The Old Man And The Sea : Summary, Themes, Character Analysis and Question Answers 2

The Old Man And The Sea : Summary, Themes, Character Analysis and Question Answers

The Old Man And The Sea By Ernest Hemingway

Introduction: Santiago after 84 days without taking a fish is soon to catch something bigger than he could ever imagine It is his courage and his perseverance of character that allows him to go out to sea every day in his weather-beaten boat.

Amid the ridicule of younger fishermen, Santiago finds courage in his friendship with a young boy, Manolin, who has fished with Santiago since he was five years old. But due to “bad luck” from Santiago, Manolin ‘s parents will no longer allow the boy to fish with Santiago.

This novella shows the result of one man’s stamina in the midst of defeat, and how a young boy ‘s friendship gives him hope. The Old Man and the
Sea won author Ernest Hemingway the Pulitzer Prize in 1953.


The narrative occurs during the 1940s. Even though the opening and closing scenes take place on land in a small fishing village in Cuba, the dominant setting is the Gulf Stream of Cuba beach. Hemingway claims that the sea is the last great unexplored place on earth and this research goes deep into the nature of this enigmatic setting.

Plot Summary

The Old Man and the Sea is the story of a war between an old fisherman and a large marlin. The novel opens with the fisherman, named Santiago, who has spent 84 days at sea without catching a fish. In reality, he is so unhappy that his young learner, Manolin, was barred from sailing with the old man by his father, and was ordered to fish with more prosperous and fortunate fishermen. Every night, however, the boy visits the shack of Santiago, carrying his fishing gear, getting him food and talking about American baseball and his favourite player Joe DiMaggio. Santiago assures Manolin that he will dive into the Gulf Stream the next day to fish with faith that his tragic past is near to its end. Thus, on the eighty-fifth day, Santiago ventured by himself, taking his skiff far to the Gulf Stream. He’s setting his lines, and by noon on the first day, a great fish that he’s sure is a marlin taking his bait. Incapable of pulling the big marlin, Santiago instead finds the fish pulling his skiff. Two days and two nights go by in this way, during which the old man bears the tension of the line with his body. Though wounded in struggle and pain, Santiago expresses sympathy for his antagonist (marlin), often referring to him as a brother. He also determines that, because of the great dignity of the fish, no one would be worthy of eating the marlin.

The fish begins to circle the skiff on the third day of the fight, showing his tiredness to the old man. Already completely drained and almost in delirium, Santiago uses all the energy he has left in him to pull the fish to his side and stab the marlin with a harpoon, ending the long battle between the old man and the shark. Santiago ties the marlin to his skiff ‘s side and returns home, worrying of the high price that the fish can get him to the market and how many people he feeds. As Santiago makes his journey back to the shore, sharks are drawn to the blood left in the water by the marlin.

Santiago kills the first, a great shark with his harpoon, then he loses that weapon. Through attaching his knife to the end of an oar to help kill sharks he makes a new harpoon; in all, five sharks are killed and several more are scared away. Yet the sharks kept coming, and by sunset the sharks had almost completely eaten the marlin, leaving a skeleton consisting only of its backbone, tail and head.

Eventually, before dawn on the next day, Santiago fights on the way to his shack, carrying the mast on his shoulder. At home, he falls to his bed and falls into a deep sleep. The next day, a group of fishermen crowd around the boat where the skeleton of the fish is still attached. One of the fishermen measures to be 18 feet (5.5 m) from nose to tail. Tourists at the nearby café wrongly take it for a shark. Manolin, worried during the old man ‘s venture, cries out to find him safe to sleep. The boy’s going to bring him newspapers and coffee. When the old man wakes up, they promise to fish together once again. Upon his return to sleep, Santiago dreams of his youth — the lions of an African beach.

Main Themes

‘A man can be destroyed but not defeated.’, this line is the main theme in the story. Hemingway suggests that, although a person may lose everything in the process of living, the final triumph of the human spirit results from being skilful, brave and ambitious. Hemingway rejects the traditional happy ending in which Santiago, the poor old fisherman, would bring home the great fish and sell it on the market for a large amount of money. Instead, Santiago brings only the bare skeleton of the marlin to the port, earning no money and still getting a far greater prize: instead of triumphing over nature, he achieves unity with it.

Another important theme in this novel revolves around the relationship between Santiago and Manolin. The old man teaches the boy a lot of important things like how to fish and how to live with wisdom and dignity, while the old man also has a great need for the boy, especially when he is alone at sea and fishes the big fish. During his trying experience with the marlin, the old man said repeatedly, ‘I wish I had the boy. The thematic statement, ‘No one should be alone in their old age,’ refers to the loneliness of the old man and emphasizes the relationship of respect and love of the characters.

