Introduction The Old Man and The Sea
The Old Man and The Sea is a short and terse novelette by the world-famous American author, Ernest Hemingway. He wrote during his stay in Cuba in 1951. A year later, the novel was published in America, bringing a sort of revolution in the field of fiction writing. The novel comprises an aging Cuban professional fisherman who fails to fish due to his age for 84 days. However, in his last attempt, he hooks rather a giant marlin which tests his strength, resilience, expertise, and perseverance beyond his natural abilities. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize that year but went on to bring the Nobel Prize for Hemingway in 1954.
Summary of The Old Man and The Sea
The Old Man and The Sea is a heart-touching story of an experienced old angler, Santiago, who is dubbed as an unfortunate man on the Terrace where he used to stay when returned his fishing trips. It was the first time during his 84 days record of having arrived without any fish, he has been finally termed “salao” the most unlucky person. However, he is not disappointed with the fact that a young boy, Manolin, is always there to boost up his confidence who’d always say that Santiago is the best fisherman in the world. They also share their interests in baseball and the best players such as DiMaggio’s memories with each other.
On the 85th day that Santiago leaves quite early in the morning after setting fishing gear in his skiff and goes long and deep into the Gulf Stream for fishing. After setting up various lines with proper baits, he waits for the fishes to come. By afternoon, he catches a giant marlin after seeing which he feels that it is going to test his fishing skill, stamina, and perseverance. By the evening the old man is exhausted, as the marlin does not appear on the surface. Both are hidden from each other, testing each other and trying to free from each other. Santiago believes that fate has something else for them in-store. For two days and nights, the old man continues struggling to kill the fish to haul him around to lash beside his skiff. However, he does not succeed, neither the marlin succeeds in breaking his resolve. On the final day, the marlin starts circling around the skiff after coming to the surface at which the old man becomes quite happy but is exhausted to the point of madness. He starts using his fishing tactics and finally succeeds in placing the harpoon in the heart of the marlin. However, he soon faces the dilemma of confronting the sharks, thinking they will come running amuck toward his skiff on account of the blood trail the dead marlin is leaving behind in the water.
His worst fear comes to pass as the first wave of attack comes from the mako sharks. He also sharpens his weapons and starts using a harpoon to kill them. Soon he succeeds in slashing five of them but many others are on the way. The fight continues until the sharks have devoured almost half of the marlin but the old man does not lose his heart and strength. He continues fighting until he reaches the shore. However, when he reaches the coast, he sees that only the skeleton of the marlin with its head and tail. Santiago, however, has uttered the most memorable sentences during his fight that a man can be defeated but not destroyed and he has shown it through his stamina and prolonged fight with such a giant marlin. Soon he falls upon his bed after reaching his hut and goes to sleep.
When the day breaks, other fishermen gather around his boat to see the giant skeleton. At first, they do not believe Santiago would have caught. Pedrico, a local, gets the head of the fish, while other fishermen feel sorry for the old man for having lost such a great prize. However, the boy only cries for the old man for having exhausted himself without getting that prize home. Finally, Santiago dreams of baseball as well as African beaches with lions while he is asleep in his hut.
Major Themes in The Old Man and The Sea
- Perseverance: Perseverance is the major theme of the novel. In spite of the old age, Santiago prepares to fight the giant marlin. He eventually succeeds in catching the fish and also kills and hauls it to the seashore. Above all, he shows his perseverance against the heavy odds of the sharks among which he kills many while they tear most of the marlin’s flesh. Despite this, he continues fighting them until he brings the skeleton of the marlin to the shore.
- Suffering: The Old Man and the Sea story also shows the sufferings a man can go through. Santiago couldn’t keep himself awake for three days and three nights and then continue fighting a giant fish. He proved that he could suffer without regret for that great prize. The sufferings of Santiago show his power of endurance and his perseverance, the reason that it is the central idea of the novel.
