The old man and the sea is a short novel written by the American author Ernest Hemingway in 1951 in Cuba, and published in 1952. It was the last great work of fiction by Hemingway that was published during his life. One of his most famous works tells the story of Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman who fights with a giant marlin in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Cuba.
Summary and Synopsis
The Old Man and the Sea is the story of an epic fight between an old and experienced fisherman and the biggest catch of his life. For eighty-four days, Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman, has boarded and returned empty-handed. It is so unfortunate that the parents of his devoted young apprentice and friend, Manolin, have forced the boy to leave the old man to fish in a more prosperous boat.
However, the boy continues to care for the old man upon his return each night. He helps the old man carry his equipment to his ramshackle cabin, secures food for him, and discusses the latest developments in American baseball, especially the trials of the old man’s hero, Joe DiMaggio. Santiago is confident that his unproductive streak will soon come to an end, and he decides to sail further than usual the next day.
On the eighty-fifth day of his unfortunate streak, Santiago does as promised, sails his boat past the island’s shallow coastal waters, and ventures into the Gulf Stream. He prepares his nets and drops them. At noon, a large fish, which he knows to be a marlin, bites the hook that Santiago has placed a hundred fathoms deep in the waters. The old man expertly hooks the fish, but cannot pull it. Instead, the fish begins to pull the boat.
Unable to quickly tie the line to the boat for fear of the fish breaking a taut line, the old man bears the tension of the line with his shoulders, back, and hands, ready to let go if the marlin runs. The fish pulls the boat all day, all night, another day, and another night.
He swims constantly to the northwest until he finally tires and swims east with the current.
All the time, Santiago suffers constant pain from the fishing line. Every time the fish jumps, jumps or runs towards freedom, the cord cuts Santiago a lot. Although wounded and tired, the old man feels deep empathy and admiration for the marlin, his brother in suffering, strength and resolution.
On the third day, the fish gets tired, and Santiago, deprived of sleep, sore and almost delusional, manages to get the marlin close enough to kill him with a harpoon. Dead next to the boat, the marlin is the largest that Santiago has ever seen.
He ties him to his boat, raises the small mast, and sets sail for his home. While Santiago is excited about the price the marlin will bring to the market, he is more concerned that the people who will eat the fish are not worthy of his greatness.
As Santiago sails with the fish, the marlin’s blood leaves a trail in the water and attracts the sharks. The first to attack is a great mako shark, which Santiago manages to kill with the harpoon. In the fight, the old man loses the harpoon and pieces of valuable rope, leaving him vulnerable to other shark attacks.
The old man fights off successive vicious predators as best he can, stabbing them with a crude spear that ties a knife to an oar, and even hitting them with the ship’s rod. Although it kills several sharks, more and more appear, and by nightfall, Santiago’s continued fight against the scavengers is futile.
They devour the precious meat of the marlin, leaving only the skeleton, the head and the tail. Santiago is punished for going “too far” and for sacrificing his great and worthy opponent. He arrives home before dawn, returns to his hut, and sleeps soundly.
The next morning, a crowd of amazed fishermen gather around the fish’s skeleton, which is still tied to the boat. Knowing nothing of the old man’s struggle, tourists at a nearby café look at the remains of the giant marlin and mistake it for a shark.
Manolin, concerned about the old man’s absence, cries when he finds Santiago safe in his bed. The boy brings coffee to the old man and the newspapers with the baseball scores, and watches him sleep. When the old man wakes up, the two agree to fish as partners once again. The old man goes back to sleep and dreams of his usual dream of lions playing on the beaches of Africa.
The Old Man and the Sea falls into a subcategory of fiction called literary fiction. As is known, most of the books assigned in the literature class belong to the genre of literary fiction.
These books are more than just pleasant stories; 1 They have layers. 2 They offer the reader a deeper understanding of the human condition. They may be old or new, but there is generally something to ponder on their pages.
However, literary fiction is still a fairly broad genre. So far, all we know is that the story is made up, but Hemingway gave it additional meaning. That helps us find the book in the bookstore, but it doesn’t really tell us what kind of story we’re about to read.
- Santiago: The old man in the novel’s title, Santiago is a Cuban fisherman who has had a long streak of bad luck. Despite his experience, he has been unable to fish for eighty-four days. He is humble, but exhibits justified pride in his abilities. His knowledge of the sea and its creatures, and its craft, is unparalleled and helps you preserve a sense of hope regardless of the circumstances.
- The Marlin: We know that at the end of the novel he measures eighteen feet, he is the fish that he catches on the first afternoon of his deep-sea fishing expedition. Due to the large size of the marlin, Santiago cannot pull the fish, and the two engage in a kind of tug-of-war that often seems more like an alliance than a fight.
- Manolin: presumably he is a boy or in his teens, Manolin is Santiago’s apprentice and devoted assistant.
- Joe DiMaggio: Although DiMaggio never appears in the novel, he plays an important role. Santiago adores him as a model of strength and commitment, and his thoughts turn to DiMaggio whenever he needs to reassure himself.
- Martin: Like Perico, Martin, owner of a café in the town of Santiago, does not appear in the story.
- Perico: Perico, he owns the winery in the town of Santiago. He never appears in the novel, but he plays an important role in the fisherman’s life by providing him with newspapers reporting baseball scores.
Hemingway spends a lot of time making connections between Santiago and its natural environment: the fish, the birds and the stars are all his brothers or friends, he has the heart of a turtle, eats turtle eggs to strengthen himself, drinks shark liver oil for health etc.
Furthermore, apparently contradictory elements are repeatedly shown as aspects of a unified whole: the sea is kind and cruel, feminine and masculine;
1 the Portuguese man of war is beautiful but deadly;
2 The mako shark is noble but cruel.
3 The premise of the novel’s unity helps to aid Santiago in the midst of his great tragedy.
For Santiago, success and failure are two equal facets of the same existence. They are transitory forms that capriciously come and go without affecting the underlying unity between him and nature.
As long as you focus on this unity and see yourself as part of nature and not as an external antagonist competing with it, you cannot be defeated by the misfortunes that come your way.