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Old Man and The Sea Summary

The Old Man and the Sea Summary

Ernest Hemingway's 1952 novel, The Old Man and the Sea, is the story of Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman and his epic fight against a giant marlin far out at sea. As the story opens, Santiago has gone eighty-four days since he last caught a fish. His string of bad luck has become so notorious in his village that many believe him to be curse. Manolin, Santiago's apprentice, has been forbidden by his parents to sail with the old man because of this bad luck.

Still, Manolin visits the old man each night, where they discuss baseball, including Manolin's favorite player, Joe DiMaggio. One night, Santiago tells Manolin that the next day he will venture far out into the Gulf Stream and end his bad streak. By noon on the eighty-fifth day, Santiago has caught a marlin, but the fish is so large that he is unable to reel it in. Instead, the marlin pulls Santiago's boat far out to sea. Two days and nights pass, but still Santiago holds on, developing admiration for his adversary.

On the third day, the fish begins to tire, and Santiago hauls it close to the boat, killing it with a harpoon. Santiago ties the fish to the side of the boat and begins to head home, but the marlin's blood attracts a great many sharks. As an exhausted Santiago reaches home, all that is left of the fish is its head and skeleton. The other fishermen marvel at the size of the great fish, and the old man promises to take Manolin fishing the next day.

There are many insights about the ocean in this book.

  • The Old Man thinks of it as feminine. This is an anthropomorphic view of the ocean.
  • Equally anthropomorphic is the Old Man's musings about the delicacy of certain birds, sea swallows. He wonders why such birds should be so delicate and yet have to live out their lives on an element that can be so "cruel". There is a sense of mystery here and a sense of resignation.
  • The ocean, like life itself, moves as and how it will; it can be partially, but not completely, understood by man's finite intellect.
The human connection is again feminine. The ocean is the Old Man's mother; it nourishes him and it makes life possible. It has molded him physically; he has a benevolent form of skin cancer, and scars from various fishing episodes. His eyes are explicitly linked to the sea, "they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated". This last is important; the sea is seen as a good mother in spite of all the hardships she inflicts upon her sons. By extension, life is seen as good despite all of its difficulties.

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