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Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemmingway

‘The Old Man and The Sea’ is a short novel written by Hemingway. At 99 pages it is not divided into different chapters or parts, but in the form of continuous narration. This is Hemingway last piece of work and it was published in September, 1952 to critical acclaim and won him the 1953 Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize in literature the next year.

The Old Man and the Sea is the story of an epic battle between an old, experienced fisherman and a large marlin. The novel opens with the explanation that the fisherman, Santiago, has gone 84 days without catching a fish. He is so unlucky that his young apprentice, Manolin, has been forbidden by his parents to sail with the old man. Still dedicated to the old man, however, the boy visits Santiago’s shack each night, hauling back his fishing gear, getting him food and discussing American baseball and his favorite player Joe DiMaggio. Santiago tells Manolin that on the next day, he will venture far out into the Gulf to fish, confident that his unlucky streak is near its end.

It is on the 85th day, sailing on his skiff, he caught the marlin and two days and two nights had passed, during which the old man bears the tension of the line with his body hauling the fish. Though he is wounded by the struggle and pain, Santiago expresses a compassionate appreciation for his adversary, often referring to him as a brother. This led me to made reference to Spanish civil war where Hemingway covers the news as a journalist, with the parable of fighting against a brother. He also determines that because of the fish’s great dignity, no one will be worthy of eating the marlin.

As we know all struggle must come to an end and the Old man took drastic measure. All the while afraid that something bad would happen to the old man or am I deluded when I first read this classic in a different language that it was going to end with tragedy?

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Fortunately it did not and the frequent mention of the old man’s encounter of seeing the lion on the beach conjure up the only Hemmingway’s semi-biography that I have read,  True at First Light where Hemmingway had shot and captured a lion in Africa.

‘But man is not made for defeat,’ he said. ‘ A man can be destroyed but not defeated.’ – page 80

Not being literary trained as myself has its disadvantage, as I am not good in reading too deep into what a simple story such as this is likely to present in significance. Perhaps it is about a man fighting against his element and his ability to feel compassion about the creature that he is fighting against but had to kill because of survival. Perhaps it is about gaining something and eventually lose it along the way. Perhaps it is about experience and ingenuity that peaks in the moment of crisis and 5 sharks are defeated because of this. Perhaps it is about the reward of perseverance and the lost and found that is part of life and that we shouldn’t place too much of importance of what we gain or lose in life and that trust Providence to deliver the sustenance that we all need.

Perhaps the book is all of these and more. It is up to you to decipher but I have fulfilled a childhood dream of reading this in full.

Please tell me what you think if you have read this.


I love some of these arts produced about the Old man and the Sea.

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See passage by passage analysis and beautiful pictures in Classic enotes

Paperback. Length: 99 pages. Publisher: Vintage 2000, originally published in 1952.  Source: Westminster Library. Setting: Gulf stream off coast of Havana, Cuba. Finished reading at: 3rd September 2011.

About the Author:

Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961) was an American author and journalist. His distinctive writing style, characterized by economy and understatement, influenced 20th-century fiction, as did his life of adventure and his public image. He produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. Many of his works are classics of American literature. He published seven novels, six short story collections, and two non-fiction works during his lifetime; a further three novels, four collections of short stories, and three non-fiction works were published posthumously.

Hemingway was born and raised in Oak Park, Illinois. After leaving high school he worked for a few months as a reporter for The Kansas City Star, before leaving for the Italian front to become an ambulance driver during World War I, which became the basis for his novel A Farewell to Arms. In 1918, he was seriously wounded and returned home within the year. In 1922 Hemingway married Hadley Richardson, the first of his four wives, and the couple moved to Paris, where he worked as a foreign correspondent. During his time there he met and was influenced by modernist writers and artists of the 1920s expatriate community known as the “Lost Generation”. His first novel, The Sun Also Rises, was published in 1926.

Hemingway and Marlins

After divorcing Hadley Richardson in 1927 Hemingway married Pauline Pfeiffer; they divorced following Hemingway’s return from covering the Spanish Civil War, after which he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls. Martha Gellhorn became his third wife in 1940; they split when he met Mary Welsh in London during World War II. During the war he was present at D-Day and the liberation of Paris.

Shortly after the publication of The Old Man and the Sea in 1952 Hemingway went on safari to Africa, where he was almost killed in a plane crash that left him in pain or ill-health for much of the rest of his life. Hemingway had permanent residences in Key West, Florida, and Cuba during the 1930s and ’40s, but in 1959 he moved from Cuba to Ketchum, Idaho, where he committed suicide in the summer of 1961.


About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


11 thoughts on “Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemmingway

  1. I read this many years ago-no wish to read it again -I did just read one of his most famous short stories, “The Killers” which I do highly recommend.

    Posted by Mel u | September 18, 2011, 7:21 am
  2. Glad to know that you liked ‘The Old Man and the Sea’, Jo. I loved this book when I read it – it is one of my alltime favourite books. I remember highlighting a lot of lines in the book, when I read it 🙂 I should read it again one of these days.

    Posted by Vishy | September 18, 2011, 6:44 pm
  3. I’m afraid I’ve never read this….in fact I’ve never read anything by Hemingway. Your review reminds me I really should!

    Posted by jessicabookworm | September 20, 2011, 4:00 pm
  4. Jo, you should be put on a pedestal for having read this one! Probably the only book that put me to sleep. But then I don’t enjoy any of his stuff, excpt for a Moveable Feast, it’s all “fighting, f-ing, fishing” with him (censored because I don’t know how you feel about cursing :D).

    Posted by Bina | September 21, 2011, 5:56 pm
  5. I remember reading this ages ago. It was my first Hemingway and I couldn’t finish it and I don’t ever see myself returning to it – so I’m always in awe of people who do. The style jarred with me and all those boating terms!

    To be honest, I don’t think you have to be literary trained to understand what the story is a metaphor for. It’s all those things you mentioned and probably more to other readers. What it comes down to is whether you enjoyed it, whether it made your day brighter or whether it made a profound impression on you.

    Posted by Anna | September 25, 2011, 3:55 pm
    • Anna,
      Thanks for your first comment Anna. Sometimes not being literary trained makes me feel like I may be losing out on any significant hidden meaning. The truth is, I didn’t enjoy it that much but it’s a book that I heard so long ago that I wanted to read. it doesn’t touch me as much as I expected it did to other readers.

      Posted by JoV | September 25, 2011, 7:25 pm


  1. Pingback: September: A month I can’t quite remember « Bibliojunkie - October 10, 2011

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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