The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway

First published in 1952, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway received immediate acclaim, winning the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and contributing to Hemingway winning the 1954 Nobel Prize for literature. It is the story of an old Cuban fisherman who tries to overcome a long run of bad luck by sailing his skiff far out into the Gulf Stream. He hooks a huge marlin with who battles him for three days before succumbing. On the long sail back to Cuba, though, he has to battle a steady stream of sharks for his prize, which he had strapped to the side of his skiff, and despite killing five of them they eventually strip it to the bone.

Style and Symbolism

Unlike the realistic, almost journalistic, style of Hemingway’s other fiction, The Old Man and the Sea tends to be lyrical and highly symbolic. It romanticises such things as the relationship between the fisherman and the giant marlin in a manner without precedent in his earlier work. It also draws many parallels between biblical allusions and symbols and life in the twentieth century and builds on his previous novels’ near obsession with masculinity to propose almost a Religion of Machismo.


The Old Man and the Sea is basically about honour, courage, determination, and pride. It portrays the fisherman as constantly struggling against defeat, and although in the end the struggle destroys him, he remains defiantly an undefeated man. Engaging in the struggle itself is a source of honour, especially when, as in his battles with the sharks, it is hopeless. It portrays the ultimate inevitability of destruction as enabling those with courage and determination to prove themselves. As with the greatest Greek tragedies, the fisherman’s pride is the source of his destruction, something that he acknowledges, but the book presents this pride as a source of greatness rather than as a tragic flaw.
The old man and the sea – Ernest Hemingway

© Image via Wikimedia Commons – „Cuban Fisherman“ by Emmanuel Huybrechts
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