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Free Study Guide-The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
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FREE ONLINE NOTES FOR THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA - HEMINGWAY

PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS

The novel tells a simple story of a simple fisherman who is luckless enough not to catch a single fish for eighty-four days; he refuses, however, to be discouraged. On the eighty-fifth day, he decides to venture far out to sea, hoping to change his bad luck. He is even optimistic enough to believe that he may catch a big fish. In tune with the natural world about him, he spies birds and plankton that lead him to a good fishing spot. He carefully baits his hooks and patiently waits.

Santiagoís patience pays off. Something big takes his bait, and because of his skill, the old man is able to hook it, beginning the adventure of the story. For three days and nights, he does battle with this giant creature from the sea. For most of the journey he does not even know what he is fighting, though he assumes it is a giant marlin. When the magnificent fish finally surfaces, Santiago is tremendously impressed with its size, its beauty, and its nobility. He begins to identify with the fish, almost regretting that he feels compelled to kill it. He tries to justify his actions by saying that he is not fishing for sport, but to feed himself and others.

Hemingway carefully develops the old manís battle with the fish in three stages: the time before Santiago knows his adversary; the time when he realizes just what a powerful creature he must master; and the time when the fish starts circling and the old man successfully brings it in for the kill. As Hemingway stresses the stages of this outward journey of the fish that pulls the old man further and further from the security of the shore to the unknown reaches of the sea, he also develops the inward journey of Santiago. The old man must reach inside himself and come up with all his reserve of strength, intelligence, and logic to win his battle against the mighty fish; it is truly a display of grace under pressure on the part of Santiago.


In contrast to the first half of the book, characterized by a calm sea and Santiagoís feeling of oneness with nature and the big fish, the second half of the book shows the evil side of the natural world, symbolized by the sharks. Santiago hates them because they are sly thieves and the deadliest creatures of the deep. In contrast to his regret over killing the giant marlin, the old man delights in stabbing or clubbing each shark. Santiagoís battle with the sharks is also developed in three stages, helping to unify the plot.

Throughout the novel, the reader is made aware of the old manís noble suffering, his practicality, his love for living and non-living things, and his extraordinary grit, courage, and determination. These characteristics, that he repeatedly displays in the midst of his struggles, bind the story together. Charles Darwin, the eminent biologist, speaks of struggle as an intrinsic part of the life of a human being, which results in the survival of the fittest. In the old manís saga of suffering, he proves that he is a fit man, not only in physical terms but also in psychological terms. He survives where the normal man would have crumbled. At the end of the book, he is truly a hero who has gone beyond normal human endeavor; and yet not marred by pride or greed, he humbly sees himself as one who has been defeated by the sharks.

THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS

Santiagoís drama is entirely outside the framework of the urbanized world and its institutions. Put in simplest terms, it is an examination of the harmony and the struggle that exists between man and nature. It seeks to show that even a simple man is capable of overcoming the struggles in life with decency, dignity, and heroism. Life is a struggle to be borne, not like a burden, but as a challenge. It is true that no man is an island unto himself. But when one has to face the true moment of reckoning in a struggle, he is usually all alone and must call upon his own courage, grit, and determination. Throughout the novel, Santiago succeeds in doing just that, never blaming chance or fate. He does not even blame the sharks for snatching away his prize; with a rather touching humility, he acknowledges that it is his fault for having ventured out too far into the sea. It was his choice to go and, therefore, he has to accept the consequences and not be defeated by them.

Through Santiagoís struggle, Hemingway intends to create a metaphor for human existence. The struggle is an opportunity for Santiago to demonstrate what a man is and what he can endure. Santiago, like mankind, is provided with a reserve of unlimited potentialities in the face of danger. When he is pitted against the giant marlin, which is stronger than he, his potential is realized to the fullest possible extent. The old man chooses to battle until the end. The outcome, however, becomes less important than the struggle, which offers a chance to show grace under pressure. As a result, it is not really important that Santiago brings the fish home; the important thing is he struggled to win the battle, and in the struggle he becomes a Code Hero.

The main theme becomes the essential nobility of human endeavor in the face of extreme odds. From the very beginning, Santiago faces every conceivable hurdle: when the novel opens, he is aged, unlucky, and ill fed. When the action begins, he is alone in his boat, with nobody to assist him. While fellow fishermen shun him because he represents bad luck, his constant companion, Manolin, is prohibited from accompanying him. However, he does not cease striving because of these facts. He always reaches inside himself to find the courage and determination to continue.

The novel is not the story of just one man called Santiago. At a higher level, it represents all of mankind, cast adrift on a sea called the universe. Like the sea, the universe contains many hidden treasures and predators. Man must have sufficient will and courage to find the treasures and fight the predators. The struggle for both will prove whether man is heroic. Like the Olympic motto, it is not the winning or the losing that matters, it is how one plays. This is the major theme of The Old Man and The Sea.

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