Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
Old Man and the Sea is a short novel (novella) about an elderly Cuban
fisherman who goes out alone in a small boat and hooks into a huge marlin.
Old Man and the Sea was first published in Life magazine in
its issue of September 1, 1952. Charles Scribner's Sons published the book
in New York City later in the same year. An immediate success, it won the
1952 Pulitzer Prize and helped Hemingway win the 1954 Nobel Prize for literature.
Hemingway is believed to have based the plot of the Old Man and the
Sea on a story he recounted in "On the Blue Water: a Gulf Stream Letter,"
an article he published in the April 1936 issue of Esquire magazine.
In this article, Hemingway recalls a conversation he had wih a friend who
thought the most exciting sport for outdoorsmen was hunting elephants.
As for fishing, "Frankly, I can't see where the excitement is in that,"
he said. In an attempt to enlighten his friend about the challenges of
fishing at sea, Hemingway told him the following story
[A]n old man fishing
alone in a skiff out of Cabañas hooked a great marlin that, on the
heavy sashcord handline, pulled the skiff far out to sea. Two days later
the old man was picked up by fishermen sixty miles to the eastward, the
head and forward part of the marlin lashed alongside. What was left of
the fish, less than half, weighed eight hundred pounds. The old man had
stayed with him a day, a night, a day and another night while fish swam
deep and pulled the boat. When he had come up the old man had pulled the
boat up on him and harpooned him. Lashed along side, the sharks had hit
him and the old man had fought them out alone in the Gulf Stream in a skiff,
clubbing them, stabbing at them, lunging at them with an oar until he was
exhausted and the sharks had eaten all that they could. He was crying in
the boat when the fishermen picked him up, half crazy from his loss, and
the sharks were still circling the boat.
land, the action takes place in a small village on the northern coast of
Cuba, below the Tropic of Cancer and not far from the capital city of Havana.
At sea, the action takes place in the boat of an old man, Santiago, who
is fishing for marlin north of Cuba in the Gulf Stream of the Gulf of Mexico.
The time is September in the late 1940's. Hemingway lived near Havana from
1940 until 1959.
Proud old Cuban fisherman. He knows well the sea and its creatures and
is expert in his trade. But he has a long slump in which he fails to catch
a single fish. There is talk that he is no longer up to the task of deep-sea
fishing. However, he refuses refuses to yield to old age and bad luck and
continues to go out in his skiff, if only to prove that he can still reel
in a big one. Santiago, a Spanish name, means St. James in English.
Adolescent who loves the old man and never loses his faith in him.
Father: Man who forbids his son to continue fishing with Santiago after
the first forty days of the old man's slump. He thinks Santiago is washed
Cafe owner who gives Manolin food and drink to take to Santiago.
Villager who sometimes helps Santiago with his fishing gear.
Villager who also helps Santiago with his gear. Santiago gives him the
head of the fish.
Man who provides Santiago newspapers so he can check baseball scores.
Woman who thinks the remains of the marlin caught by Santiago are those
of a shark.
wrote the story in third-person point of view. In some parts of the novel,
the narrator is an aloof observer, seeing only the actions of the main
character, Santiago. In other parts of the novel, the narrator enters the
mind of the old man and reports what he sees. In the latter case, the narration
becomes omniscient third-person point of view.
the narrator presents an objective account, at times he exhibits sympathy
for the old man in his exhausting struggle against the marlin and the elements.
Michael J. Cummings...©
days pass and still Santiago has not caught a fish in the familiar waters
of the Gulf of Mexico north of his seacoast village in Cuba. Has old age
robbed him of his once-great skill? Is he just having bad luck? Will his
scarred hands ever again pull in a prize catch?
boat is empty not only of fish but also of his friend, Manolin. Santiago
had taught the boy to fish, beginning when the boy was just five. He showed
Manolin all the subtleties of the art, and Manolin was deeply grateful.
More than that, he loved the old man. Often, he would take food to Santiago,
and they would talk baseball, usually discussing the exploits of the great
Yankee center fielder, Joe DiMaggio, who played magnificently even when
bothered by a physical ailment. (DiMaggio was operated on in 1947 to remove
a bone spur from the heel of his left foot. He also developed a bone spur
in his right foot and sometimes dislocated his shoulder during games.)
