Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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The Old Man and the Sea is a short novel written by American author Ernest Hemingway in Cuba in 1951, and was eventually published the following year. This epic story of the struggle between an old fisherman and a giant marlin won several awards such as the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953 as well as a variety of other nominations. This was one of Hemingway’s last works during his lifetime and it proved to be a masterpiece. Hemingway believed that stories should be able to be read in one sitting which therefore explains the lack of longevity to them.

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We can see through his work how Ernest tends to capture the story of his life in his characters as well as his adventurous lifestyle in the making. Ernest lived for great adventures during his life and was always looking for a new high, a new goal to reach. He had a great love for fishing and would always make it a point to catch prize worthy fish with every outing. Several literary techniques and devices can be observed in Hemingway’s pieces and he does not fail to include them in this piece.

The story begins in Cuba where Santiago, an unlucky fisherman, has not caught a single fish for 84 days. According to Sparknotes.com, the other character in this story is Manolin, “Santiago’s apprentice and devoted attendant” (1). He is so unlucky that the parents of Manolin have not allowed him to fish with the old man anymore in order to find success elsewhere. The little boy continues to aid the man in his ventures and returns to help him every night despite his parents wishes. Santiago sets out in his skiff on the 85th day determined to end his streak of bad luck. He channels his role model, Joe DiMaggio, in order to find the strength he needs to pursue his determination. Sciaga.pl explains how “his strength of mind helps him with hooking the largest marlin in the water” (1). Unexpectedly, the giant fish fights back and begins to pull the boat farther and farther out to sea. Unable to tie the line off, the old man bears the weight of the line for three days in spite of aching back, tired hands, lack of sleep, and dehydration. He never fails to give up or lose sight of the ultimate result of the battle with the fish. The fish eventually tires so that Santiago can kill it once and for all and return home with his prize. The fish is too great to bring in the boat so the old man leaves it in the water, blood trailing from it as they sail. The blood from the fish attracts sharks however which in turn causes them to eat his great catch and Santiago loses all he fought so hard for. Even though he returns home with nothing but a carcass, the onlookers back at the dock are amazed by his success, mistaking the skeleton for a shark not knowing the extent of the old man’s struggles. Manolin is joyful to see Santiago’s return and makes sure to provide him with the best care possible.

There were several themes included in this work that are relevant even still for readers today. Sciaga.pl states that “the main theme of the story is accomplishment” (1). This theme is highly prevalent throughout the plot because the old man was able to be successful even though everyone back home doubted him. He accomplished what the people said he could not do and soared with flying colors in the face of adversity and every odd stacked against him. Most people would most likely not have kept going out to sea every day after the third day of no luck let alone 84 days like this man did. Because Santiago is pitted against the creatures of the sea, some readers choose to view the tale as a chronicle of man’s battle against the natural world, but the novella is, more accurately, the story of man’s place within nature (Sparknotes 1). Santiago battles against the natural world as well as finds himself a part of it. His battle against the natural world is obvious because he has to battle the Marlin as well as other unaccounted factors such as lurking sharks and the unmerciful sea; however, he also finds himself a part of the natural world because he refers to the fish and sea creatures as his friends, as well as referring to the sea in a feminine tone. Another overall theme of the story is perseverance and determination.

The simple power of the theme and the idea that a man who is weak and poor and old, and has gone through tremendous physical hardships, including having his hands sort of torn up by the rope and the struggle, does in fact endure, and prevail, even though he’s lost what he’s fought for, because the sharks have eaten the marlin” (Meyers 3). There is a great shortage of people who would not be able to experience and survive the hardships that this man went through. He suffered gruesome lacerations on his hands from where the rough rope buried into his hands as well as a severe case of sleep deprivation; however, this did not keep Santiago from being persistent and holding on with everything he had. According to ukessays.com, “Santiago makes up for his age with his endurance to withstand hunger, pain and isolation” (1). Both his mental and physical strength is impeccable and incomprehensible to other human minds. Friendship was also a very noticeable theme in this story. Santiago had a deep bond with the little boy, Manolin, who helped him at the docks. Despite his parents’ wishes, Manolin aided Santiago in whatever way he needed. When he returned from his long journey sore and worn, the young apprentice was sure to fetch him a good cup of coffee along with the daily papers with all the latest baseball news and updates, and then watch over his dear tutor. Even though there were many themes that could have been discussed, these were the main ones.

Symbolism also played a huge role in this novella. One of the most obvious examples of symbolism in this story is found in his dreams of lions on the beach. Santiago imagines the lions, fierce predators, playing, his dream suggests a harmony between the opposing forces—life and death, love and hate, destruction and regeneration—of nature… (Sparknotes 1). They also symbolize his youth and visions of the past. The marlin was a great example of symbolism in the story because it stood for Santiago’s ultimate and most worthy opponent who challenged him in every aspect. Another example of symbolism is seen in the sharks circling in the water. Sparknotes also explains that “the shovel-nosed sharks are little more than moving appetites that thoughtlessly and gracelessly attack the marlin. As opponents of the old man, they stand in bold contrast to the marlin, which is worthy of Santiago’s effort and strength. They symbolize and embody the destructive laws of the universe and attest to the fact that those laws can be transcended only when equals fight to the death” (1-2). In another article on npr.org, Jeffrey Meyers states in an interview, “…the sharks seem to represent not only sharks but also the critics, who had recently attacked him over his last book” (3). This book had several examples of deep symbolism found throughout the text.

In conclusion, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway was a very significant piece that is still discussed in literary conversation today. There are numerous themes and instances of symbolism that are included in the work which are relevant for readers alike today.

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Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. (2021, Mar 18). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/old-man-and-the-sea-by-ernest-hemingway/