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Analysis of Hemingway's 'The Old Man and the Sea'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1849 words Published: 28th Sep 2017

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A Five-Point Plan Analysis + Theme Description

The novel The Old Man and the Sea was written by Ernest Hemingway. It focuses on Santiago, an ageing and skilled fisherman who battles with a colossal marlin in the GulfofMexico. The motifs in the story include: the lions on the beach and crucifixion.

In the novel, Santiago frequently dreams about lions on the beach: The first time is on the eve of his fishing expedition, the second one happens when he sleeps amidst his tussle with the marlin, while the third occurs at end of the novel. The lions appear as cubs, symbolizing his youth. When they later appear as adults, they signify great nobility and strength. This provides Santiago with motivation, ambition and vitality that lead him toward accomplishing his purpose. These dreams suggest life’s circular nature: The harmony between opposing forces of nature, which are love and hate, life and death, and destruction and regeneration.

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The crucifixion imagery is an evident way in which Santiago is equated to Christ.Similar to Christ, Santiago is patient and humble. Moreover, the illustration of the old man struggling uphill with his mast on his shoulders resembles Christ’s walk toward Calvary. There is a clear reflection of Christ on the cross when Santiago eventually lies down on his bed, with his bleeding arms stretched out. The author employs the crucifixion of Christ to exemplify transcendence by reversing defeat into triumph, loss into gain, and death into renewed life.

The main theme of the story is heroism. Santiago makes up for his age with his endurance to withstand hunger, pain and isolation. He does not blame the sharks for snatching the marlin, but he acknowledges that it is his mistake to have ventured far inward into the sea. As a fisher who has caught no fish in 84 days, Santiago is fighting against defeat. However, he does not yield because he moves further into the sea than he has ever sailed before. He struggles with the marlin despite his exhaustion and pain. After catching it, he hopelessly fights off the sharks. Whenever the situation gets difficult and he is threatened with despair, he uses various tactics to stimulate his opposition to defeat: He recollects memories of his strength while he was young through dreams, and sometimes prays to God. Santiago has unlimited potentialities in the presence of danger. His potential is realized when he manages to get the giant marlin. However, the outcome is less significant than the struggle as he also chooses to battle with the sharks. As a result, it is not really important that he brings the marlin home; the important thing is he wins the battle, and after the struggle he becomes a hero.

The story’s black hole is “a man can be destroyed but not defeated”. Santiago symbolizes every man’s battle to survive. Just like Santiago’s attempt to take the marlin to the mainland intact is unsuccessful, no man can escape death. However, through Santiago’s struggle, the author illustrates that escaping from death is not the major concern. Santiago sees the words, “a man can be destroyed but not defeated” close to the end of his tussle with the marlin. That is to say, victory over the unavoidable does not define a man. Rather, it is his struggle against the inevitable that defines him.

Annotated Bibliography

Melling, Philip. “Cultural Imperialism, Afro-Cuban Religion, and Santiago’s Failure in Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” Hemingway Review 26.1 (2006): 6-24.

According to the Melling, the struggle with the sharks is a significant moment, as Santiago uses a wrecked oar to beat them. Santiago’s wish to use a baseball bat instead is crucially important. This source is resourceful, because instead of dramatizing the symbolic and sacred wooden tool of the Afro-Cuban culture, the author uses Santiago to relive the actions of Joe DiMaggio who was an American baseball hero. DiMaggio was a fisherman’s son, and as a child he used to sneak from home to practice with a broken oar at nearby sandlots. Although Santiago does not possess DiMaggio’s skills, his mind works like that of a baseball player. DiMaggio was popular during the World War II, and his importance was reminded to Americans through a song sung by Lee Brown’s band. Santiago’s interest in DiMaggio was deep, and was the outcome of numerous media coverage during the post-war period.

Burhans Clinton S. “The Old Man and the Sea: Hemingway’s Tragic Vision of Man.” American Literature 31.4 (1960): 446.

According to this source, out at sea, Santiago as a fisherman gains deep insight of himself and of his relationship with the world around him. He views the sea as a woman who gives or withholds great favors. He develops friendship and love for all creatures around him who share dangerous and unpredictable lives. His deepest love for the marlin arises when he recognizes that he must capture it for his profession and pride, and not for his physical need. The author is comprehensive and uses vivid imagery to show that unlike any other fish, the marlin was more of a spiritual entity in Santiago’s eyes than a mere physical necessity. He shows that the marlin is Santiago’s worthy opponent. Santiago ultimately kills the marlin because he feels that they are now equals and that the marlin is his brother. The author claims Santiago has a sense of guilt and loneliness for sailing inwards into the sea, only to kill fish that he loved dearly. He believes he betrayed the fish and goes home with an empty sense of victory.

