The Old Man and the Sea Questions and Answers
by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea book cover
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In The Old Man and the Sea, describe the appearance of the great marlin. Describe the human characteristics the old man attributes to the great marlin. Why does the old man do this?

In The Old Man and the Sea, the great marlin is described as if it embodied human strength and intelligence. For example, the old man describes the fish as having a fight with “no panic in it.” The contrast between the descriptions of the marlin's strength and the old man’s weary body suggests that the old man wishes he possessed the same characteristics as the fish.

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He took the bait like a male and he pulls like a male and his fight has no panic in it. I wonder if he has any plans or if he is just as desperate as I am?

This quote illustrates the masculine strength the old man observes in the fish and represents why the old man describes the fish with human characteristics. The man struggles to kill the fish, in large part because his body is experiencing the physical decay that comes with old age. Consider how he worries about cramps and how he frequently wishes that he had help from the boy who used to work for him. These details show that the old man feels weak. When he sees the fish’s almost effortless resistance, he is envious. In the fish it’s as if he sees the masculine strength of his human youth that is so different from the anxiety he now feels about his weakened body.

Because he is in awe of the fish’s strength, the old man continues to describe it like a human throughout the story. Some of these comparisons are physical, such as when he compares the fish’s smooth reentrance into the water to that of a diver. Other comparisons deal more with intellect. For instance, consider how the man ponders the fish’s motivations.

I wonder why he jumped, the old man thought. He jumped almost as though to show me how big he was. I know now, anyway, he thought.

Here we see the old man attributing human motivation to an animal’s survival instincts.

There are of course many possible reasons why the old man could use such comparisons. However, analysis of some of the old man’s personal statements suggest some strong ones. Recall what the old man plainly states after reflecting on the fish’s jump: “I wish I was the fish." Based on the human-like comparisons he made before, it is implied that the old man doesn’t want to be a literal fish in the water but rather possess the ability to showcase his inner strength as effortlessly as the great marlin.

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