Cover image of The Old Man and the Sea eNotes Lesson Plan

The Old Man and the Sea eNotes Lesson Plan

by eNotes

  • Release Date: February 18, 2020
  • Subjects: Language Arts and Literature
  • Age Levels: Grade 10, Grade 11, Grade 12, and Grade 9
  • Pages: 47
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Document Details


Learning Objectives: 
By the end of this unit, students should be able to

  • describe Santiago and Manolin’s relationship and explain how they are developed as characters; 
  • identify and discuss the concept of manhood as it is defined through the characters; 
  • examine and explain the significance of luck, skill, fate, and free will in regard to Santiago’s fishing and his encounter with the great marlin; 
  • define Hemingway’s distinction between being destroyed and being defeated, and demonstrate how it applies to Santiago; 
  • interpret religious and secular symbolism in the novel. 

Common Core Standards: RL.9-10.1; RL.9-10.2; RL.9-10.3; RL.9-10.4; RL.9-10.5; RL.9-10.10

Introductory Lecture:

Ernest Hemingway published The Old Man and the Sea in 1952, long after most literary critics had presumed he was beyond the height of his powers as a writer. His most celebrated novels and short stories — The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”had all been published in the 1920s and 1930s, and For Whom the Bell Tolls had been published in 1940. His most recent novel, Across the River and into the Trees, had been published in 1950 to punishing reviews. Consequently, critics were not expecting a major work by Hemingway that would restore his literary reputation. The Old Man and the Sea proved them wrong, winning a Pulitzer Prize, and two years after its publication, Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

It’s easy to read The Old Man and the Sea as symbolically autobiographical. When Hemingway wrote it, the literary voices of the Lost Generation were fading into history, and new writers were emerging in the post-World War II era. After enduring the poor reception of Over the River and into the Trees, Hemingway felt he had to prove that he was still relevant as a writer. Just as Santiago, the novel’s aging protagonist, is determined to show that he is still in full command of his skills, Hemingway set out to do the same for himself, writing The Old Man and the Sea in the last years of his life.   

The Old Man and the Sea endures as a great work of literature in large part because it is deceptively simple. The plot focuses almost entirely on one character, Santiago, as he battles a great fish at sea, but through the old Cuban fisherman’s encounter with the fish, Hemingway examines the meaning of courage and the strength of the human spirit. The language in the novel is simple and direct, the sentences straightforward in driving the action in the narrative toward its conclusion. On one level, The Old Man and the Sea is an action-adventure tale that develops two primary conflicts: man vs. nature and man vs. himself. On a deeper level, Hemingway creates the literary symbolism that has been interpreted in different ways since the novel was first published.  

The conflicts in The Old Man and the Sea make the novel appealing to high school students. They can readily relate to Santiago’s longing to prove his worth to his community; they understand Santiago’s need to overcome failure and succeed. Teenage readers also can identify with Manolin’s desire for independence and his struggle to leave boyhood behind and become a man, worthy of respect. The novel is replete with literary motifs that students enjoy discussing, among them luck, fate, friendship, courage, religious faith, and the definition of being a man. Studying the motifs and other literary elements in The Old Man and the Sea promotes discussion that encourages critical thinking. Also, because the novel is easy to read, it provides students with an opportunity for meaningful discussion, regardless of their individual reading skills.


Our eNotes Comprehensive Lesson Plans have been written, tested, and approved by active classroom teachers. Each plan takes students through a text section by section, glossing important vocabulary and encouraging active reading. Each is designed to bring students to a greater understanding of the language, plot, characters, and themes of the text. The main components of each plan are the following:

  • An in-depth introductory lecture
  • Discussion questions
  • Vocabulary lists
  • Section-by-section comprehension questions
  • A multiple-choice test
  • Essay questions
Each plan is divided into a teacher and a student edition. The teacher edition provides complete answer keys for all sections, including example answers for the essay questions.

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