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The Old Man and the Sea

Key Facts

Main ideas Key Facts

full title · The Old Man and the Sea

author · Ernest Hemingway

type of work · Novella

genre · Parable; tragedy

language · English

time and place written · 1951, Cuba

date of first publication · 1952

publisher · Scribner’s

narrator · The novella is narrated by an anonymous narrator.

point of view · Sometimes the narrator describes the characters and events objectively, that is, as they would appear to an outside observer. However, the narrator frequently provides details about Santiago’s inner thoughts and dreams.

tone · Despite the narrator’s journalistic, matter-of-fact tone, his reverence for Santiago and his struggle is apparent. The text affirms its hero to a degree unusual even for Hemingway.

tense · Past

setting (time) · Late 1940s

setting (place) · A small fishing village near Havana, Cuba; the waters of the Gulf of Mexico

protagonist · Santiago

major conflict · For three days, Santiago struggles against the greatest fish of his long career.

rising action · After eighty-four successive days without catching a fish, Santiago promises his former assistant, Manolin, that he will go “far out” into the ocean. The marlin takes the bait, but Santiago is unable to reel him in, which leads to a three-day struggle between the fisherman and the fish.

climax · The marlin circles the skiff while Santiago slowly reels him in. Santiago nearly passes out from exhaustion but gathers enough strength to harpoon the marlin through the heart, causing him to lurch in an almost sexual climax of vitality before dying.

falling action · Santiago sails back to shore with the marlin tied to his boat. Sharks follow the marlin’s trail of blood and destroy it. Santiago arrives home toting only the fish’s skeletal carcass. The village fishermen respect their formerly ridiculed peer, and Manolin pledges to return to fishing with Santiago. Santiago falls into a deep sleep and dreams of lions.

themes · The honor in struggle, defeat, and death; pride as the source of greatness and determination

motifs · Crucifixion imagery; life from death; the lions on the beach

symbols · The marlin; the shovel-nosed sharks

foreshadowing · Santiago’s insistence that he will sail out farther than ever before foreshadows his destruction; because the marlin is linked to Santiago, the marlin’s death foreshadows Santiago’s own destruction by the sharks.