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5 Hawthorne Literature- A to Z

The Old Man and the Sea


The Old Man and the Sea Cover

ISBN13: 9780684801223
ISBN10: 0684801221
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide for The Old Man and the Sea


Ernest Hemingway was born July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois. After graduation from high school, he moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he worked briefly for the Kansas City Star. Failing to qualify for the United States Army because of poor eyesight, he enlisted with the American Red Cross to drive ambulances in Italy. He was severely wounded on the Austrian front on July 9, 1918. Following recuperation in a Milan hospital, he returned home and became a freelance writer for the Toronto Star.

In December of 1921, he sailed to France and joined an expatriate community of writers and artists in Paris while continuing to write for the Toronto Star. There his fiction career began in "little magazines" and small presses and led to a volume of short stories, In Our Time (1925). His novels The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929) established Hemingway as the most important and influential fiction writer of his generation. His later collections of short stories and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) affirmed his extraordinary career while his highly publicized life gave him unrivaled celebrity as a literary figure.

Hemingway became an authority on the subjects of his art: trout fishing, bullfighting, big-game hunting, and deep-sea fishing, and the cultures of the regions in which he set his work — France, Italy, Spain, Cuba, and Africa.

The Old Man and the Sea (1952) earned him the Pulitzer Prize and was instrumental in his being awarded the Nobel Prize in 1954. Hemingway died in Ketchum, Idaho, on July 2, 1961.


Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman who has not caught a fish for eighty-four days, goes far out to sea in his skiff alone because the young boy Manolin, who has fished with him and served him in the past, is prevented from continuing to do so by his parents, who are convinced that the old man has salao, bad luck. Santiago kills a giant marlin after fighting it for three days, lashes it alongside his skiff, and sails for home only to have his fish attacked by sharks during the night and devoured despite the old man's valiant efforts to kill them or drive them away. The morning after Santiago's return Manolin finds the old man sleeping in his palm shack, cries, brings him coffee, and pledges to replace lost equipment and to fish with him again, for there is much that he can learn. When the boy leaves, the old man is dreaming of lions on a beach which he saw in Africa in his youth from a square-rigged ship.

Discussion Questions

1. What is suggested when Manolin says to Santiago that his father "hasn't much faith" (p. 10) but that he, himself, "would like to serve in some way" (p. 12)? Does this offer of Manolin's asking to throw the "cast net" (p. 16) echo the Bible and underscore the boy's respect for Santiago? Why is Santiago so worthy of Manolin's respect?

2. Why is the boy so important to Santiago? Despite his bad luck, Santiago's hope and confidence remain, even "freshening as when the breeze rises" (p. 13) as the boy helps him prepare for his next fishing trip. What does this statement indicate about the role Manolin plays in Santiago's life? Could "the boy" be regarded as a metaphor? How?

3. Like other Hemingway characters, Santiago is very much alone, "beyond all people in the world" (p. 50); yet he says, "No man was ever alone on the sea" (p. 61). Why? Does he feel joined with the creatures and universe or strengthened and sustained by them in any way? Do his dreams of the lions or reflections about his earlier strength support him?

4. Although determined to kill the fish, Santiago says that he loves and respects it, and on the third day of his struggle he says, "Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than you, brother. Come on and kill me. I do not care who kills who" (p. 92). Is Santiago ennobled by his fight? Does it define his character?

5. How does the story of Santiago confirm the presence of two themes prevalent in Hemingway's fiction: "the undefeated" and "winner take nothing"? Santiago says, "A man can be destroyed but not defeated." Do you agree? Can the novella be read as an allegory, a story with levels of meanings? Is it merely Santiago's story, or our story also?

