Study GuideErnest Hemingway when it was published in 1952. At first glance, the story appears to be an extremely simple story of an old Cuban fisherman (Santiago), who catches an enormously large fish then loses it again. But, there's much more to the story than that...
Overview: The Old Man and the Sea
Santiago is an old man, and many are starting to think that he can no longer fish. He has gone for many months without landing any kind of fish to speak of; and his apprentice, a young man named Manolin, has gone to work for a more prosperous boat. The fisherman sets out into the open sea and goes a little further out than he normally would in his desperation to catch a fish. At noon, a big Marlin takes hold of one of the lines, but the fish is far too big for him to handle.
Santiago does his best to beat the sharks away, but his efforts are not enough. The sharks eat the flesh off the Marlin, and Santiago is left with only the bones. Santiago gets back to shore--weary and tired--with nothing to show for his pains but the skeletal remains of a large Marlin. Even with just the bare remains of the fish, the experience has changed him, and altered the perception others have of him. Manolin wakes him the morning after his return and suggests that they once more fish together.
A Unique Knowing of the Other: The Old Man and the Sea
Far more than a simple story about a man and a fish, the short novella shows understanding of men very different from himself--while he elevates their simple lives to legendary status. Kinship and honor develops between the fish and the man--a throwback to an older time in a way that almost denigrates modern advancements (where enormous motorized boats kill thousands of fish at one time).
A Life-and-Death Struggle?: The Old Man and the Sea
The old man holds on to the rope--even though he is cut and bruised by it, even though he wants to sleep and eat. He holds onto the rope as though his life depended on it. Once more Hemingway brings to the fore the power and masculinity of a simple man--in a simple habitat. Hemingway demonstrates how the heroic can live in even the most seemingly mundane circumstances.
The Old Man and the Sea has often been read as a Christian allegory:
- The battle between man and fish lasts for three days.
- Hemingway filled the lines of his novella with crucifixion imagery .