The Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemingway

“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.” This is how Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea begins. From a narrative standpoint, this opening is brilliant. In one sentence, it establishes a main character, a scene, and both an external and internal problem—that he is lonely and that he hasn’t caught any fish for a really long time.

The Old Man and the Sea by Earnest HemingwayOLD MAN AND THE SEA. by EARNEST HEMMINGWAY
Published by CHAS. SCRIBNER & Son on 1952
Genres: Classics, Literature, American
Pages: 139
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For those who love a story that creates atmosphere, Ernest Heminway’s The Old Man and the Sea is for you. Emotionally driven and philosophical at its core, The Old Man and the Sea tells a story of an unnamed old man who sets out upon the waters of the Gulf of Mexico to catch fish after eighty-four days of bad luck. Not a single catch. When the largest fish he has ever seen bites on his line, he holds on tight as he questions the purpose of his actions, of fishing, and of life. If he manages to catch the fish, he preserves his dignity but denies the fish its own, but if he doesn’t catch it, his livelihood is at stake.

This story is one of my favorites for its simplicity and sound narrative structure. Hemingway is a master of creating characters who feel real—characters you can’t help but want to follow. On the surface, this story isn’t complicated by any means. It’s a tale of the sea, the old man, and the fish he tries to catch. Of all of Hemingway’s tales, however, this one is by far the most allegorical, so pay close attention to the abundant symbolism hiding on every page of this book! You won’t regret it!

Hemingway and the Lost Generation

Back in the 20s, a writer named Gertrude Stein called the modernist writers of her time (such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, and Hemingway himself) the “Lost Generation.” It was a way to describe their attitude in writing—the way that they all wrote aimlessly, lamenting over the purposelessness of life.

Pretty sad, isn’t it? Part of the reason for this was because the earth had just experienced the first world war and now everything was different. The values that were inherited from the previous generation were no longer applicable in such a hostile and unstable world that had experienced so much death.

As the title suggests, the story is a battle between the Old Man and the hopelessness embodied in the Sea. Unlike most of Hemingway stories, The Old Man and the Sea is surprisingly allegorical. Metaphors and symbolism are abundant. One of the most powerful is the fish itself, which the old man talks to and calls his brother. At one point, late in the night, while he is still trying to reel in the fish, he looks up to the stars and reflects on the dignity of the fish: “I do not understand these things, he thought. But it is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers.” 

The Old Man and the Sea in Curriculum

I have come to really appreciate sources that give me background on the author and time period that help draw out the author's vision for their work and not merely my own reaction to the piece. That's exactly what Apologia has done for high schoolers with their latest American Literature curriculum. It is well-written, thought-provoking, and masterfully curated. I'm excited to have a guide that will help my daughter explore American literature from a biblical worldview.

Read more here

the old man and the sea

I first read The Old Man and the Sea in the Challenge I program of Classical Conversations when I was in the ninth grade. The reading this year focuses on American authors, and this novel is a short and safe dip into this existential author's worldview and feelings of the meaninglessness of life.


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