One more major theme is unity with nature. Santiago loves, and respects, the fish he kills. The old man finds it hard to express the paradoxical love he feels for the fish: ‘I don’t understand these things,’ he thinks, ‘I do not understand these things,’ he thinks, ‘but it is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers’ Santiago also speaks and loves flying fish, dolphins and the noble marlin. The sea is also a part of nature, possibly a major presence of the book. Santiago thinks of the sea as a woman, thinks of it as ‘la mar,’ which is what people call it in Spanish when they love her,’ while the younger fisherman thinks of the sea as the masculine’ el mar ‘ and consider it ‘a contestant or a place or even an enemy.’

Character analysis

Santiago: Santiago, the old man in the title of the novella, is a Cuban fisherman who’s had an extended streak of bad luck. Despite his fishing experiences, he was unable to catch a fish for 84 days. His talents are modest, but he displays a justified pride. His knowledge of the sea and its creatures, and his art, is unparalleled and helps him maintain a sense of optimism regardless of circumstances.

A challenge has been presented to Santiago throughout his life in order to test his strength and endurance. His greatest obstacle is the marlin he fights with for three days. Paradoxically, even though Santiago eventually loses the shark, the marlin is his biggest triumph, too.

The marlin: Santiago hooks the marlin, which is eighteen feet long, on the first afternoon of his fishing trip. Because of the size of the marlin, Santiago is unable to pull the fish in, and the two are engaged in a struggle. The fishing line serves as a symbol of the fraternal connection that Santiago feels with the fish. Later, when the captured marlin is destroyed by sharks, Santiago also feels destroyed.

Manolin: Manolin is the apprentice and assistant to Santiago. The old man first took him out of the boat when he was only five years old. Due to Santiago ‘s recent bad luck, Manolin’s parents forced the boy to go out on another fishing boat. Manolin, however, is still deeply concerned about the old man, to whom he continues to look as an advisor. His love for Santiago is unmistakable when the two talk about baseball and the young boy asks the villagers for help in improving the poor conditions of the old man.

Joe DiMaggio: Though DiMaggio never appears in a novel, he still plays a significant role. Santiago worships him as a model of strength and commitment, and his thoughts turn to DiMaggio every time he needs to be reassured by his own strength. In spite of a painful bone spur that might have crippled another player, DiMaggio went on to secure a triumphant career. He was a centre fielder for the New York Yankees from 1936 to 1951 and is often considered the best all-rounder ever in that position.


Santiago, the old Cuban fisherman, is the protagonist. While he is disappointed that in eighty-four days he has not caught a single fish, he is still joyful and hopeful, full of self-confidence and courage in the most difficult circumstances. Under strain, he earns the reader’s sympathy and respect for his compassion and humbleness qualities. Santiago is still a winner though he loses his giant fish.


The antagonist is the sea, a symbol of survival, which robs his final victory from Santiago. The main antagonist at sea is the party of sharks swallowing the giant fish. Because the sea also provides its livelihood for the old fisherman, he sees the sea as a threat rather than an enemy. The sea also helps Santiago to show unparalleled endurance.


The climax of the story is when Santiago kills the fish and its blood draws the eager sharks nearby. His hopes of taking his huge fish home are gone when the sharks attack and eat the fish. The End at the level of the simple plot, the story ends as a tragedy, because the sharks greedily eat the old man ‘s prize (marlin) while at the deeper symbolic level the old man becomes heroic. He has conquered the sea (life) and the sharks (life ‘s cruel problems) by proving that humanity has the capacity to fight, to show grace under pressure, to survive, and to win, no matter how great the battle may be. Personal victory is all-important, and it becomes irrelevant whether a man obtains a visible prize.

The importance of the dream of the Lions on the Beach Santiago dreams his pleasant dream of the lions playing three times on the beaches of Africa. The first time is the night before he departs on his three-day fishing expedition, the second time he sleeps on the boat for a couple of hours in the middle of his fight with the marlin, and the third time at the very end of the book.

Indeed, the sober promise of triumph and regeneration with which the novel ends is supported by the final image of the lions. Since Santiago associates the lions with his youth, the dream indicates the circular nature of life. In addition, because Santiago imagines lions, wild animals, playing, his dream reflects a harmony between the opposing forces — life and death, love and hatred, destruction and regeneration — of nature.

