What are the roles that "the sea" plays in "the old man and the sea"? thank you

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As with Derek Walcott's poem, "The Sea is History," the sea tells its own tales.  Those who venture on it do so on its terms, not man's.   The sea is timeless, eternal, has no history.  It is a god unto itself.

There are three levels of nature in the novella: the sea, land, and the air.  Man is confined to land; fish to the sea; birds to the air.  Of the three, land and air are transparent: we can see them with little obscurity.  But the sea, especially far out, is unfathomable.  It holds mystery, secrets.

It is a metaphor for Santiago's journey.  The only way he can hook his great fish is to venture far out, to risk not being able to return.  He does so, hooks the fish, but suffers on the return.  This is akin to The Odyssey, where Odysseus (successful on land in defeating Troy) must suffer at sea (10 years before returning home).

There are two types of fish that come from the sea: the marlin and the sharks.  The marlin is Santiago's brother; the shark his enemy.  If one reads the novella from a metafictional perspective, the marlin then is the novella itself; the sharks are literary critics who take a "bite out" of the artist's work.  The sea, therefore, is the literary community, an artistic journey in which an author must venture far out (try to write a work unlike any others), hook a great fish (finish what in his eyes is a great novel), only to have it eaten away (torn apart by critics).


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The Old Man and the Sea

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