Facts About The Old Man and the Sea
Full Title: The Old Man and the Sea
Author: Ernest Hemmingway (1899-1961)
Date Written: 1951/2
Date Published: 1952
Genre(s): Novella (short form of the novel)
Setting(s): A fishing village in Cuba and mainly on the ocean –the Gulf Stream – in the 1940s.
Point of view: Third person perspective
The Old Man and the Sea Overview
The Old Man and the Sea is a novella by American writer, Ernest Hemingway. It was the last work published in his lifetime. Although Hemingway is most famous for his highly acclaimed novels For Whom the Bell tolls and A Farewell to Arms, and his short stories, it was the short The Old Man and the Sea that won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1953) and was specifically cited when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (1954).
The novella tells the story of an old Cuban fisherman, Santiago, who goes too far out in the Gulf Stream and struggles with a giant marlin. The story details a marathon duel between man and fish.
The Old Man and the Sea was an instant best-seller, partly because of Hemingway’s ‘legend in his own lifetime’ status, famous not only for his wonderful novels and short stories but his legendary life of drinking, hunting, fishing, and for his four marriages. On the publication of this book, however, he became a major global celebrity as well. The book is still earning great amounts of money as it is one of the top American prose texts on school curricula around the world.
It has been adapted for the screen several times, notably a 1958 film with Spencer Tracy. There is also a Kazakhstan film in which the fisherman becomes a shepherd protecting his flock from wolves. There are several television productions.
The novel is about heroism. In spite of his age, Santiago is able to endure hunger, pain, and isolation. He nobly blames himself, not the sharks, for the loss of the marlin: he acknowledges that he has gone too far out into the sea.
Right from the beginning, he is at a disadvantage. He has caught no fish for 84 days and so he is fighting against defeat. However, he is optimistic and it is not in his nature to give up on anything. He goes further into the sea than he has ever sailed before. In spite of his exhaustion and pain, he struggles with the marlin to the death. Then he fights off the sharks without any chance of success.
Whenever Santiago is threatened with despair, he summons up his internal resources. He calls up memories of his strength when he was young, and he sometimes prays. Santiago has unlimited potentialities in the presence of danger.
Santiago knows that he can’t fight against death – it is ultimately unavoidable but while he is alive he can fight it off until its time inevitably comes. Death comes at one in many forms in nature but because of human qualities like intelligence, endurance, resourcefulness, a man can take it on and can win, until the inevitable catches up with him.
Killing the marlin is less significant than the struggle, and after the exhaustion of that, he chooses to fight the sharks. As a result, returning with the marlin is not the point: the important thing is he has done everything possible in a human being to win the battle. In the village, the fishermen see what he’s done – both catching the marlin and being attacked by sharks, and he becomes a hero.
Point of view
The novella employs the device of third-person perspective point of view. The narrator is not a character in the story but knows everything that happens, even the inner thoughts of the characters, and it’s therefore omniscient. However, there is some focalization of the narrative as the story is told through the perspective of one of the characters.
The novella is set mainly on the sea. The importance of the sea is reflected in the title, suggesting that the sea is an important character. Although the novella begins and ends in the fishing village, the main part of the story takes place in a small boat on the sea. The sea is described as something alive, with different moods and all kinds of activity – sometimes it’s ‘dark blue’ and at another time ‘almost purple’ and it has fish jumping through the current and flying above its surface. In addition to the battle with the marlin, the old man has to contend with the different conditions of the weather and the sea itself. It functions as a character in the story; it conveys important symbols; the old man and the whole village depend on the sea for their livelihood. The sea is an equal character with the old man.
That’s our overview of The Old Man And The Sea. Make sense? Any questions? Let us know in the comments section below!
Read an introduction to this famous Ernest Hemmingway novel, along with some quick facts around dates, period, setting, genre, historical context, and more.
Read a 5-minute summary on one page, to get an understanding of the key plot lines and character actions.
See a list of all the characters in The Old Man and the Sea, along with a detailed description and analysis of each major character.
Read an explanation and analysis of the various themes Ernest Hemmingway deals with in The Old Man and the Sea.
Read the most famous and significant quotes from The Old Man and the Sea, along with the character and location in the book.