- Strength and Skill: The story encourages the readers to be courageous through the character of Santiago and Manolin. Strength is not enough for fishing but one must be skillful. Any other person having less experience than the old man in the face of such a giant marlin would have cut down his line to let the fish go. However, the old man has skills as Manolin testifies that other fishermen have guts and strength but not the required skills.
- Pride: The novel shows pride through the old man, Santiago. However, it does not stay until a backup is there, which in the case of Santiago is the boy, Manolin. He constantly reminds Santiago that he is the best fisherman in the world in terms of skills, and he feels pride at it. Therefore, when he comes to the shore even with a skeleton, he is proud that his teacher has demonstrated excellence in his skills.
- Memory and Past: Memory and past stayed fresh with Santiago. He has a picture of his wife in his shack that is a relic of the past. He also remembers his exploits of the past in the hand-fighting game and fishing including his visits to the African beaches. These memories of the past continue to rejuvenate his spirits during his tough times with the marlin.
- Defeat: Defeat is another theme of the novel. The character of Santiago experiences defeated in form of delay and also loss of his prized hunt, marlin. However, the defeat only leads to hope and determination. The old man refuses to accept defeat as he demonstrates in the face of the marlin, saying that a man can be destroyed but not defeated.
- Respect: The old man, Santiago, comes to know through fishing in the expanse of the sea that if there is respect in profession and skill, then its execution becomes an enjoyment as well as satisfaction. The old man clearly states that he respects the fish but he will have to kill it as it is his profession.
- Luck: The novel shows the role of luck in a person’s life. However, the old man, Santiago, defies the traditional notions about luck, saying that it is better to be exact then lucky, for when luck comes, a person is ready to grab it at that moment.
- Friendship: The novel also shows the theme of friendship through Manolin and Santiago, as other fishermen only talk about the old man and his bad luck. It shows that he has not a permanent friend which often happens in the case of professionals.
Major Characters in The Old Man and The Sea
- Santiago: Santiago is the main character of The Old Man and the Sea. He is quite an old man, having no living family members. There is only a picture of his wife in his shack that he keeps recalling his past. The old man only depends on the boy, Manolin, for his little needs. When he is unable to catch a fish for 84 days, the other fishermen terms him a “salao.” However, he does not lose heart, as his only disciple has a blind trust in his fishing skills which proves true when he hooks a giant marlin and brings its skeleton to the seashore after spending three days in the sea. This battle with the marlin in the open sea for three days tests the old man, his mettle, his perseverance, his stamina, and also his attitude and sanity in the solitude.
- Manolin: He is a young boy from the same village. He has been going fishing and other errands with Santiago since he was five. Therefore, his association and love for the old man are genuine, for he is his disciple having blind faith in his skills and abilities. Although his parents have asked him to go with other fishermen, he still comes to Santiago to boost him up and help him in setting up his mast and baits.
- Martin: Martin is the owner of the place where the Terrace is located. The fishermen stay on this Terrace and take food and drink from his shop. The old man also gets things from his shop, as Manolin brings him a coffee at the end.
- Rogelio: Although he does not formally appear in the novel, Santiago and Manolin often discuss him with reference to his fishing net.
- Perico: He also does not formally appear in the novel, nor does he talk to the old man. However, Manolin talks about him that he can bring a newspaper from Perico for Santiago. Therefore, his role is limited to facilitating the old man.
- Marlin: This giant fish is another active character of the novel that he appears at the point where the old man is about to lose his heart. He proves that the old man is not only lucky but also exact and that he has also faith in his abilities. He also tests the old man beyond his endurance, making him almost dead tired by the end of the exhaustive three-day long struggle. In the end, he is only reduced to a skeleton by the sharks. However, he redeems the old man’s reputation at the Terrace and in the community.
- Mako Sharks: These are a type of shark. They are important in that they appear in hordes and prove voracious when it comes to taking a bite of the marlin. Although Santiago kills many of them, they take away the major chunk of its meat, leaving only the skeleton for the old man.
