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Free Study Guide-The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
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This short novel, as the title suggests, is mainly set on the sea over a period of three days. The protagonist, Santiago, is a fisherman by profession and lives in a small village in Cuba. Geographically, Cuba is an island in the Caribbean, whose main industry is fishing; Hemingway himself had lived in Cuba for a few years before the Fidel Castro revolution, obtaining an intimate knowledge of the places that are described in The Old Man and the Sea.

Havana is the capital of Cuba and forms a distant background to Santiago’s journey; he uses the lights of the city to find his way back home at night. A more important town in the novel is the little fishing village in which Santiago lives and where Spanish is spoken. Hemingway seems to have based the village on a real one called Kojimar. The warm waters of the Gulf Stream flow very close to this village, bringing the giant marlin in the months of September and October. Santiago sets out on his momentous journey in the early fall, probably in September. During the course of the novel, the setting becomes symbolic; the sea represents the total universe against which humanity (represented by Santiago) is pitted and in which, everybody has to take a chance.


Major Characters


An old Cuban who is the protagonist of the book. He is a skilled fisherman by profession and Hemingway’s Code Hero who always maintains grace under pressure.


A young boy of about fourteen years of age. He is Santiago’s student and closest friend. He also cares for the old man, emotionally and physically.

The Giant Marlin

Santiago’s large catch that battles with the fisherman for three days and nights, proving his strength, power, patience, and determination. The giant fish fully challenges Santiago, who sees the fish as stronger and nobler than he is. He succeeds in mastering the fish only because he has more intelligence than this giant creature of the deep.

The Sharks

The evil elements of the sea. Attracted by its blood, they attack and devour the giant fish. Santiago takes great pleasure in killing or wounding these scavengers, the deadliest creatures in the deep. They are a sharp contrast to the majestic and noble fish.

Minor Characters

Joe DiMaggio

A famous American baseball player. Although he is never seen in the novel, he is often mentioned and serves as an inspiration to Santiago.

John J. McGraw

The coach and manager of the American baseball team. He often comes to The Terrace, a restaurant in Santiago’s village.


Another fisherman in Santiago’s village. He makes hooks and fish traps for other fisherman.


The owner of the Terrace Restaurant.


A young boy who helps Santiago with his fishnets.

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Free Study Guide-The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway


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