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Hemingway is as famous for how he wrote as for what he wrote. Few authors have become so identified with a particular style or with the word "style" itself. Many writers have attempted, for better or for worse, to "write like Hemingway." And the vast majority have failed miserably.

What is it that makes the Hemingway style distinctive? You should try to formulate the answer to that question by yourself as much as possible. Skim back over passages that struck you in particular and determine why.

The essential characteristic of Hemingway's style, in the view of most critics, is simplicity and precision of word choice. See if you agree with that. If you do, find some outstanding examples. What kinds of details does Hemingway give us? What has he deliberately left out that a different writer might have spent a page or a paragraph on?

Another point to consider is the effectiveness of Hemingway's style, at least as seen in The Old Man and the Sea. Do you like his style?

Let's invent a Hemingway-type description similar to one that might have appeared in the story we're studying: "His head ached truly now. He rubbed it for a moment but felt no difference and stopped the rubbing."

Compare that with another possible version: "Waves of pain throbbed throughout his head, advancing and retreating and advancing once again until the pain threatened to drive off consciousness itself. For a few, brief, futile moments, he rubbed his head with near desperation, massaging his scalp with hopeful fingers that tried to push back the onslaught of pain. But it remained as relentless as ever, and despairingly he dropped his hand to his side."

Which one is better? Or do you have to make the decision? Is it a personal matter similar to "you may like red but I like blue"?


Point of view in general is also considered in The Story section of this guide because it figures so prominently in this particular work.

Hemingway himself considered first person point of view somewhat more dramatic but extremely limited and said that it took him a while to master the third person and omniscient point of view which we find in The Old Man and the Sea.

Even this all-knowing point of view is more simple and direct in Hemingway's hands than it is in most authors'. Usually an allknowing narrator reports what is happening with a character's thoughts and emotions. Sometimes Hemingway does this too: "The old man would have liked to keep his hand in the salt water longer but he was afraid of another sudden lurch by the fish."

Far more often, however, we have what amounts to a direct monologue of Santiago's thoughts: "I wish I could feed the fish, he thought. He is my brother. But I must kill him and keep strong to do it."

Why does Hemingway simply report? What does he expect of his readers? Does he expect too much?


Unlike most novels, The Old Man and the Sea has no chapter divisions. This could be attributed to its relative shortness, but there is another reason. From beginning to end, we are given a continuous account, almost a motion picture of Santiago's three-day ordeal. Until the last pages, there is never a moment when we are not with him. Chapter divisions or headings would be an unnatural intrusion into this exceptionally intimate slice of life.

In this study guide we look at the novel from a conventional framework of time: three days on the sea, with a "day before" and a "day after."

There are other ways, however, of assigning a time structure to the story. The days on the sea itself could be divided into (a) the time before Santiago hooks the marlin, (b) the battle to bring the marlin in and kill it, and (c) the journey back to the harbor. The second section could be further divided into the period wherein the marlin keeps pulling the skiff further out to sea, and the period wherein the marlin begins to circle the skiff and finally is brought in and harpooned.

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