms of any particular social or
political doctrine, but in the broad sense of human solidarity and interdependence. If he began by making “a
separate peace” and by going, like Santiago, “far out” beyond society, like the old man, too, he has come
back, through Harry Morgan’s “‘no man alone,’” Philip Rawlings’s and Robert Jordan’s “no man is an
island,” and Santiago’s “no man is ever alone on the sea,” with a deepened insight into its nature and values
The Old Man and the Sea: Hemingway’s Tragic Vision of Man 37
and a profound awareness of his relationship to it as an individual [a development found in Hemingway’s
“Nobody Ever Dies!”].
In the process, strangely enough—or perhaps it is not strange at all—he has come back from Frederic Henry’s
rejection of all abstract values to a reiteration for our time of mankind's oldest and noblest moral principles.
As James B. Colvert points out [in American Literature], Hemingway is a moralist: heir, like his world, to the
destruction by science and empiricism of nineteenth-century value assumptions, he rejects equally these
assumptions and the principle underlying them—that intellectual moral abstractions possess independent
supersensual existence. Turning from the resulting nihilism, he goes to experience in the actual world of
hostility, violence, and destruction to find in the world which destroyed the old values a basis for new
ones—and it is precisely here, Colvert suggests, in reflecting the central moral problem of his world, that
Hemingway is a significant moralist.
But out of this concern with action and conduct in a naturalistic universe, Hemingway has not evolved new
moral values; rather, he has reaffirmed man’s oldest ones—courage, love, humility, solidarity, and
interdependence. It is their basis which is new—a basis not in supernaturalism or abstraction but hard-won
through actual experience in a naturalistic universe which is at best indifferent to man and his values.
Hemingway tells us, as E. M. Halliday observes, that “we are part of a universe offering no assurance beyond
the grave, and we are to make what we can of life by a pragmatic ethic spun bravely out of man himself in full
and steady cognizance that the end is darkness [in American Literature].”
Through perfectly realized symbolism and irony, then, Hemingway has beautifully and movingly spun out of
an old fisherman’s great trial just such a pragmatic ethic and its basis in an essentially tragic vision of man;
and in this reaffirmation of man’s most cherished values and their reaffirmation in the terms of our time rests
the deepest and the enduring significance of The Old Man and the Sea.
Source: Clinton S. Burhans Jr. “The Old Man and the Sea: Hemingway’s Tragic Vision of Man,” in
American Literature, March, 1959-January, 1960, pp. 446-55.
The Old Man and the Sea: Selected Quotes
1) “Anyone can be a fisherman in May.” Page 18
Santiago is a fisherman. He is poor, but doesn’t complain about it. He is stoic about his position, but is hard
working and has pride. This pride will later contribute to his battle with the fish, but this early quote illustrates
a lot about Santiago, as well as about Hemingway’s Code Hero. Although he is poor, Santiago will not
borrow, for it leads to begging, yet he accepts food the boy Manolin brings him, and says he will thank the bar
owner who supplied the food. At this point, Santiago has not caught anything in 84 days, and Manolin’s
parents have made him find work on another boat. Santiago believes 85 to be a lucky number, and asks
Manolin to find a lottery ticket with 85 on it.
In other words, Santiago is complex, believing in hard work as well as luck. When he states, “Anyone can be
a fisherman in May,” he is showing his appreciation of both hard work and the reward and majesty of fishing.
Although fish are easier to catch in temperate weather, in September, when fishing is less pleasant, the fish
themselves are of higher quality and must be fought for. Here, Santiago is showing disdain for the easy way as
well as describing why he continues on, despite his string of bad luck and poverty. Like the traditional code
hero, he keeps to his principles, even in times of hardship.
2) “I would like to take the great DiMaggio fishing.” Page 22
Joe DiMaggio is one of the most famous American baseball players ever. He played for the Yankees, and is
idolized by Santiago. Santiago and Manolin talk at length about American baseball, and because of
The Old Man and the Sea: Selected Quotes 38
DiMaggio’s bone spurs, Santiago relates to him and feels DiMaggio “makes the difference.” He also states
that DiMaggio’s father was a fisherman, and maybe the baseball player “would understand.” In other words,
DiMaggio would understand not only the way of life, but the meaning and principles behind it.
DiMaggio also represents the code hero. He was injured, yet kept striving to win while maintaining his
courage, and overcomes adversity to win. Santiago holds himself up to DiMaggio’s standards, at first simply
wanting to go fishing with him because he feels DiMaggio is a kindred soul. But later, during Santiago’s
ordeal with the marlin, he uses DiMaggio as motivation to keep going, to “be worthy of the great DiMaggio.”
