What is the author's purpose in the book The Old Man and the Sea?

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The Old Man and the Sea is a short fictional novel. Nowhere in the story does Hemingway tell readers why he wrote it, and thus all critics can do is speculate about his motivations and examine external evidence.

First, Hemingway was a professional writer. This means that, in addition to...

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The Old Man and the Sea is a short fictional novel. Nowhere in the story does Hemingway tell readers why he wrote it, and thus all critics can do is speculate about his motivations and examine external evidence.

First, Hemingway was a professional writer. This means that, in addition to loving writing and being dedicated to his craft, he relied on writing to earn his living. Although Hemingway had a substantial investment portfolio by 1951, members of his family suffered many medical problems, and he tended to worry about money.

This work was also written during a period where his earlier spectacular successes had tapered off and he was trying to re-establish his reputation. He claimed that The Old Man and the Sea was written in eight weeks when he was angry about the critical reception of a previous work and that it was intended as literary vindication.

Also, at this period, Hemingway suffered from many health issues himself (some brought on by his heavy drinking). In this book, he may well have been expressing his own feelings as someone who had been strong and athletic and loved fishing but was struggling, like Santiago, with physical decline.

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Hemingway's purpose is to write both a realistic and allegorical novella that mirrors his own twilight in his writing career.

The novel is very realistic.  Hemingway lived in Cuba and was an active fisherman himself.  Hemingway was quoted in saying he wanted to write about a real fisherman:

There isn't any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is the old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are sharks, no better, no worse.

Hemingway is a bit too literal here: there's plenty of symbolism.  One cannot write a novel about a man and a giant fish without symbolic and allegorical connotations (think Jonah and the whale).

His purpose, allegorically, is to write a parable in which an old man achieves greatness and yet continues to suffer with dignity--much like his own career as a writer.  Hemingway wrote Old Man when he was an old man nearing his end (he committed suicide a few years after), and the novella garnered him the Nobel Prize in 1954 for:

"...his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style."

Just as Santiago suffers against age and the elements, so too was Hemingway suffering against mental health and a literary community that said he was washed up (pun intended).

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