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A part autobiography and a part fiction, Hemmingway wrote the novella during the twilight years of his waning literary currier. It had almost been 12 years since his previous success “For Whom the Bell Tolls” was published in 1940. The novella brought the Pulitzer Prize for Hemmingway in 1953 and played a major role in his winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954. Santiago, the protagonist, resembles Hemmingway; his “struggle to survive resembles Hemmingway’s struggle to resuscitate his literary currier. This is Hemmingway’s greatest work, a parable of man’s struggle with the natural world and his noble courage and endurance.
The book is set in Cuba, which Hemmingway had a strong link to, having lived in it during the 1930s and the Second World War. In the book, Hemmingway has made Santiago a portrayal partly of himself and partly of his hero. Santiago is also taken partly from the bible, his name and profession being the same as that of St. Santiago who was also a poor angler and his character being similar to that of Christ in terms of love and respect for all gods’ creations, persistence, perseverance and determination. Santiago also represents the life struggle that Hemmingway himself went through and the struggle that everyone faces in his or her daily lives. Hemmingway has picked the Cuban community to show the cultural contrast and contrast in the economic conditions in the U.S. and Cuba, which is its immediate neighbour.
The novella has a very simple and straightforward plot. In the exposition, Hemmingway emphasizes upon the bad luck of the old the man, which becomes a major theme in the books and also the poverty and culture of Cuba, where the plot is set. Manolin, the only other human character to appear directly in the parable is also introduced in the first few lines, special emphasis is placed on the very close relationship him and Santiago share, and how they used to fish together. Unfortunately, the boy (Manolin) is no longer allowed to fish with Santiago by his parents as they consider the old man “salao which is the worst form of unlucky”. The next day, or eighty-five days since his last catch, Santiago goes out far into the sea, where he manages to hook an enormous Marlin. The next three days are spent at sea, where Santiago is patiently waiting for the Marlin to tire and the Marlin is doing the same. It is a great test of Santiago’s strength, skill, endurance and perseverance. Towards the end of the third day, Santiago finally manages to bag the Marlin but he is unable to bring it on his skiff, as it is too small and the Marlin too big. Therefore, he ties the fish to his boat and sets sail home. On the way however, he encounters sharks that try to eat up the Marlin. Santiago fights them with all his might but is finally forced to give up after killing four sharks and injuring 3-4 of them due to a lack of an effective weapon and because the sharks manage to eat up the whole Marlin. The old man returns to mainland, defeated yet victorious, having lost but still optimistic. Here hope comes across as a major theme and driving force, Hemmingway clearly indicates that the old man has not given up at all because the old man prepares for the next time he catches a fish of similar size and how he might better catch and protect. The ending may seem bleak for the most part but the silver lining is that Manolin will fish with the old man again, which, given their relationship, the old man will probably appreciate considerably.
Themes in the extract
Numerous themes are expressed by Hemmingway throughout the book, and most of them are referred to, directly or indirectly, in the first extract.
Theme of perseverance; It comes across as a major theme in the whole book, arguably the most prominent. In the extract, it is represented in the form of the struggle Santiago goes through in his everyday life, how he has to persevere for a catch and how he persevered the last time he had a similar steak of bad luck and how he had a fruit for his effort. The theme represents the life struggle of Hemmingway and of every person
This brings in the theme of luck, which is often mentioned in the book. The book depicts Santiago’s constant struggle with bad his luck, requiring a combination of perseverance, skill and strength to be overcome. In my opinion, the bad luck of Santiago is a depiction of the bad luck faced by Hemmingway himself when he had 12 years continuous years of bad luck where not a single one of his books were successful. All of us face bad luck in our lives Hemmingway is saying that the bad luck in our lives also needs to be addressed in a similar manner, with special emphasis on perseverance and persistence.
Suffering is a theme frequently invoked upon in the novella. The suffering of Santiago in terms of finding sustenance, and suffering of the Cuban fishermen community in general because of the poor economic conditions they live in. This also inculcates the theme of hunger, which is faced by Santiago and the Cubans in their daily lives.
Isolation is a theme that comes across prominently right from the first line of the book right to the end. The first line itself “He was and old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone 84 days now without taking a fish.” Sets the tone for the rest of the parable, where Santiago is isolated from all human beings despite the fact that he keeps his door open to everyone. Everyone faces isolation to an extent in their life, despite efforts they might make to connect with the world. Here Hemmingway does not offer a solution to isolation, put rather presents it as a fact of life, perhaps exploring his own isolation from the world.
Defeat is a theme briefly hinted at in the beginning where the sail looks like a flag of permanent defeat, foreshadowing the defeat of Santiago at the hands of the sharks and giving the plot a gloomy atmosphere.
Respect is a theme that reflects Cuban culture, where people respect each other’s rights, as shown by Manolin respecting his parents’ wishes and Santiago respecting them too.
Friendship and Relationship are themes of paramount importance in the novella, with Hemmingway highlighting them at every point. There is very strong bond between the old man and the boy , them having a relation of a mentor and mentee as well as that of two friends.
Symbolism and Imagery
They parable has a vast array of Symbolism and imagery which is used, although the extract restricts itself to two instances of symbolism.
One is the depiction of Santiago as Christ, with his determination, patience, respect for all, sense of equality, his respect for people’s wishes and the love and feeling of brotherhood he has towards everything.
The other is numeric symbolism, which comes across at three instances:
40 days when the boy was with Santiago, alludes to the period of lent.
87 days Santiago went without fish. Seven is a lucky number for Christians.
He caught big fish every day for three weeks.
To conclude, the old man and the sea is a template on how to live life and how to overcome the difficulties it presents to everyone, one that consists of the struggle Hemmingway himself faced and how he overcame it. The book is layered with meaning, with every line referring to a theme, providing some symbolism and imagery or alluding to something. Hemmingway tells us a lot about life in a very short parable, employing a deceivingly simple style.
In this parable, Hemmingway gives us all a hero who is a combination of many heroes’, someone who leads by example, not hollow words without conviction.
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