- Galanos: These are also sharks, but different from Mako, though, they also demonstrate the same ferocity when attacking the marlin.
- Pedrico: Pedrico is the colleague of Santiago. He takes care of his gear and fishing net during his absence.
- The Tourists: They appear by the end of the novel where they come to see the skeleton of the marlin. They are amazed to see such a huge marlin when a person tells them about having seen this size for the first time.
Writing Style of The Old Man and The Sea
Ernest Hemingway’s writing style in The Old Man and the Sea is direct and concise. He has given a realistic description of the old man, Santiago, and his three-day struggle against the marlin in the vast Gulf of Mexico. Using less figurative language to save words to show the real face of the old man, Hemingway captures the essence of struggles and presents them to the reader. In fact, this simple writing technique shows minimum details of the characters and their achievements, but it is very deceptive in hiding the actual meanings. It does not appear ironizing characters, places, fate, or even the divine power, yet it says many things all together.
Analysis of Literary Devices in The Old Man and The Sea
- Action: The main action of the novel comprises the old man, the demonstration of his fishing skills, his perseverance, his endurance, and his ethos in the face of his enemy as well as his friend, the marlin. The rising action occurs when Santiago succeeds in hooking the fish and killing it, but the falling action occurs when the sharks attack and the old man loses most of the marlin’s flesh.
- Allegory: The Old Man and the Sea is an allegorical novel that shows the morality and religiosity of the ideas through the character of Santiago, who undergoes suffering to achieve his goal of catching a fish. Although the goal is lost, the moral reverberates in it that a man must not face or embrace defeat even if he faces elimination, as the old man says, “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”
- Antagonist: Although it seems that the marlin is the main antagonist of The Old Man and the Sea, as the old man and the marlin are pitted against each other, yet the old man calls him a friend. Therefore, sharks are the main antagonists as they block the old man and robs him of his prize catch after 3 days’ fight.
- Allusion: There are various examples of allusions given in the novel, The Old Man and the Sea. Santiago alludes to the figure of Jesus when he erupts the world “ay” which has no translation in emotional language. The second allusion is to DiMaggio, the baseball player, who suffers from bone spurs and has been battling this in the field. The old man thinks that he is a la the Great DiMaggio as both are nearing retirement and both have handicaps.
- Conflict: There are two major conflicts in the novel, The Old Man The Sea. The first one is the external conflict between Santiago and the marlin. The internal conflict goes in Santiago’s mind about his perseverance and his past.
- Characters: The Old Man and the Sea presents both static as well as dynamic characters. The old man, Santiago, is a dynamic character. He not only sees the marlin as a friend but also as a foe. He goes through a struggle of catching the fish and mental conflict of thinking that he is standing on the higher ground than the marlin, for he can think and is determined to do, while the marlin cannot think. The marlin is also a static character that makes the old man reflect about it, about self, and about nature.
- Climax: The climatic takes place when the marlin circles the skiff, making the old man think that as he is already exhausted, he musters up the last iota of his left strength and stabs the fish with his harpoon, leading to the anti-climax of his struggle to save the prize from the sharks.
- Foreshadowing: The first example of foreshadowing in the novel occurs when Santiago demonstrates his resolve that he is not going to stop fishing come what may and second that he is sailing out to the parts of the gulf other fishermen never dared to. This foreshadows that he is going to do some unusual and different.
- Hyperbole: Hyperbole or exaggeration occurs when Manolin makes the old man feel that he is the greatest fisherman, though, there is no evidence that Santiago is the greatest fisherman in that area, yet he says that “the best fisherman is you.” This is a good use of hyperbole.
- Imagery: Imagery means to use of five senses to describe an emotion or situation. For example,
i. The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck. The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection on the tropic sea were on his cheeks. The blotches ran well down the sides of his face and his hands had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert.
ii. “I can remember the tail slapping and banging and the thwart breaking and the noise of the clubbing. I can remember you throwing me into the bow where the wet coiled lines were and feeling the whole boat shiver and the noise of you clubbing him like chopping a tree down and the sweet blood smell all over me.”