After Reading the Novel

The Old Man and the Sea was acknowledged as a masterpiece even before its publication, and Life magazine took the unprecedented step of publishing the entire text in its September, 1, 1953, issue, which sold over 5 million copies in two days. Since its first appearance, the novella has continued to affect readers of all ages profoundly. It has never been out of print. Two film versions of the novella have been produced, the first involving Hemingway's participation, which stars Spencer Tracy, and a more recent version starring Anthony Quinn. In 1999 IMAX is releasing worldwide its animated movie of The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway's Esquire "fictionalized" non-fiction articles (1933-1936): "Marlin Off the Morro: A Cuban Newsletter" (1933); "Out in the Stream: A Cuban Letter" (1933); and "On the Blue Water: A Gulf Stream Letter" (1936), which contains the old fisherman sketch that was the inspiration for the novella, are available in By-Line: Ernest Hemingway (Touchstone Books). These articles display Hemingway's considerable knowledge of big-game fishing, in particular the marlin, the subjects about which he would write in The Old Man and the Sea.

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The Black Eel, April 1, 2014 (view all comments by The Black Eel)
It was not difficult for me to see why The Old Man and the Sea is one of Ernest Hemingway’s most celebrated works. The story combines themes of courage, perseverance, and friendship into a relatively short story. At the same time, it poses many questions dealing with the human experience and teaches readers memorable life lessons. The Old Man and the Sea is much more than a simple tale of a fisherman; it is the story of a man who discovers what really matters in life.

It is hard not to be impressed with the manliness of Ernest Hemingway. Not only was he an author, but he also spent much of his time fighting in the war, big game hunting, deep sea fishing, and drinking profusely. He carried his experiences with him to create several famous pieces of literature, including The Old Man and the Sea. Santiago, the protagonist, is based off of Hemingway’s real life fishing buddy. Hemingway uses very simple language to ensure that readers understand the basic plot of the story. However, the story also poses many questions about the human experience that left me thinking for hours.

For eighty four straight days, an old man by the name of Santiago has gone out fishing but returned to land with nothing to show for it. His fellow fishermen who had once respected him now see him as aged and unlucky. Even Mandolin, a young boy who cares for the old man everyday, is told to stop wasting his time onboard Santiago’s boat. However, the friendship between the old man and the young boy never dwindles. After the old man returns from sea each day, the young boy makes sure the old man has everything he needs. Finally, on the eighty-fifth day at sea, the old man gets what he desires most. A massive marlin takes his bait. The old man is pleased at feeling the weight of the monster on his line, but he can’t help but wish that his best friend was there with him. For the next five grueling days, the old man dedicates himself to an intense battle with the majestic fish until one of them finally gives out.

The efficiency of The Old Man and the Sea is one of the main reasons I found the story to be so remarkable. One of the first ideas it discusses deals with the complex relationship between the hunter and the hunted. The old man constantly sways between feeling sorry for the great fish and then feeling a need to capture it and make it his prize. On one hand, Santiago understands the majesty of the 18-foot long, 1500 pound marlin, so he feels that is not meant to be killed by man. On the other hand he feels as though he must prove himself as a great fisherman in order to regain his sense of accomplishment and youth. Throughout his time on the water, the old man talks to himself to avoid silence. “You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food, he thought. You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?” (105). This poses an important question about hunting and fishing in general. Is it right for humans to kill animals purely for sport?

Hemingway also shows that, in life, the journey is more important than the destination. Although things don’t turn out as planned for the old man, he eventually realizes that the purpose of his struggle was to prove to himself that he was still a tremendous fisherman. His struggle with the marlin proved that the old man was capable of enduring through pain and suffering in order to reach his goals. His battle with the marlin brings him back to his younger days when he was full of energy. In fact, the idea of youth is a recurring theme. “He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy” (25). Indeed, the old man doesn’t truly seek the physical prize of having a trophy fish. Instead he craves to live an adventure as he did when he was a young boy. This explains his deep connection with Mandolin and shows why the old man was so relentless in pursuing the great marlin. His mind is still youthful although his body is aging quickly.

