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The Summary and Analysis of ‘The Old Man and the Sea’

Shruti Bhat May 10, 2019
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway is the tale of an old man's fishing escapade and attempts at breaking his streak of bad luck.
The Old Man and the Sea won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953 and became one of Ernest Hemingway's bestselling works.
The Old Man and the Sea was written in the year 1951 and published the subsequent year. It was also printed in the September 1st issue of Life Magazine in the year 1952.
The story is an allegory of the author's own struggles to achieve fame and keep writing. This was Hemingway's last significant contribution to the literary world which restored his fame. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for this novel, in the year 1954. However, he donated his gold medal to the Cuban image of Our Lady of Charity.
The novella inspired many on-screen adaptations, viz. a film in 1958, a miniseries in the year 1990, and an animated short film, in the year 1999. Till date, the book remains an important piece of literature and an integral part of high school curriculum. Following is the summary and analysis of The Old Man and the Sea.


The story begins by introducing the protagonist of the story, Santiago. He was an old fisherman who had not caught a single fish for eighty-four days. He was considered so unlucky, that his devout companion, friend, and young apprentice Manolin, was forced to work for a successful businessman, leaving Santiago to fish alone.
Manolin adored the old man and continued helping him. The young boy would visit Santiago's shack every night, where he'd cooked for Santiago and help him prepare for the next day. They often would reminisce their luckier times and talk about American baseball. And at night, Santiago would dream of lions on African beaches that he had once visited.
Early dawn, on the 85th day, Santiago set off alone into the sea, determined to break the spell of bad luck. He set his lines and waited patiently to catch a fish. By noon, he had caught a marlin, Santiago believed that his luck was finally about to change for the good.
Santiago used his years of experience and skill to play the fish. He tried to pull the fish onto the boat, but to no avail. The marlin towed the boat deeper into the sea. Santiago waited for the fish to tire itself. Day turned to dusk, and the old man found himself towed further away from land. The marlin kept Santiago struggling all night long.
The cold weather and jerks that the fish gave took a toll on his hands, shoulders, and back. All that kept Santiago company through those tough times were trips down memory lane. He remembered those days when men had called him El Campeón, as he wrestled with men at a tavern.
Two days and nights had passed and the struggle between the fish and Santiago continued. On the third day, the marlin too began to tire. Santiago killed the marlin with his harpoon.
He soon realize that it was the largest he had ever seen, and knew that the fish would fetch him quite a fortune. He tied the fish carcass to the side of his skiff and set off on his long journey home.
A shark followed the marlin's blood trail, and just as it began to gnaw at the fish, Santiago killed the beast with his harpoon. The shark disappeared along with his weapon, leaving Santiago vulnerable to more shark attacks.
Soon, more sharks appeared and Santiago relentlessly continued killing them with his knife tied to the oar. After a few shark attacks, he realized that the sharks had eaten the meat off the fish, and had left him with only the head, tail, and skeleton. Santiago finally reached the harbor just before sunrise and he dragged himself to his shack.
In the morning, fishermen and tourists stood gathered and were amazed at what was left of the huge marlin skeleton. Manolin was worried sick about the old man's absence for three days. He teared on finding Santiago sleeping safely in his bed.
The boy fetched Santiago some coffee and the newspaper and watched him sleep. When Santiago woke up, the two agreed to fish together once again. Tired Santiago returned to his sweet slumber, where he once again dreamed of lions, beaches, and the glories of the past.

Themes of The Old Man and the Sea

At the first glance, this story might seem simple. But when you take a closer look at the different aspects of it, you find that the theme of the story revolves around relentless perseverance, strength of the body and mind, pride and respect, overcoming suffering, skills learned from experience, isolation, and memories which reassure you of your strength.

Symbolism in The Old Man and the Sea

The story mentions that Santiago no longer dreams of his deceased wife. Instead, he dreams of lions on the beaches. The lions symbolize triumph, youth, strength, dominance, and masculinity. Lions and Santiago both were predators. Beaches, on the other hand, represent freedom, raw untamed nature, and tranquility.
The writer conveys to his readers that, like Santiago, we too might face difficulties which may further complicate our lives, but we must be brave and persist in our journey of life.