Whenever Santiago went out to fish, Manolin would go with him, happily
and excitedly. But after the first 40 days of Santiago’s 84-day slump,
the boy’s parents ordered him to go out with one of the other fishing boats;
Santiago was bad luck, a defeated old man.
Santiago–sun-wrinkled and gaunt–would go out alone, in his single-masted
skiff, to catch wind and, eventually, a great fish. But Manolin was always
there in the morning to help him load his gear and in the evening to greet
him and help him unload.
the night before the 85th day, Santiago, sleeping in his dirt-floor hovel,
dreams of Africa, which he had once visited while serving on a ship. In
his dream, he sees native boats, hears the roar of the surf, and watches
young lions frolicking on the beach. The lions seem to represent Santiago’s
youth, in all of its feral vigor. In the morning, before sunrise, Manolin
helps him load his gear as usual and gives him small fish to use as bait.
Then the old man rides the wind and the waves into deep water, beyond the
pale of his earlier expeditions.
catches a small tuna and thinks perhaps it is an omen of good fortune.
Later, he feels a strong pull on his line, suggesting that a great fish,
a marlin, is on the other end. The fish nibbles, then nibbles again. Finally,
it bites down and the war is on. The marlin hauls the skiff effortlessly
through the Gulf waters while Santiago lets out the line when necessary,
then holds fast to it, sometimes wrapping it around his shoulders. The
give and take goes on and on. Santiago’s left hand cramps up, but he is
determined to stay with the fish, which he respects as a worthy opponent
even though he has only the tuna and his water bottle to sustain him. As
the sun sets, the fish heads farther out to sea.
it finally surfaces, Santiago beholds the fish, a gigantic marlin that
is longer than his boat. The struggle reminds the old man of an arm-wrestling
match he won; it lasted through an entire day and night. He eats part of
the tuna he caught, wraps the line around himself, and sleeps awhile, dreaming
of Africa and those lions on the beach. But the sleep is brief, a mere
wink of his heavy eyelids.
struggle goes on all through the next day and night and into the following
day. Santiago’s body aches, and his raw hands sting under the tug of the
hot, slicing rope. He thinks often of the great DiMaggio, who played frequently
in pain. If DiMaggio could succeed under the stress of suffering, why couldn't
Santiago? And then comes a hopeful sign: The marlin, which has been
traveling northwest, slows and turns eastward, riding a current. He is
tired. The end is near. When the big fish swims close to the boat, Santiago
harpoons it; the fight is over.
lashing the fish’s head and tail to the back and front of his boat, Santiago
heads for home, toward the glow of the Havana lights. However, the blood
from the harpoon wound attracts a shark. Santiago kills it with the harpoon,
but is unable to retrieve his weapon. There will be more sharks, he knows,
so he ties a knife to an oar and waits. When the sharks eventually arrive--in
a brutal hungry horde--he stabs some of them and clubs others with his
tiller. But there are too many, and they eat away all of the flesh, leaving
only the head, the tail, and the skeleton.
has won, and he has lost.
arriving onshore in the morning, he drags his aching body across the beach,
bearing the mast on his back and collapsing under its weight--then picking
himself up, and the mast, and completing the journey to his home, where
he falls into bed. While he sleeps, fishermen gather and stand in awe at
the size of the fish, at 18 feet the largest seen in local waters. Manolin,
who has been terribly worried about the old man, is happy to find him home
and in bed. When Santiago awakes, they have coffee and discuss baseball.
Manolin informs Santiago that a villager, Pedrico, is taking care of the
old man's boat and fishing equipment. Appreciative, Santiago tells the
youth to give Pedrico the head of the marlin to slice up and use as fish
bait. Manolin says he will get Santiago some food and some medicine to
treat his injured hands. Later, they agree to become partners again, and
that afternoon Santiago falls asleep again and dreams of two young lions.
style–developed when he worked as a newspaper reporter and correspondent
early in his career–is simple and compact, with short sentences and paragraphs
devoid of verbosity. However, this straightforward style often conveys
complex themes. In the
The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway uses the
third-person-limited point of view in some sections and third-person omniscient
in others. The book won Hemingway a Pulitzer Prize and later helped win
him a Nobel Prize.
ennobles a man and makes him a success is his perseverance against overwhelming
odds. Whether the central character, Santiago, wins or loses his battle
with the great fish is less important than waging a good and honorable
fight. Critics have interpreted this theme in many ways, seeing Santiago
as a Ulysses or a Jason accepting a formidable challenge and seeing it
through to the end.
