The Old Man and the Sea Review

The Old Man and the Sea is a story of man versus nature, hardship, poverty and himself. At the beginning of the novella, Hemingway takes a reader directly to the life and struggles of Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman. He’s making his way back to shore after what is his eighty-fourth day without catching a fish. This hardship, and its reverberating impact, consume Santiago’s life. Fishing is everything to him. It is both his passion and the way he makes a living. Read The Old Man and the Sea summary here.

The Old Man and the Sea Review 1

In his failure, I felt every impossibility of my own life. In his hope and perseverance: something of the human spirit. His character drives the novella, without the incredible character-building Hemingway engaged in, the story would be a shell of itself. 

While Santiago’s luck might be down, his ability to look towards the next day and find a reason to keep going is persistent. These are features of Hemingway’s main character that endeared him to me. I felt, almost instantly, an attachment to Santiago and a stake in his day to day hardship. 


Santiago and Manolin

As The Old Man and the Sea progresses, the reader is treated to a clear look into Santiago’s mind and the purity of his drives. He cares about simple things, fishing first and foremost, but also his young friend Manolin, and baseball, specifically Joe DiMaggio. I felt that this, as have critics since it was written, is Hemingway at his best, his most articulate and most engaging. 

When the character of Manolin is introduced, the already growing empathy and commitment I felt towards Santiago’s character were expanded. To care for one, and feel tied to his fate, is to care for the other. Manolin is connected to Santiago through friendship and mutual interest in fishing and sports. 

The investment I’d already developed in these characters and their fight against poverty, hunger and failure, was taken out to sea alongside Santiago. He endeavors, hoping against hope that this time on the eighty-fifth day, things will be different. He has faced streaks of bad luck before and refuses to believe this one will be his longest. 


The Pursuit 

With joy and relief, I greeted the news that a fish had taken the old man’s hook. “Oh, thank goodness,” I said out loud, surprising myself with my attachment to the fictional events put on paper more than sixty years ago. This was it, I thought, finally relief for this infinitely deserving man is in reach. But, as with all great fiction, my satisfaction was prolonged. What followed was a struggle beyond my comprehension. Days passed with the fish dragging Santiago further and further out to sea. To make it all the more frustrating, for some time he didn’t even know what had taken the bait. 

Hemingway’s depictions of pain, perseverance and fortitude are unmatched in this memorable section of The Old Man and the Sea. Through Santiago’s thoughts and the words he spoke aloud to himself, a reader is pulled into a world of suffering and determination. In my own hands, it seemed as though I could feel the weight of the line. Across my back, I tried to imagine its pressure. The dragging hours as one day moved into the night and day again, weighed on my own mind as I considered the reserves of strength the old man had. 


Character Motivations and Considerations

At this point in The Old Man and the Sea, I found myself considering Santiago’s motivations and what I would do in his place. I knew without a doubt that I couldn’t withstand the miserable forces he did as the marlin dragged him out to sea. Nor could I return to the ocean after the devastation the sharks wrought on the long labored for fish later in the novella. This, of course, made his efforts all the more impressive. 

But what, I asked myself, kept him going? How could he, an old frail man, pursue the marlin so single-mindedly? While I could never say for sure what Ernest Hemingway was thinking, or what Santiago might say for himself, I concluded that I think speaks to the root of the old man’s character. 

When the marlin took his hook and he saw the prize within his grasp, he felt everything—all the impossibles in his life—merge into one single, physical possibility at the end of his line. He knew that he had to catch this fish or die trying. It was the culmination of his simple life and the experiences he’d drawn on to get where he was. He wanted to prove himself worthy, as a man, but also as another life form, suffering and surviving as the myriad of fish and birds do around him. 


The Old Man and the Sea: A Conclusion

In conclusion, this achingly short novella, that speaks so clearly on what it means to be human in a cold, and the hateful world, brings me hope. Finishing it for what is not the first time, I found myself entranced by Santiago’s continued fascination with his past. Specifically, the lions on the beach. The memory imprinted itself onto my own mind, and I tried to place myself in his shoes and figure out what it was about the scene that had so captured him.

I believe now it was the purity of the moment. The world was in alignment, with nature acting in accordance with its own laws and at the same time displaying Santiago the two of the possibles that consume human life—joy and community. 

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The Old Man and the Sea Review: Earnest Hemingway's Pulitzer Prize Winning Novel
  • Story
  • Characters
  • Setting
  • Writing Style
  • Dialogue
  • Conclusion
  • Lasting Effect on Reader
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The Old Man and the Sea Review

Even though The Old Man and the Sea is a short novel, it has a powerful impact. Santiago’s world, although simple, is incredibly moving and memorable. He suffers through poverty and hardship for little reward. His few pleasures, being on the sea, speaking with his young friend, and baseball are meager. But, all that makes him somehow easier to connect with.

When Santiago goes on to sea, trying once again to break his streak of unsuccessful fish trips, he embarks on a journey that pushes him to his absolute limits. The reader is asked to consider the value of life, their own capacity for suffering, and how if long they could persevere in the face of what Santiago stands up against.

Pros

  • Hemingway’s writing style is incredibly effective.
  • The characters are vibrant easy to connect with.
  • Hemingway successfully uses imagery and memories to create a moving inner narrative when Santiago is at sea.

Cons

  • Limited dialogue. Most of the actions play out through narration.
  • Disappointing conclusion for Santiago who suffered for nothing.
  • Reader is left wondering what happens to Santiago at the end of the novel.
Emma Baldwin
About Emma Baldwin
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues on Book Analysis.

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