Important Questions

Q. Describe the emotional attachment between Manolin and Santiago Or Character sketch of Manolin.

Relationship between the two: – “The Old Man and The Sea” is a short but powerfully affecting novel of Hemingway. In the very beginning of the novel, we come to know that Manolin had been the old man’s apprentice. When the old man could not catch a fish for forty days, Manolin’s parents shifted him to another boat. Even then Manolin used to help Santiago. He informed him that he again wanted to go with him for fishing. The old man was his well-wisher. Manolin wanted to help the old man and learn from him. Their conversation shows the deep emotional attachment between the two.

A source of inspiration and encouragement: – The boy had a very high opinion about Santiago. The following remarks of the boy show his love for him. He said, “There are many good fishermen and some great once. But there is only you.” These remarks made the old man happy. The way he served and loved the old man shows how sincerely and deeply both of them were attached to each other.

Emotional attachment: – The old man was in the habit of thinking aloud. When the big fish swam away with the boat and whenever he found himself lacking in courage, the thought of the boy helped him in regaining his strength, courage and confidence.

After his fight against the sharks, he said that the sharks had beaten him, the boy said, “He did not beat you. Not the fish.” It shows that both of them were deeply attached to each other. This relationship between the Youth and Old Age is very impressive.

Q. Describe The Old Man and the Sea (Novel by Ernest Hemingway) – Struggle with Sharks.

Struggle with Sharks/Keynote

The Keynote: – “The Old Man and The Sea” is an interesting and impressive novel by Hemingway. While fighting against the sharks, the hero of the novel touches the keynote. He declares, “But a man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” During his fight with the sharks, he proves it that even in case of losing the battle; a man may gain a lot. The great thing is not the victory but the struggle.

The first attack of Sharks: – Santiago succeeded in killing the big marlin after a continuous struggle for 48 hours. After one hour, the first shark attacked the big fish. It was a big shark.

The shark hit the marlin. The old man hit the harpoon into the shark’s head. The shark went down slowly but took the harpoon with it.

The second attack: – After two hours he saw two more sharks attacked the big marlin. He took up the knife lashed to it. One shark went under the skiff and pull on the marlin. The second hit the marlin where it had already been hit. The old man drove the knife into the second shark’s eye. The shark slid down slowly.

The third attack: – The next shark came after a while and hit the marlin. Just before sunset, two more sharks attacked. He clubbed them away as forcefully as he could. They slid down after snapping some piece of flesh from the marlin. It was now badly ruined. Anyhow, the old man was proud of his successful fight with the sharks.

Fight at night: – More sharks came and attacked the marlin. The old man clubbed at their heads but he knew that he was fighting a lost battle. When he reached the harbour, his big fish was all but a skeleton.

In short, the old man had proved that it is not the victory that counts; it is the struggle.

Q. What memorable incident of his life did the old man recall?

Ans. While on the sea, the old man recalled a memorable incident of his life. He had played the hand game competition with a Negro. The trial of strength continued for one day and one night. Each one was trying to bring the other’s hand down to the table. Blood came from the fingernails of Santiago’s and Negro’s hand. The people suggested that the match should end in a draw, but Santiago who was then young did not agree. At last, Santiago defeated his opponent and he was declared the champion. This established his reputation among the fishermen.

Q. How did the old man compare himself with the big fish hooked by him?

Ans. ‘Comparing himself with the big fish the old man said:

‘When once through any treachery, it had been necessary to him to make a choice—his choice been to stay in the deep dark water far out beyond all snares and traps and treacheries. My choice was to go there to find him beyond all people—beyond all people in the world. Now we are joined together and have been since noon. And no one to help either one of us.’

Q. How far the old man was familiar with the various kinds of fish in the sea?

Ans. The old man was very much conversant with all the creatures of the sea. He could minutely differentiate in their movements and actions. Once during the night two porpoise
(small whales) came around the boat and he could hear them rolling and blowing. He could tell the difference between the blowing noise the male made and the sighing blow of the female.
He said:

‘They play and make jokes’.

Q. Had the old man any mysticism about turtles? What were his ideas about them?

Ans. The old man had no mysticism about turtles although he had gone in turtle boats for many years. Most people were heartless about turtles because a turtle heart will beat for hours after he had been cut up and butchered. But the old man had a sympathetic attitude towards them. The old man thought I have such a heart too and my feet and hands are like theirs. He believed in their strength. He ate the white eggs to give himself strength. He ate them all though may be strong in September and October for the truly big fish. He also drank a cup of shark liver oil each day from the big drum in the shack where many of the fishermen kept their gear.


As Santiago is a member of the American Society, he fails completely to retain the Marlin. No doubt the Marlin was obtained after a prolonged and painful struggle. The author is fully justified in concluding that it is more difficult to retain a thing than to obtain it

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