3) “He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor
contests of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. They
played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy.” Page 25
This passage occurs before Santiago leaves to catch fish. Santiago sleeps and dreams of Africa when he was a
boy, and of the lions playing on the beaches “so white they hurt your eyes.” The dream is interesting not only
in the content, but also by what Hemingway says he doesn’t dream about anymore: storms, his wife, fish, and
Manolin. These are all more “realistic,” the important parts and worries of his life. Santiago’s wife is gone,
and her picture makes him sad, so his dreams are not of past happiness or greatness. So what do playful lions
There are many interpretations of Santiago’s lions. Obviously, lions are associated with courage, and just as
Santiago relates to the great Joe DiMaggio, he relates to the strength and courage of the lions. However, these
lions are playing like young cats, so the image is not only from his boyhood, but it encompasses the freedom
of youth, when he was still wide-eyed and amazed at life’s challenges. The lions and the blindingly white
beach represent how the reality of violence can be tamed and become playful, but only in the ideal of
Santiago’s dreams.
4) “Fish, I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.” Page 54
Santiago fights hard for the massive fish he has caught. Since he had not caught a fish in a long time, he went
out further than he usually did, and after having hooked the marlin, it pulled him out even further. The fish
fights hard for its life, and as it swims, Santiago hangs on to the line out of fear that the fish will escape, even
though the force of the line cuts his hands and cramps his back. On the second day of the contest between man
and fish, Santiago utters these words, showing that he values the fish’s strength and courage, but now it is a
contest to the death, and he will win.
This quote defines not only Santiago’s philosophy, but also Hemingway’s view of life. Life is harsh and
violent, but there is beauty to it, and even love between competitors. Like the lions and Joe DiMaggio,
Santiago appreciates and relates to the marlin and its will to live. While at first he reminds himself of the
money such a fish will bring, it also becomes a contest of wills, and Santiago knows he must destroy this
strong creature.
5) “But a man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” Page 103
Santiago finally kills the marlin, but has to lash the fish to the boat to bring it back to shore. This attracts
sharks. One shark takes a 40-pound bite out of the marlin, before Santiago is able to kill it. He realizes the
blood will attract other sharks, and there is nothing he can do, since he no longer has his harpoon to fight off
other sharks. He thinks that he is sorry he ever hooked the fish in the first place, but then states that he may be
down, but he is not out. He tells himself to keep sailing for home and deal with the sharks the best he can.
Being destroyed is not the same as being defeated, and this is an important distinction to a man of Santiago’s
pride and strength. For instance, Santiago destroys the marlin by finally killing it, but its spirit is not defeated.
By stating a man cannot be defeated, Santiago is stating that man, or at least Hemingway’s code hero
definition of man, will not be defeated, no matter how hopeless the circumstances. Santiago sees the
The Old Man and the Sea: Selected Quotes 39
inevitability of the sharks, and as a man who won’t be defeated, makes a crude weapon and uses the image of
Joe DiMaggio, who also wouldn’t be defeated, to inspire hope within himself.
The Old Man and the Sea: Topics for Further Study
Throughout The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago expresses his feelings about nature. Today, the
protection of our natural environment is often in the news. Do some research on environmental issues
and write an essay comparing Santiago’s attitude about nature to modern theories of
environmentalism. Would Santiago be considered an environmentalist today?
Manolin undergoes a change between the beginning and the end of the novel. What do you think
causes this change? Find specific examples from the story to support your opinion. Then write an
essay comparing the “old” Manolin from the beginning of the story to the “new” Manolin who has
emerged by the end.
Most of Ernest Hemingway’s heroes are young men, but Santiago, as the title reveals, is an old man.
Why do you think the author chose to tell this story from an older person’s perspective? How might
the story have been different if the hero had been a young man? Present your ideas in an essay and use
examples from the text to support your conclusions.
The Old Man and the Sea: Media Adaptations
The Old Man and the Sea was adapted as a feature film starring Spencer Tracy as Santiago and Felipe
Pazos as The Boy, Warner Brothers, 1958. This film has been praised for some of its visual effects,
and the score won an Academy Award.
It was also the source of a made-for-TV production in 1990 starring Anthony Quinn, Gary Cole,
Alexis Cruz, Patricia Clarkson, and Francesco Quinn.
· The novel is also available on a two-cassette sound recording narrated by Charlton Heston.
The Old Man and the Sea: What Do I Read Next?
Youth (1903) and Typhoon (1902), both by Joseph Conrad are sea stories with intriguing parallels to
Hemingway’s work. It is believed that Hemingway, who read all of Conrad in Paris and Toronto
during the twenties, may have consciously or unconsciously used the “central strategy” of Youth
when writing The Old Man and the Sea.
For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) was Hemingway’s last successfully received novel before The Old
Man and the Sea, and the only previous Hemingway novel in which a Hispanic background plays a
major part. It depicts the struggle of Robert Jordan, an American fighting against the Fascists in the
Spanish Civil War to live up to his political and personal ideals without becoming narrowly partisan.
Islands in the Stream, published posthumously in 1970, is the book, as edited, of which The Old Man
and the Sea was originally envisaged by Hemingway as the fourth part. The first three sections were
originally called “The Sea When Young,” “The Sea When Absent,” and “The Sea in Being.”
The Nick Adams Stories (1972) are all Hemingway’s short stories, plus a few story fragments, about
this recurring fictional character, from the time he first appeared in the early 1920s as a young boy, to
his last appearance as an adult and father in 1933. Although written and published at different times in
Hemingway’s life, they are arranged here by Hemingway scholar Philip Young to illustrate Nick’s
unfolding life.