Baskett, Sam S. “Toward a ‘Fifth Dimension’ in The Old Man and the Sea.” The Centennial Review 19.4 (1975): 269-286.

Baskett gives a detailed analysis of The Old Man and the Sea starting from biblical allusions to the aura of strangeness possessed by Santiago, which he claims contributes to Hemingway’s fifth dimensional prose. Baskett lists several examples of how Hemingway uses fifth dimensional prose, such as how Santiago is rarely referred to as “Santiago” but often referred to as “the old man”. This source is detailed because he begins to explain the biblical allusions found in Hemingway’s novel. Many comparisons made are between passages in the bible and the Santiago’s dreams about the lions are clear.

Psychoanalytic Critical Theory Analysis

The Old Man and the Sea is a simple story, but has a deeper message. It speaks of a man’s existence, where tenacity, pride, respect and dreams drive his mission to prosper in the presence of struggle. It is about Santiago’s unconquerable spirit because he stands as a representation of a mind-set toward life, and his expedition offers many lessons.

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Firstly, a man is not made for defeat. The old man has nothing but a dilapidated shed and a feeble skiff. His skin illustrates his hardships as it is marked with scars, wrinkles and blotches from the sun. Instead of giving up after 84 days of not catching any fish, he sails farther into the Gulf. A man continues to do whatever he must do to the best of his ability, no matter what tribulations befall him. While challenges and setbacks can strip a man of all outward signs of success, still his spirit can remain undefeated. For it can will a man to never give up and to keep on trying.

Secondly, a man should not depend on luck. In Santiago’s small Cuban fishing village, he is called salao, which is the worst kind of bad luck. This makes him an outsider and it costs him his partner, Manolin, whose parents prevent him from fishing with him. While Santiago suffers from hunger and poverty, other fishermen successfully have good fish harvests every day. The story shows that anyone can have luck, but not everybody can have perseverance, skill and determination. Santiago knows this and he believes in his ability and not chance.

Santiago believed that it was better to be lucky, but he preferred to exact.

Thirdly, a man must bear hardship and pain without complaint. At sea, Santiago is faced with the greatest challenge that comes in the form of a huge marlin. Near the edge of his fatigue, his left hand is deeply cut. He washes the cut using the sea’s salt water and lets it dry in the sun. However, the hand refuses to heal and he is compelled to only use his right hand, against the marlin that is longer than his skiff. Santiago simplytakes his suffering as it comes. He is comfortable but suffering, even thoughhe does not acknowledge the suffering at all.

Finally, a man seeks inspiration from others. For Santiago, Joe DiMaggio is the person who motivates him. He has traits that Santiago admires and he reminds him that to be successful one has to put all of oneself into a task and endure under difficulty.


The Old Man and the Sea is a quick and easy read, with outstanding characters and excellent plot.Written in 1952, it is one of Hemingway’s most interesting works. Written in a language of great simplicity, it is the tale of an old Cuban fisherman, who is down on luck and in great suffering in a relentless and agonizing battle with an enormous marlin in the Gulf of Mexico. The author, Ernest Hemingway, recasts in a strikingly modern approach, the classic theme of courage in the presence of defeat. While it is impressive that the entire book tells a story that would usually just take a chapter in an ordinary book, it is also a great way to move the reader who wants something to take place outside of the boat. I would recommend this novel to my peers because of it is enjoyable to read.

Pop Culture Connection

Old Man and the Sea, is a rich showpiece of literature that is full of intended and assumed symbolism. It is a resource of pop culture: The novel reflects a universal pattern of socioeconomic transformation familiar even today amongst developing countries. In rural Cuba during the 1930s and 1940s, the customary fishing culture that was isolated from the developed world and bound to extended families and closely knit communities started shifting to the material advancement of a fishing industry that was reliant on the modern world for its livelihood. This modern fishing industry was dependent on mechanized methods to guarantee profit, and was less bound to local communities and extended families.Inthe novel, the author depicts Santiago as a devoted fisherman whose expertise is fundamental to his identity, code of conduct, and nature’s order. However, Hemingway presents the younger fishermen as suppliers of shark livers for America’s cod liver oil industry, who utilize their profits to buy motorized boats and mechanized equipment, and approach their fishing as a way to progress their material circumstances.


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