The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea book cover
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What happens in The Old Man and the Sea?

In The Old Man and the Sea, an aging Cuban fisherman struggles to make his living. He hasn’t caught anything for 84 days and has lost his apprentice, Manolin. He finally catches an enormous marlin, but sharks gradually eat it as he attempts to bring it back to shore.

The Old Man and the Sea summary key points:

  • Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman, has lost his beloved young apprentice Manolin. Manolin, although unable to continue working for Santiago, continues to bring him food and bait.

  • On his 85th consecutive day without catching anything, Santiago takes his boat far out into the Gulf Stream, where he finds good omens and hooks a marlin so large that it begins to pull his boat.

  • Santiago struggles with the marlin for two days, during which time he comes to respect and admire the great fish despite his own injuries and exhaustion.

  • On the third day, Santiago manages to harpoon the marlin—the largest he has ever seen—and secure it to the side of his boat. It will fetch an enormous price.

  • On the return journey, sharks begin to circle his boat, and though Santiago fights off several sharks, his great marlin is reduced to bones by the time he returns to the harbor. Manolin cares for him, and they make plans to fish together soon.

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(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

For eighty-four days, old Santiago has not caught a single fish. At first a young boy, Manolin, shared his bad fortune, but after the fortieth luckless day, the boy’s father tells his son to go in another boat. From that time on, Santiago works alone. Each morning he rows his skiff out into the Gulf Stream, where the big fish are. Each evening he comes home empty-handed.

The boy loves the old fisherman and pities him. When Manolin has no money of his own, he begs or steals to make sure that Santiago has enough to eat and has fresh baits for his lines. The old man accepts his kindness with a humility that is like a quiet kind of pride. Over their evening meals of rice or black beans, they talk about the fish they had caught in luckier times or about American baseball and the great Joe DiMaggio. At night, alone in his shack, Santiago dreams of lions on the beaches of Africa, where he had gone on a sailing ship years before. He no longer dreams of his dead wife.

On the eighty-fifth day, Santiago rows out of the harbor in the cool dark before dawn. After leaving the smell of land behind him, he sets his lines. Two of his baits are fresh tunas the boy had given him, as well as sardines to cover his hooks. The lines sink straight down into deep dark water. As the sun rises, he sees other boats in toward shore, which is only a low green line on the sea. A hovering man-of-war bird shows him where dolphins are chasing some flying fish, but the school is moving too fast and is too far away. The bird circles again. This time Santiago sees tuna leaping in the sunlight. A small one takes the hook on his stern line. Hauling the quivering fish aboard, the old man thinks it a good omen.

Toward noon, a marlin starts nibbling at the bait, which is one hundred fathoms down. Gently the old man plays the fish, a big one, as he knows from the weight on the line. At last, he strikes to settle the hook. The fish does not surface. Instead, it begins to tow the skiff to the northwest. The old man braces himself, the line taut across his shoulders. He is skilled and knows many tricks; he waits patiently for the fish to tire.

The old man shivers in the cold that comes after sunset. When something takes one of his remaining baits, he cuts the line with his sheath knife. The fish lurches suddenly, pulling Santiago forward on his face, cutting his cheek. By dawn, his left hand is stiff and cramped. The fish has headed northward; there is no land in sight. Another strong tug on the line slices Santiago’s right hand. Hungry, he cuts strips from the tuna and chews them slowly while he waits for the sun to warm him and ease his cramped fingers.

That morning the fish jumps. Seeing it leap, Santiago knows...

(The entire section is 1,825 words.)