Illustration of a marlin in the water

The Old Man and the Sea

by Ernest Hemingway

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In The Old Man and the Sea, do you see the Old Man's adventure at sea as a triumph or a defeat, and what message is Hemingway trying to convey to the reader from his great encounter?

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In the story, the old man is a fisherman who hooks a large fish and tries to reel him in. The battle between the two lasts for a long time and creates both physical and spiritual tension for the old man. The fish fights the old man and thrashes against the hook that has landed him at the end of the old man’s fishing reel. Yet it is an honorable battle between two experienced adversaries.

We know that the old man is experienced because, after all, he is old and has been fishing the seas for a very long time. Similarly, for the fish to have reached its massive size, probably it is also old. For the old man, the fish represents a new chance and the opportunity to change his circumstances, as he has been unlucky for months and has not caught a fish. For the fish, winning this battle means retaining his life and a chance to return to the open sea.

One of Hemingway’s messages in the story is that sometimes the battle itself is just as important as the prize at the end and to conduct oneself honorably during the battle makes one worthy, even if the prize ultimately proves elusive. To catch this fish would be a triumph for the old man, but just to be in the battle is honorable, as is the ability of each to last for as long as they do. They both endure the lengthy struggle—with the old man holding on to the fishing reel—which is a testament to their perseverance, strength, resolve and will to live.

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