As a reader with no previous experience with the work of Ernest Hemingway, I was very pleased with The Old Man and the Sea. It was a quick read, but certainly a good one. Hemingway accomplishes his goal of telling a tale of adventure while incorporating complex ideas despite using very simple language. Especially as a person who loves the outdoors, I was able to appreciate the pride that Santiago takes in fishing. I couldn’t help but imagine myself onboard the boat with Santiago as he fought the great marlin. The language that was used is simple and easy to understand, yet the lessons and values that can be taken away make The Old Man and the Sea very memorable.
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mary.raglin, October 8, 2008 (view all comments by mary.raglin)
Love Hemmingway! This read shows the struggle and the victory no matter how small. It makes one humble to know what this soul went though and how it changed how others thought.
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waitingtoleave, February 9, 2007 (view all comments by waitingtoleave)
The people who live by and work on the sea are a very specific and unique group, and in "The Old Man and the Sea," Hemingway captures them perfectly. His writing style of terse sentences perfectly encapsulates with mentality of a working man familiar with the instant tragedy and magnificent beauty possible on the sea. This mentality is beginning to be lost, as less and less people work with their hands; read this book to remember how it once was.
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(14 of 34 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

performance Narrated:
Frank Muller.
Scribner Book Company
Hemingway, Ernest
New York
Novels and novellas
American fiction (fictional works by one author)
Sea & Ocean
Aged men
Sea stories
Male friendship
Talking books.
Cuba Fiction.
General Fiction
General Fiction
Older men
Literature-A to Z
Literary fiction; Classics; American classic; American literature; The Lost Generation; great American novel; award winner; Pulitzer Prize; bestseller; modernism; American modernism; F. Scott Fitzgerald; Gertrude Stein; William Faulkner; John Dos Passos;
Literary fiction; Classics; American classic; American literature; The Lost Generation; great American novel; award winner; Pulitzer Prize; bestseller; modernism; American modernism; F. Scott Fitzgerald; Gertrude Stein; William Faulkner; John Dos Passos;
Literary fiction; Classics; American classic; American literature; The Lost Generation; great American novel; award winner; Pulitzer Prize; bestseller; modernism; American modernism; F. Scott Fitzgerald; Gertrude Stein; William Faulkner; John Dos Passos;
Literary fiction; Classics; American classic; American literature; The Lost Generation; great American novel; award winner; Pulitzer Prize; bestseller; modernism; American modernism; F. Scott Fitzgerald; Gertrude Stein; William Faulkner; John Dos Passos;
Literary fiction; Classics; American classic; American literature; The Lost Generation; great American novel; award winner; Pulitzer Prize; bestseller; modernism; American modernism; F. Scott Fitzgerald; Gertrude Stein; William Faulkner; John Dos Passos;
Edition Description:
ESL ReadAlong
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
May 1995
Grade Level:
8 x 5.25 in 3.745 oz

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The Old Man and the Sea Used Trade Paper
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Product details 128 pages Scribner Book Company - English 9780684801223 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Despite a long and varied literate life, I somehow made it to 2010 without having ever read Hemingway, even compulsory high-school Hemingway. Intimidated by his bravado and bullfighting, I steered clear of ol' Papa. It only hit me a few months ago, after reading The Old Man and the Sea for the first time, to resounding effect, that I'd been seriously missing out. The Old Man and the Sea now numbers among one of my all-time favorites. Simply told, and with graceful humility, this novella is as immense and riveting a force as the great marlin Santiago must face. Looking out at the ocean on a clear day, you can look at the sea and just see blue water and waves, rolling up or rolling down — a lovely story in itself — or you can see, blinking from the horizon, the largeness of the world reflected back at you in a boat the size of a dime. I am exceedingly grateful to the fates that Hemingway had "luck" enough to see both.

"The luck was that I had a good man and a good boy and lately writers have forgotten there still are such things. Then the ocean is worth writing about just as man is. So I was lucky there." —Ernest Hemingway, in a Paris Review interview

"Synopsis" by , Hemingway's triumphant yet tragic story of an old Cuban fisherman and his relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream combines the simplicity of a fable, the significance of a parable, and the drama of an epic.
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