Man vs Nature
struggle against the marlin and the sea represents the struggle of every
human being against nature, or the inscrutable universe–the same struggle
as Ahab in Moby Dick when he battles the great white whale. Unlike
Ahab, however, Santiago regards his quarry and the sea as noble and worthy
foes. Other literary works depicting human beings struggling against nature
include the John Steinbeck's The
Grapes of Wrath, Stephen Crane's "The
Open Boat," and Edgar Allan Poe's A
Descent Into the Maelström.
is full of stories about quests--for the Holy Grail, for battlefield glory,
for new worlds, for revenge, for scientific discoveries. In The Old
Man and the Sea, Santiago goes on a quest to catch a great fish and
win the respect of others. Although the sharks dine on his catch, he has
its skeleton as proof that, though old, he remains an accomplished fisherman.
remains fiercely loyal to Santiago even though his father look down upon
weary old man and forbids his son to fish with him. After Santiago returns
from his long struggle at sea, Manolin decides to become Santiago's fishing
partner once again in opposition to his father's wishes.
admires Joe DiMaggio, the centerfielder for the New York Yankees, in large
part because of DiMaggio's ability to carry on against adversity. DiMaggio,
of course, performs before tens of thousands of baseball fans in Yankee
Stadium. Santiago also carries on against adversity. But he is alone in
a boat, far out at sea, when he battles the gigantic marlin. No one witnesses
his extraordinary performance. Life is like that. Every day, people in
every country perform magnificently in ordinary, mundane tasks even though
no one is there to cheer them on.
climax of the novel occurs when sharks swarm and begin devouring the marlin.
Rather than giving up, Santiago fights to save his prize catch. Although
the sharks consume the marlin, Santiago proves that he is still a great
as a Christ Figure
Hemingway wished to compare Santiago with Christ in His struggle to redeem
fallen man. Santiago, weighted down with the “sin” of 84 days of failure
at sea, undergoes a three-day ordeal–suffering piercing injury to the palms
of his hands and back, experiencing raging thirst, enduring the “gibes”
of a mob (the attacking sharks), and staggering and falling as he bears
his mast across the beach. Nevertheless, he has achieved his goal and,
after a sleep, awakens to a new day.
Is a Skiff?
skiff is a small boat propelled with oars. Some skiffs use an outboard
motor or sails. To view pictures of various types of skiffs, click
DiMaggio, Joe: Indomitability
of the human spirit. Santiago, whom people believe no longer has what it
takes, identifies with the injured DiMaggio.
lions: Youth, virility,
power, the promise of a better future.
lost harpoon: Temporary
loss of power, strength, virility.
Manolin: Faith, hope,
marlin: Noble foe.
mast: Cross of Christ;
nature; life; the universe.
sharks: Cruel vicissitudes
skiff: With its patched-up
sails and fragile frame, Santiago himself.
Miller Hemingway (1899-1961) was an American writer of novels and short
stories. Before turning to fiction, he worked as a reporter for the Kansas
City Star and served as a First World War ambulance driver before enlisting
with the Italian infantry and suffering a wound. After the war, he worked
for the Toronto Star and lived for a time in Paris and Key West,
Fla. During the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War, he served as
a newspaper correspondent, then lived in Cuba until 1958 and Idaho until
1961, the year of his death by suicide.
narratives frequently contain masculine motifs, such as bull-fighting (Death
in the Afternoon), hunting (The
Green Hills of Africa), war (A
Farewell to Arms, For
Whom the Bell Tolls), and fishing (The
Old Man and the Sea). All of these motifs derive from Hemingway’s
own experiences as a traveler, a soldier, and an adventurer. Arguably,
he was a better short-story writer than a novelist, although it was his
longer works that built his reputation.
Questions and Essay Topics
Write an informative essay that
identifies and analyzes Santiago's external and internal conflicts.
What is Santiago's most admirable
In what way does the presence
of Manolin help to define Santiago?
What is the significance of
Santiago's recollection of the arm-wrestling match?
Research the life of Hemingway.
Then write an essay explaining how his experiences as a hunter and fisherman
influenced him when he wrote The Old Man and the Sea.