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Free Study Guide-The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
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SECTION SUMMARIES WITH NOTES / ANALYSIS

NOTE TO STUDENTS

The Old Man and the Sea is a short novel, and Hemingway has not divided the book into chapters. In this analysis, the natural breaks in the story become divisions for the purpose of summary and analysis.

SECTION 1 - Background

Summary

The novel opens with the description of Santiago, an old fisherman who works alone in a small skiff in the Gulf Stream. He is recently dogged by ill luck, for he has gone without catching a fish for eighty-four days. Initially, for the first forty days, a young boy named Manolin keeps him company. Then the boyís parents forbid Manolin from accompanying Santiago, who has become Ďsalao,í the worst kind of unlucky man. Even though Manolin is working on another, luckier boat, he still cares about Santiago and is troubled to see the old man come in every day without catching a single fish. With a silent expression of comradeship, the boy always helps the old fisherman to carry his coiled lines, his gaff, his harpoon, or the sail for his boat. Santiagoís sail was like the old man himself - patched with age and furled with use.

Notes

Santiago may be luckless, but he is not pessimistic; his sail may look as if it has accepted permanent defeat, but the old man has not. In fact, an oblique reference is made to the old manís kinship to the boy, making him seem younger than his years. Santiago loves the boy as a son, and Manolin takes care of the old manís needs as a son does his father and loves him as a brother or comrade.

In this first section, Santiago is pictured as having to fight both the land and the sea. Although he loves being a fisherman, the waters have not been kind to the old man as of late. For the last eighty- four days he has gone out in his boat and come home empty- handed. The land treats Santiago no better. Although it provides, shelter and rest, it also offers shame. Because of his lack of success in fishing, he often goes hungry on land. Additionally, he is laughed at by many for not catching any fish; people cruelly laugh and say he is too old to be a fisherman. To make matter worse, Manolinís parents have forbidden the boy to go out in the boat with Santiago because of his bad luck. As a result, for the last forty days, the old man has fished alone.


This opening section also begins the development of the theme of the novel - manís struggle for survival in difficult circumstances. Due to his bad luck and his alienation, Santiago feels isolated and alone; but he refuses to be defeated. He dreams of doing heroic deeds in order to restore his respect in the community. When he later catches the giant fish, he is determined to master it to prove his worth - both to himself and his fellow fishermen.

SECTION 2 - The Description of the Old Man

Summary

The old man is described as being thin and gaunt, with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck. His face is blotched on its sides with a benevolent cancer, due to constant exposure to the harsh sun. His hands are marked by scars, testimony to his handling of heavy fish through the years. Everything about the man seems aged, except his eyes, which are blue like the sea and cheerful and undefeated.

Santiagoís comrade and best friend is a young boy named Manolin; he has taught the lad the art of fishing, earning Manolinís love and respect in the process. They have fished together for many years, but now the boy has been forbidden by his parents to go out with the unlucky Santiago. On the eighty-fourth day of the old manís bad luck, Manolin offers to go out with Santiago, in spite of his parentsí warnings. The old man tells the boy to obey his father and stick with the lucky boat

Manolin tries to cheer Santiago. He reminds him that at an earlier time, they had gone without catching a fish for eighty-seven days; then, for three weeks, they caught fish everyday. The old man knows that the boy has tremendous faith in him and does not doubt his capabilities. To prove that Santiago also trusts the boy, he offers to buy Manolin a beer, as if he were a man. The boy offers to bring Santiago sardines to be used as bait the next day. Santiago tells him he should go and play baseball instead; but the faithful boy wishes to serve the old man in any way he can. Since he has been with Santiago from the time he was five years old, he views him as his teacher, master, and father figure.

The people in the village have differing views on Santiago. Some of the older fishermen pity him for his bad luck. Most of the younger ones ridicule him, saying he is too old to fish any longer. Santiago controls himself and does not grow angry with them. However, he does notice that their baskets are filled with an abundance of fish that they have caught. The sight of their large catches humbles Santiago, but he bears his humility with ease and grace. Additionally, he continues to be an eternal optimist, who believes that tomorrow will be better.

Notes

In these initial pages of the novel, a visual picture is given of Santiago. In almost every description of him, Hemingway seems to emphasize the old manís age. His face and neck are wrinkled from many years in the sun. His hands are scarred from his battle with many fish. He is frail and gaunt, as if the years have tired his flesh. Only his eyes remain bright and cheerful. In this respect, Santiago can be compared to the Ancient Mariner, created by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who possessed the same Ďglittering eye,í which transfixed people.

In these opening pages, there are also several clues to the old manís character. First and foremost, Santiago is pictured as being exceptionally unlucky; it is not from lack of trying that he does not catch any fish, for he has continued to ply the waters for eighty- four days straight, never showing discouragement. It is also obvious that the sea is plentiful, for the baskets of the other fishermen are filled and Manolin has been catching fish on the "lucky" boat. Since he is a skilled fisherman, Santiagoís unproductive stretch can only be attributed to bad luck. The old man refuses, however, to become dejected, bitter, envious, or lazy. Instead, he remains cheerful, optimistic, and confident.

It is obvious that Santiago loves Manolin dearly. Since he has no family of his own, the old man treats the boy like a son, teaching him everything he knows about fishing and the sea. In turn, the boy is devoted to Santiago. He offers to bring the old man bait, as if to encourage him to continue in his efforts; he also offers to disobey his father and go out on the boat with Santiago. The old man will not hear of it, telling Manolin he must mind his father and suggesting that he should spend some time playing baseball rather than worrying about an old fisherman. It is obvious that Santiago has taught the boy well, for Manolin has turned into a good fisherman, catching many fish.

Although Hemingway has begun to develop Santiago as a hero, he will now allow him to become a tragic hero. The old man is not ruled by pride or vanity; neither is he selfish or demanding. Instead, Hemingway pictures the man as having commendable physical strength, a tough mind, unbelievable patience, and true humility. Even in these early pages, Hemingway hints that Santiago is a Christ-figure.

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