This page must be viewed with IE4 or above, and with Active Scripting enabled.

I’m being towed by the fish… I’ll stay with you until I am dead. He’ll stay with me too, I suppose

The Old Man and The Sea

Ernest Hemingway was one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century. His award winning novel, The Old Man and The Sea is recognized throughout the world as an excellent example of great literature.. The story is about a fisherman who loves his fellow[small boy] and is about the beauty of nature. The story is based on Hemingway’s experiences in the outdoors. Hemingway’s purpose in the story is to show the innocence of the children, the guilt of adults, and the connection between their successes and the laws of nature.

Firstly, Hemingway purposes strives to show the human relationship between the children and the adults. Hemingway indicates that a child respects a person not because of one’s appearance, but what one actually does to the child. This is a reflection of the child’s innocence. The adults [child’s parents], however, are teaching their child so that he responds in a way using the adult’s definition of "normal." The adults by behaving this way are taking away the child’s innocence. The story starts with a brief description of the child and the old man and their conversation:

After forty days without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky.

Santiago: You’re with a lucky boat. Stay with them. Boy: But remember how you went eighty-seven days… Santiago: I remember… I know you did not leave me because you doubted… Boy: It was papa made me leave. I am a boy and I must obey him. Santiago: I know… It is quite normal. (pp. 9-10)

It would be interesting enough to ask us why the boy had to leave the old man. The old man was alone, caught no fish for more than 80 days. In contrast, the "lucky boat" had many fishermen and caught three fish within a week. The parents told the boy not to go out with the old man anymore just because of the old man’s luck, and the boy had to obey them. The parents did not care who the old man was actually. The boy, however, seemed to love the old man more than the "lucky boat," and he was very opposed to his parents’ reactions. The old man treated the boy very nicely, and the boy remembered this. The boy respected the old man, and the boy never forgot his experience:

Boy: If I cannot fish with you, I would like to serve in someway. I remember everything from when we first went together. May I get the sardines ? The boy took the old army blanket off the bed and spread it over the back of the chair and over the man’s shoulders… I must have water here for him, he thought, and soap and a good towel… "Do you want coffee?" the boy asked… (pp.12-13, 18, 21, 26)

Hemingway clearly indicated in the beginning of the story that understanding of humans is very important ; the age, the appearance, luck or anything that does not relate to one’s actual action or kindness is not important for building a great human relationship. The child is an example of someone who understands each individual person because of his innocence, but the society often takes child’s innocence away, and makes child’s view change so that the child does not get involved in whatever society does not consider as normal.

Secondly, Hemingway shows the importance of "challenging." Hemingway indicates that success does not come quickly and easily. It requires a lot of efforts, and that when one accomplishes one’s dreams, one earns happiness and pride. Hemingway’s character development clearly show us a theme of contentment. In the course of the story, the old man said many times, "My big fish must be somewhere." The old man continued to seek his success for again near three months ! The old man never gave up:

Maybe today. Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. (p.32)

What was important for him [the old man] was not time. He believed that he would make it, and he kept fishing all the while for wishing success. The result – he caught a big fish. Hemingway did not finish the story soon later after the old man caught the fish. The journey of the old man continued. The old man now had to pull up the fish. The fish was so heavy, and the old man feared drowning together with the fish. Later, we would discover that the fish was a dolphin. It was no wonder why it was not easy for a man to pull the dolphin up ! The old man again did not give up:

I’ll do something. There are plenty of things I can do. He saw that no land was visible. That makes no difference. I should not been a fisherman. But that was the thing that I was born for.

I’ll stay with you until I am dead. (PP. 45, 46, 50, 52)

And the old man was tired and hungry. He tried to think of other things to divert:

He was very tired now… he tried to think of other things… Big Leagues… Yankees of New York… Tigres of Detroit… (PP 67-68)

As well, he only brought a bottle of water when he left. However, ironically, what he actually said was that he felt good and better for himself:

I feel good and my left hand is better… (P. 74)

The old man successfully killed the dolphin. Hemingway, again did not finish the story. The old man’s journey did not stop. This time, the old man had to defeat a number of sharks. He was afraid of sharks at the beginning, but he challenged himself, and he finally killed the sharks:

When the old man saw him coming he knew that this was a shark that had no fear at all and would do exactly what he wished… I cannot keep him from hitting me but maybe I can get him. (P. 101)

In addition, it is interesting to see that ironically the sharks went away from the old man. It took a long time, but the old man eventually succeeded. Hemingway’s character development did not stop. The old man now was returning. When the old man got back to shore, the dolphin meat was all gone. Wasn’t the old man’s effort worth anything at all ? Next day, ironically, the town people found the part of dolphin that was left, and they were surprised to see what the old man did – the big dolphin that was never seen [although only the bone left].

Many fishermen… Measuring the skeleton with a length of line… "How is he ?" one of the fishermen shouted. (P. 122)

Now, the old man was a hero among the town fishermen. He felt good about himself, and hoped to go fishing soon again. Understanding the character is essential to understand the purpose of the story. In the story, Hemingway illustrates that the success does not come quickly by his character development. His development of the old man helps us to understand the purpose of the story. He implies that with one’s effort, one will accomplish success eventually. Not only the character, but Hemingway also used imagery to illustrate the theme, and it plays an important role. Take, for example, the lions. The old man’s journey starts with the lions and ends with the lions. At the beginning, the old man says, "He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach." (P. 25) The last sentence of the story was: "The old man was dreaming about the lions." We know that the actual lions have strong power. In the story, the lions symbolize one’s opponents that one must defeat. It is significant that the lions have a larger meaning in respect to the purpose of the story.

Thirdly, Hemingway mentions the significance of nature in the story many times. Hemingway indicates that one must destroy others for one’s survival or else one may become a victim of others who look for survival. The character of the old man clearly shows the theme of survival. The old man went fishing not only because he really enjoyed fishing, but also he had to do so for his survival. He had to kill others [fish] in order to keep himself alive. The old man says:

You must eat him in the morning. (P. 48)

During the journey, he encountered situations for many times that he either would become a killer or a victim of the killer. The old man successfully killed the fish; However, if he had not killed the big fish or the sharks, then they might have destroyed the old man.

I’m being towed by the fish… I’ll stay with you until I am dead. He’ll stay with me too, I suppose (PP. 45, 52-53) You are going to have to die… do you have to kill me, too ? You are killing me… you have a right to. (P. 92)

After he killed the shark, he commented:

Everyone kills everything in some way. (P 106)

The author indicates that humans are the part of nature. We are not alone on the planet. We are friends of others and vice versa. In the story, the old man referred to virtually everything (does not limit to the creatures) that he saw as the "friends." In the course of the story, the old man said:

He was very found of flying fish as they were his principle friends on the ocean. Stay at my house if you like, bird… I cannot hoist the sail… I am with a friend [big fish].

He looked around for the bird now because he would have liked him for company.

You loved him [the shark] when he was alive and you loved him after.

The wind is our friend… Bed is my friend… (PP. 29, 55-56, 105, 120)

Overall, I liked the story, The Old Man and The Sea. I recommend the book

Back to Home page
Last Updated: December 11, 1998