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

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What is the role of the sea in 'The Old Man and the Sea?'

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I think for most readers the sea represents nature—but the question is, what attitude should we have about the sea? On the one hand, there is a sense in which the sea, or nature in general, can be seen as indifferent to man. In this reading, the plot of the story is completely arbitrary—there is no reason why Santiago should catch the great fish, nor is there any reason why the fish should be eaten by sharks. Santiago is not “rewarded” or “punished.” He is as much a part of the ecology of the sea as any of the fish he catches.

There is another sense, however, in which the sea functions as test, a challenge to Santiago’s spirit and his “code” as a fisherman. Santiago himself thinks of the sea as a woman:

He always thought of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they...

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