The Old Man and The Sea: Summary, Analysis and Review

The Old Man and the Sea is a novel written by Ernest Hemingway. It was first published in 1951. It is a story of an old fisherman named Santiago who catches an enormous marlin (a type of fish) far out in the sea only to lose it and the pain that accompanies that loss.

“Let him think that I am more man than I am and I will be so.”

This statement by the old man from the ‘Old Man and the sea’ sums up the essence of this tale of poignant yet uncelebrated heroism in the face of a series of misfortunes.
Old Man and the sea, is one of the most famous works by Ernest Hemingway.

Deceptively simple on the surface, this is a testimony to the vagaries of human spirit – a tale of bravery, heroism, optimism, pessimism and an old man’s struggle against the elements and his own demons.

This is the tale of a Cuban fisherman who catches an enormous fish, only to lose it,
seeing the labor of his love snatched away from him , in front of his eyes, slowly and painfully.

This novel is an old man’s dance with success and failure taking turns, but throughout it, shines the human quality of perseverance and the man’s undying effort to fight against the elements and his own doubts.

old man and the sea novel cover
The cover of The Old Man and The Sea

This is one of the best works on Ernest Hemingway, touted as the major
contributor towards him being awarded the nobel prize. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for this novel.

To think of it, isn’t it ironical that a man’s story of a soul-wrenching loss got Hemingway the noblest prize of his life time?

The Old Man and the Sea Summary

The protagonist Santiago is a fisherman, who is considered the most unlucky man of the village, having gone for months without catching a fish, so much so that people do not want to be associated with him, lest his bad luck rubs off on them. This includes his former apprentice – a young boy called Manolin who has deserted him for a better, prosperous ship.

He carries the albatross of misfortune around his neck. This apathy and distrust, however does not deter him from fishing. Rather on the contrary, he sets out to the Open sea –off Florida coast – and goes farther than he usually does – in an attempt to catch fish . He does catch one – only to find that the fish is far too big for him to handle by himself.

Restricted by resources and his old flailing body, but backed by years of experience fishing, Santiago decides to delay killing the fish, betting on his patience – he lets the line go slack, only to find himself being dragged out to the sea for three days. He eventually feels as if he has developed a sense of kinship with this creature, he has set his mind to kill.

marlin fish
Marlin – a kind of fish

The fish eventually grows tired, which is when Santiago kills it. This magnanimous catch is still too early for the victory trumpets. Santiago decides to drag the fish behind the boat. This proves not only to be a failure but dangerous – in the sense that the blood of the dead fish, attracts sharks to the boat.

Not only is there no hope to take the fish with him, which the sharks were feasting big portions of, flanking his ship from all directions , his life is also threatened.

The sharks eventually discard the ship, but not before every piece of flesh from the giant Marlin is gone , leaving behind a skeleton of his prized catch. The shark took away the fish and last remnants of any hope that the old man felt in his heart.

There is however a silver lining to this heroic yet grim tale of the old man, when looking at the big skeleton of fish on his boat, people seemed to have changed their perception of him and Manolin offers to fish with him again. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

What is the main theme of the Old Man and the Sea?

As Hemingway shows the old man fighting with the Mighty Merlin, holding the rope with every single morsel of strength his flailing body could muster, ignoring the cuts, the pain, the hunger and the sleep – fighting the mighty creature as if something more than his life was at stake, we are simply left to wonder how powerful a simple man can be, with the simplest of resources in the simplest of habitats.

That you can be more than what you think you are only when you think and accept that in your heart.

Its simple yet very profound- the realization that how the prospect of a looming death, whether of the body or the spirit – can leave a man invigorated, or rather much more powerful than before. This small novel from Hemingway is a tribute to the human spirit – with all its abilities – for its ability to feel love and jump back from loss- ever so powerful.

That, human at one with nature, is a magnificent beast that stands tall and bows down to nothing – not its own mortality and not to the magnificent demons of his own mind. We are all heroes of our own epic struggles – which we lose or we win every single day of our lives.

Scarred maybe, yet ever hopeful.

And yes, the old man was right when he said “Let him think that I am more man than I am and I will be so.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s