In The Old Man and the Sea, how does the reader learn about the characters? 

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Here are the ways in which authors develop character:

  1. through a physical description of the character'
  2. through the actions of the character
  3. through the thoughts, feelings, and speeches of the character
  4. through the comments and reactions of other characters
  5. through the direct statement of the writer that indicate his/her opinion of the character

In The Old Man and the Sea, author Ernest Hemingway employs omniscient narrator to develop his protagonist, Santiago.  He first gives a physical description of Santiago:

The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck.  The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection of the tropic sea were on his checks....But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert.

This technique of omniscient narrator can be used effectively also to reveal a character's inner thoughts, impressions, and feelings. Moreover, the author's technique allows him the opportunity to develop a character in a continuous manner if he wishes.  For instance, when Santiago is at sea for days in his struggle with the marlin and against the sharks, Santiago reveals much of his philosophies through his thoughts as when he first hooks the great fish:

Then he [the fish] will turn and swallow it, he thought.  He did not say that because he knew that if you said a good thing it might not happen.

Hemingway also uses the words of Santiago to reveal his character. While he is at sea, Santiago carries on short monologues, such as the one when he realizes he could use help in bringing in the marlin:

"I wish I had the boy," the old man said aloud. "I'm being towed by a fish and I'm the towing bitt.  I could make the line fast. But then he could break it.  I must hold him all I can and give him line when he must have it...."

Another method of characterization that is exhibited in the narrative is the use of the comments and reactions of other characters about the protagonist. When, for example, Santiago returns, the boy tells the old man that he has caught fish, but now they will fish together.

"No. I am not lucky.  I am not lucky anymore."

"The hell with luck," the boy said.  "I'll bring the luck with me."

"What will your family say?"

"I do not care.  I caught two yesterday.  But we will fish together now for I still have much to learn."

The boy's admiration and love for Santiago is clearly evident through this dialogue.

 

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