Monday, July 4, 2011

Old Man and the Sea Character Study

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Earnest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea � Character Analysis

The Old Man and the Sea is the story of an epic struggle between an old, seasoned fisherman and the greatest catch of his life. The Old Man and the Sea demonstrates through its characters the honor in struggle, defeat, and death. Further, it shows pride as the source of greatness and determination. For eighty-four days, Santiago, an aged Cuban fisherman, has set out to sea and returned empty-handed. Santiago is so unlucky that that the parents of his young apprentice and friend, Manolin, have forced the boy to leave the old man to fish on a more prosperous boat.

Manolin is Santiagos only friend and companion. Santiago taught Manolin to fish, and the boy used to go out to sea with the old man until his parents objected to Santiagos continuous bad luck. Regardless of his parents’ demands, the boy continues to care for the old man upon his return each night. He helps the old man tote his gear to his ramshackle hut, secures food for him, and discusses the latest developments in American baseball. Manolin provides the old man with food and bait when he needs it. The character of the young boy is present only in the beginning and at the end of The Old Man and the Sea, but his presence is important because Manolins devotion to Santiago highlights Santiagos value as a person and as a fisherman.

Manolin demonstrates his love for Santiago openly. He makes sure that the old man has food, blankets, and can rest without being bothered. The Classic Notes website suggests, “Manolin is the readers surrogate in the novel, appreciating Santiagos heroic spirit and skill despite his outward lack of success.” By the end of the book, the boy abandons his duty to his father. Manolin swears that he will sail with the old man regardless of the consequences when he states, “..there is much that I can learn and you can teach me everything.” (Hemingway, 16) At the end of the novel, Manolin serves as a symbol of uncompromised love and fidelity. As the old mans apprentice, he also represents the life that will follow after death. His dedication to learning from the old man ensures that Santiago will live on.

Custom Essays on Old Man and the Sea Character Study

The Old Man and the Sea provides a detailed study of one character � the old man, Santiago. He appears in all but two scenes in the novel and, for much of the story he is the only human character. Santiago endures a great struggle with an uncommonly large Marlin only to lose the fish to sharks on his way back to land. Despite this loss, the novel ends with Santiago’s spirit undefeated. The reader is provided with a deep insight into Santiago’s motivations and inner workings.

The All Hemingway website notes, “Santiago is a complex, multi-faceted character. He is humble and unpretentious. His simple life and recent lack of success mean that he has nothing � he has no food, his sail is patched and he relies on Manolin for bait and other supplies. Yet at the same time he has the courage to continue to dream. He sets off on a quest not just to catch a fish, but to catch the biggest fish he has ever caught. To do this he is willing to go far beyond the limits of younger, more successful fishermen and to test his physical and mental endurance.”

Much of the story deals with Santiagos pride. His pride is what enables him to endure. His commitment to sailing out farther than any fisherman has sailed before, to where the big fish promise to swim, further demonstrates the depth of his pride. This pride enables him to achieve his most true and complete self.

Santiago is a poor fisherman yet he never complains about his station in life. Rather, he is stoic about his position; Santiago is hard working and has pride. This pride later contributes to his battle with the fish. When he states, Anyone can be a fisherman in May Santiago shows his appreciation of both hard work and the reward of fishing. (Hemingway, 18) Although fish are easier to catch in temperate weather when fishing is less pleasant, the fish themselves are of higher quality, and must be fought for at other times.

Santiago’s accomplishment helps him earn the deeper respect of the village fisherman and secures him the prized companionship of the boy. The Spark Notes website character analysis states, “Santiago’s endurance matters the most in Hemingways conception of the world�a world in which death and destruction, as part of the natural order of things, are unavoidable. Hemingway seems to believe there are only two options defeat or endurance until destruction; Santiago clearly chooses the latter.”

As the title The Old Man and the Sea suggests, the sea is central character in the novel. Most of the story takes place on the sea, and its inhabitants are like Santiago’s brothers. Santiago refers to the sea as a woman, and the sea seems to represent the feminine complement to Santiagos masculinity. The old man has a love and respect for the sea not felt by the other fishermen. He calls her la mar” a feminine form, full of love, whereas the younger men call her by the masculine el mar”, seeing her as an opposing force to be conquered. The sea also keeps him company � healing his wounded hands and bringing him safely home. Yet, at the same time, he battles the sea. It provides shelter for his adversary, the fish. To successfully catch the fish and get it home, he must do battle with sea and its inhabitants. In the end it is the creatures of the sea, the sharks, who deprive Santiago of complete victory.

Although he does not speak and we do not have access to his thoughts, the Marlin is certainly an important character in the story. The Marlin is the fish Santiago spends the majority of the novel tracking, killing, and attempting to bring to shore. The Marlin is larger and more spirited than any fish Santiago has ever seen. The reader learns at the end of the novel that the fish measured 18 feet in length.

Santiago hooks the Marlin on the first afternoon of his fishing expedition. Because of the Marlins great size, Santiago is unable to pull the fish in, and the two become engaged in a tug-of-war that often seems more like an alliance than a struggle. The Classic Notes website suggests, “The fishing line serves as a symbol of the fraternal connection Santiago feels with the fish. Santiago idealizes the Marlin, ascribing to it traits of great nobility, a fish to which he must prove his own nobility if he is to be worthy enough to catch it.” When the captured Marlin is later destroyed by sharks, Santiago feels destroyed as well.

Perhaps as the writer, Earnest Heminway himself is a character in The Old Man and The Sea. The Spark Notes website states, “Because Hemingway was a writer who always relied heavily on autobiographical sources, some critics, not surprisingly, eventually decided that the novella served as a thinly veiled attack upon them. According to this reading, Hemingway was the old master at the end of his career being torn apart by�but ultimately triumphing over�critics on a feeding frenzy.” Finally, The Hemingway Reader concludes, “Hemingway received a belated Pulitzer Prize for The Old Man and The Sea and was acclaimed as an old master. It was as if he somehow took on the age of the old fisherman, who in this book for three days faces with valor, humor and humility the powers, darkness and unreason of the everlasting sea.” (64)

Classic Notes. Harvard College. 8 April 00.


Hemingway, Earnest. The Old Man and the Sea. New York Simon & Schuster, 15

Lichtenstein, Jesse. Spark Notes Old Man and the Sea. 8 April 00.

Moore, R. Old Man and the Sea Character Analysis. 8 April 00.


Moore, R. Old Man and the Sea Discussion and Analysis. 8 April 00.


Poore, Charles. The Hemingway Reader. New York Charles Scribner’s Sons, 15

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