Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
The Old Man and the Sea, although usually called a novel, is not divided into chapters; yet, at 27,500 words it is too long to be called a short story. Efforts to split it into recognizably separate parts are haphazard at best, because its simple action moves along a time line of morning, noon, sunset, midnight, and dawn, which is then repeated, and with little reminiscing by the protagonist and no interpolations by the author.
The action may be arbitrarily, but perhaps helpfully, divided into introduction, three dramatic sections, denouement, and coda. In this introduction, the reader learns that for forty days Santiago fished off Havana in the Gulf Stream, aided by his friend and admirer Manolin, and then for forty-four more days alone, all without success. In part 1, the action begins. On the eighty-fifth day, Santiago rows his skiff “far out” and at noon hooks an enormous male marlin. In part 2, the fish is so strong that it tows Santiago’s skiff northwest into the night and beyond. The following afternoon, the old man first sees his quarry when it suddenly surfaces. All through the second night, it tows the old man, whose hands are cut and whose back is strained. It circles at dawn, and Santiago harpoons it at noon and lashes it alongside the skiff. In part 3, a mako shark attacks and devours part of the marlin. Santiago kills the shark, but his fear that more sharks will follow the bloody wake is soon confirmed by their awesome...
(The entire section is 498 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Caribbean Sea. Branch of the North Atlantic Ocean that surrounds Cuba. The sea contributes to the sense of fatalism in the primary character. Alone on the vast expanses of the sea, Santiago, the “old man” of the title, suggests a symbolic understanding of human alienation amid an indifferent world. The sea functions as a backdrop for his reflections of his interior being, thus reinforcing themes of loneliness, struggle, and courage. Ernest Hemingway says of Santiago, “He looked across the sea and knew how alone he was now.” His loneliness, however, is also comforted by the sea, as he knows that no man is ever completely alone on the sea.
The desolation of the open sea overwhelms the character, suggesting man’s relative insignificance, yet in this vast space, a courageous man finds beauty and solace by understanding his relationship to the environment. For Santiago, this relationship is like that of a man and woman (again reinforcing the man’s solitary existence). He understands the sea as la mar, a feminine noun in Spanish, something to be loved, something that gives or withholds great favors. In contrast, others understand the sea to be masculine, el mar, a rival or even an enemy.
Despite Santiago’s understanding of the aesthetic nature of his relationship to the sea, the sea itself is ultimately a violent, dangerous place on which survival becomes a primary goal and the ability to survive is the cardinal virtue. It is a place where predators feed on lesser forms of life, and Santiago’s struggle with the fish and with the sharks who feed on it illustrates that man also participates within this vicious cycle. Human existence is about surviving in a beautiful but hostile environment.
Santiago’s shack. This place reveals the man’s poverty. Symbolically, it functions as a place where he retreats each night in humility before going out at daylight to fish and survive. It is a returning to the womb, demonstrating man’s longed for comfort in stark contrast to the hostilities on the sea.
*Havana. Capital and principal city of Cuba, in sight of which Santiago has long done his fishing. Its opulent urban setting contrasts with Santiago’s simple village and his daily struggle to catch and sell fish.
Ideas for Group Discussions
Topics for Discussion
Ideas for Reports and Papers
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
For Further Reference
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Brenner, Gerry. “The Old Man and the Sea”: Story of a Common Man. New York: Twayne, 1991. Sets the novella’s literary and historical contexts and discusses its critical reception. Considers the novella’s structure, character, style, psychology, and biographical elements.
Killinger, John. Hemingway and the Dead Gods: A Study in Existentialism. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1960. Compares Hemingway’s views to those of such European existentialists as Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Adds much to the understanding of Santiago’s character.
Sojka, Gregory S. Ernest Hemingway: The...
(The entire section is 217 words.)