The Old Man and the Sea

Author: Ernest Hemingway

The novel “The Old Man and the Sea” written by American short story author Ernest Hemingway doesn’t have a complicated plot. Its main characters are ordinary people, and the events described are not fantastic. However, the novel is permeated with a strong emotional message: the struggle of the Man with himself and nature in solitude. Therefore, in addition to the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature, this short story is awarded a worldwide popularity.

Plot Overview

An old man Santiago is a keen Cuban fisherman. He looks exhausted, but his blue eyes still have a special glow of hope. Unfortunately, he hasn’t managed to catch any fish for the last 84 days; because of that unluckiness, he is frowned upon by other people. Even parents of Santiago’s apprentice Manolin don’t allow the boy to spend time with the old man. Although Manolin is sent to learn fishing in a new “luckier” boat, he shows devotion to the wise teacher and visits him regularly. The boy brings beer, coffee, food, spends time talking with his mentor. Two men remember the time when they caught fish.

Before going to sleep, an old fisherman reads newspaper. One night he has a symbolic dream: he as a young fisherman sees lions coming to the African coastline. When the man wakes up, he spends some time with Manolin and decides to go fishing farther than usual. Now the fisherman is alone with the sea and the marine life. He starts doing a lot of contemplation thinking about different marine inhabitants which he sees while sitting in the boat. Before the sunrise, he drops the lines in water and soon notices various types of fish. When the old man cannot even see the seashore, he hooks a huge marlin. He doesn’t have enough physical strengths to pull it in, and that’s how the persistent fight with the fish starts.

Marlin pulls the boat trying to escape, but the fisherman is ready to struggle. As the hours pass by, the fisherman notices a male fish following the female which is on the hook. The fisherman admires this loyalty, but he can’t let the fish escape. Santiago hopes to see the marlin, but it swims deeply under water. In the morning, a small bird sits on the line, and the old man starts talking to it.

The fish doesn’t give up, and neither does the man. Marlin leaps in hope for freedom, and this wounds Santiago’s hands. When the fish shows up a bit, Santiago understands that it is the biggest marlin he has ever seen. In the morning he wakes up because the marlin starts moving sharply, causing lots of pain to the fisherman. Being weak, he makes unsuccessful attempts to kill the marlin. His thoughts are mixed up. On the third day when the fish loses energy, Santiago being exhausted and feeling excruciating pain finally kills the catch with a harpoon thrust. With a triumph, he directs the boat to the coastline. He estimates the monetary value which this marlin will have on market.

Unfortunately, the way back isn’t easy; a shark smells the blood coming from the marlin and approaches the boat. Santiago starts the fight with the shark which try to eat as much of the marlin as possible. Although the fisherman kills the shark, it takes away a considerable part of the catch. Santiago starts talking to himself; he thinks whether killing fish is a sin or whether it can be justified as people’s instinct to survive.

While Santiago is contemplating, two sharks overtake the boat. They also want to bite off a part of the marlin. The fisherman kills sharks with knife but they take away the quarter of the catch. Santiago is devastated, he even apologizes to the marlin. New sharks continue to be tempted by the smell of blood and try to eat as much as possible. Poor old fisherman fights with the animals, but nothing helps: sharks eat up the whole marlin.

Finally, Santiago reaches the coastline. He doesn’t have any energy; he is wounded, hungry, the whole body aches. The old man goes to bed. At the morning, Manolin visits his mentor to say that everyone gathers around Santiago’s boat to measure the enormous skeleton of a marlin. Manolin says that he will always go fishing with Santiago ever since.

Character List

Santiago is a protagonist of a short story. He experiences the most challenging and gruesome sea adventure during such a risky fishing. He is left alone with his thoughts and nature but he is brave, fearless; he can’t even think about failure. Except for the fight with nature, he has inner fight with conscience. The fisherman is honest with himself, he pities the fish, but simultaneously he understands that killing marine inhabitants is his devotion. He admires how marline strives to escape, but Santiago cannot let it go. The fisherman loves the world, loves the sea (to which he refers as “she”) but he should kill to survive. Santiago compares evil and good life to the ocean which can be both cruel and beautiful.

Ernest Hemingway describes the wise old man who thinks about the sense of life being left in solitude. The readers can notice that there is a perpetual struggle between the hope and frustration. The core of these controversial thoughts is not to find sense of life but approve fortitude of a human being.

Manolin is a young boy who is a devoted apprentice and who cares about the old man. For him, personal relationships are more significant than successful fishing on better boats. He is a representative of the caring youth whose main aim is to continue what the elder began. Santiago is the boy’s spiritual mentor. Manolin’s attitude towards the teacher symbolizes the hope for future.


Being a representative of the “Lost Generation,” Ernest Hemingway was deeply frustrated due to world wars. Most of his works are pessimistic; they prove that life is absurd. However, “The Old Man and the Sea” has a genuinely positive message. The author believes that we should believe in Man as an s spiritually strong human being.

“The Old Man and the Sea” is a masterpiece of all times. New generations read the short story and understand its symbolism in varied ways. But its main idea that “A man can be destroyed but not defeated” will be always perceived by readers in the same way.