In the first example, the old man has been shown through the images of sight and touch, while the second paragraph displays the use of the senses of hearing, smell, and touch.
- Metaphor: The Old Man and The Sea shows good use of various metaphors. For example,
i. The Gulf Stream and the sea are the metaphor of natural aspects of man’s life.
ii. The lions that the old man sees on the African beaches are the metaphors of vigor and vitality.
iii. DiMaggio is the metaphor of victory and retirement.
- Mood: The novel, The Old Man and the Sea, shows a serious mood in the beginning but it suddenly charges up when the old man catches the marlin and continues to be fast until the old man kills the marlin and fights the invading sharks. When the last shark is killed and the old man reaches the seashore, the mood shifts to calm and peace.
- Motif: Most important motifs of the novel, The Old Man and The Sea, are life and death and the religious allegorical symbols such as the crucifixion imagery.
- Narrator: The novel, The Old Man and The Sea, is narrated by a third-person narrator. It is also called an omniscient narrator who happens to be the author himself as he can see things from all perspectives. Here, Hemingway is the narrator.
- Personification: Personification means to attribute human acts and emotions to non-living objects such as Santiago talks about the Sargasso island where there is weed “that heaved and swung in the light sea as though the ocean were making love with something under a yellow blanket.” It shows that the sea and the weed have human emotions.
- Protagonist: Santiago is the protagonist of the novel. He starts the novel and captures the interest of the readers until the last page. Santiago heads to a life-challenging quest after 84 days of no success. He catches a marlin in a great battle and for 3 days, he struggles to get the great fish to the shore. Sadly, the sharks eat marlin’s flesh. He returns with the skeleton but earns the respect, he thought he lost, in his community.
- Paradox: The Old Man and the Sea shows the use of paradox in its most famous sentence of the old man when he says, “Fishing kills as if keeps me alive.” The statement shows that keeping alive and killing are two contradictory ideas put into the same statement. Fishing is going to kill him as it is quite hard at this age and it is going to keep him alive as he has no other means of livelihood.
- Rhetorical Questions: The novel shows good examples of rhetorical questions in several places. Such as,
i. Where did you wash? the boy thought. The village water supply was two streets down the road. I must have water here for him, the boy thought, and soap and a good towel. Why am I so thoughtless?
This example shows the use of two rhetorical questions posed by Manolin. He himself is supposed to answer these questions.
- Theme: A theme is a central idea that the novelist or the writer wants to stress upon. The novel, The Old Man and The Sea, not only shows man’s love for nature, but also his endurance, his perseverance and his steadfastness against odds.
- Setting: The setting of the novel, The Old Man and the Sea, is the sea and the coastal area along with the Terrace where all the fishermen of the area have their coffees and meals.
- Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes. For example,
i. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.
ii. The old man “had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert.”
iii. The clouds over the land now rose like mountains and the coast was only a long green line with the gray blue hills behind it.
The first simile compares the sail to a patchwork, the second man’s creases to a desert, and the third is the clouds to mountains.
- Symbol: The Old Man and The Sean shows that the marlin is the symbol of one’s passion for achieving a goal, while lions are the symbol of strength. On the other hand, sharks demonstrate the destructive laws of nature.
- Irony: The novel shows the irony of the situation that Santiago, the greatest fisherman, does not catch even a single fish despite having spent 84 days in the sea. Another irony is given in the lines below.
i. “What’s that?” she asked a waiter and pointed to the long backbone of the great fish that was now just garbage waiting to go out with the tide.
ii. “Tiburon,” the waiter said. “Shark.” He was meaning to explain what had happened.
The passage shows the irony that what others are thinking the great feat is actually nothing as Santiago has to go fishing the next day, the same ordinary routine of fishing every day for livelihood.