The Old Man and the Sea: Topics for Further Study 40
The Old Man and the Sea: Bibliography and Further
Baker,Carlos, ed. Ernest Hemingway: Critiques of Four Major Novels. Scribner’s, 1962, pp. 132-72.
Beegel, Susan F. “Conclusion: The Critical Reputation of Ernest Hemingway.” In The Cambridge
Companion to Ernest Hemingway, edited by Scott Donaldson. Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 276.
Brenner, Gerry, and Earl Rovit. “The Structure of the Fiction.” In Ernest Hemingway, Revised Edition.
Twayne, 1986, pp. 62-89.
Brenner, Gerry, ed. The Old Man and the Sea: The Story of a Common Man. Twayne, 1991.
Lynn, Kenneth. Hemingway. Simon and Schuster, 1987.
Young, Philip. Ernest Hemingway: A Reconsideration. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1966, p. 274.
For Further Study
Burhans, Clifford. “The Old Man and the Sea: Hemingway’s Tragic Vision of Man.” In American
Literature, January, 1960, p. 447. Burhans relates The Old Man and the Sea to Hemingway’s earlier work
and finds it a mature statement of the author’s philosophy.
Burhans, Clinton S., Jr. “The Old Man and the Sea: Hemingway’s Tragic Vision of Man." In Hemingway
and His Critics: An International Anthology, edited by Carlos Baker. Hill and Wang, 1961, pp. 259-68. The
critic describes the novel as Hemingway’s “mature view of the tragic irony of man's fate.
Burwell, Rose Marie. Hemingway: The Postwar Years and the Posthumous Novels. Cambridge University
Press, 1996. Burwell’s work has gathered considerable acclaim for its supplanting of the wound theory and
notions of code heroes with new readings of the late works.
Griffith, John. “Rectitude in Hemingway’s Fiction: How Rite Makes Right." In Hemingway in Our Time,
edited by Richard Astro and Jackson T. Benson. Oregon State University Press, 1974, pp. 159-73. Griffith
discusses the author’s expressions of “ritual correctness and moral right.”
Kinnamon, Kenneth. “Hemingway and Politics." In The Cambridge Companion to Ernest Hemingway, edited
by Scott Donaldson. Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 149-69. Despite the author’s noted individualism
and scorn for politicians, Kinnamon makes a strong case for a consistent leftism in Hemingway’s basic
political philosophy.
Levin, Harry. “Observations on the Style of Ernest Hemingway.” In Hemingway: A Collection of Critical
Essays, edited by Robert P. Weeks. Prentice-Hall, 1962, pp. 72-85. Levin discusses Hemingway’s “power of
connotation” and “oblique suggestion.”
Love, Glen. “Revaluing Nature: Towards an Ecological Criticism.” In Old West—New West: Centennial
Essays, edited by Barbara H. Meldrum. University of Idaho Press, 1993. Love chastises critics for failing to
respond to environmental issues and suggests that works like Hemingway’s “engage such issues
The Old Man and the Sea: Bibliography and Further Reading 41
Morgan, Kathleen, and Luis Losada. “Santiago and The Old Man and the Sea: A Homeric Hero.” In The
Hemingway Review, Vol. 12, No. 1, Fall, 1992, pp. 35-51. The critics discuss Homeric influences in the novel.
Morrison, Toni. “Disturbing Nurses and the Kindness of Sharks.” In Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the
Literary Imagination. Harvard University Press, 1992, pp. 63ff. The author’s multicultural interpretations of
Hemingway (though Morrison does not refer specifically to The Old Man and the Sea) suggests that
multiculturalism may be a source of new insights into Hemingway’s work.
Plimpton, George. “An Interview with Ernest Hemingway.” In Hemingway and His Critics: An International
Anthology, edited by Carlos Baker. Hill and Wang, 1961, pp. 19-37. The author discusses his working
methods and techniques employed in the novel.
Spilka, Mark. Hemingway’s Quarrel with Androgyny. University of Nebraska Press, 1990, p. 189. Spilka
notes that throughout his life, and contrary to his public persona, Hemingway was very dependent on women,
and secretly identified with them.
Sylvester, Bickford. “The Cuban Context of The Old Man and the Sea.” In The Cambridge Companion to
Ernest Hemingway, edited by Scott Donaldson. Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 243-68. A fascinating
essay on how Hemingway’s wide knowledge of local customs, history, religion, and baseball informs the
substance of his novel.
Waldmeir, Joseph. “Confiteor Hominem: Ernest Hemingway’s Religion of Man.” In Ernest Hemingway:
Five Decades of Criticism, edited by Linda Welshimer Wagner. Michigan State University Press, 1974, pp.
144-52. The critic explicates Christian symbolism in the novel.
Williams, Wirt. “The Old Man and the Sea: The Culmination.” In The Tragic Art of Ernest Hemingway.
Louisiana State University Press, 1981, pp. 172-97. Williams focuses on the “tragic action” of the novel as a
struggle of will.

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