What is the major conflict of The Old Man and the Sea?
The central conflict of Hemingway's novella is man vs. nature. Santiago is at odds with nature because he makes his living by it, as a fisherman. However, the sea is not providing him with enough catch to survive on. He is able to catch the large marlin, but the sea will not allow him to have it, and he returns to shore with nothing but the skeleton.
Symbolically, however, the conflict is representative of man's conflict with overpowering forces in society, and man's resilience against those forces. Despite being beaten by the sea, Santiago goes to sleep dreaming of more adventures. He may have been physically beaten, but he is not emotionally beaten.
check Approved by eNotes Editorial