Critical Analysis of Hemingway's Novel "The Old Man and the Sea"

Published: 2024-01-23
Critical Analysis of Hemingway's Novel "The Old Man and the Sea"
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Literature Ernest Hemingway American literature The Old Man and the Sea
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1845 words
16 min read

Life is full of challenges that every living being should be prepared for. On various occasions, people have to endure some of these challenges throughout their lives. In The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway evaluates the life of an old fisherman. Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on 21 July 1899 in Cicero, now referred to as Oak Park- Illinois, United States (Philip, Para 1). He is remembered as a novelist and a short story writer from America. He received a Nobel Prize for literature in 1954 (Philip, Para 1). He was recognized for his prowess in writing and the adventurous and his publicized life. His methods of writing had a significant influence on American and British fiction back in the 20th century. The Old Man and the Sea is a short story written in 1952, which was later awarded a Pulitzer Prize for fiction (Philip, Para 1). The novel is one of the last major works he wrote about fiction. The story revolves around an old fisherman who experiences struggles and hardship in catching a giant fish. The essay evaluates how symbolism, theme, and imagery were used to analyze the novel’s understanding. The essay evaluates how Hemingway’s Novel critically analyzed the novel The Old Man and the Sea.

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Symbolism is depicted in various ways in the novel. One of the ways is the big fish “marlin” that Santiago had caught (Hemingway, 35). Marlin, in this novel, symbolizes the last chance that determines life or death (Sandamali, 126). In the novel, Hemingway uses Marlin’s struggle with death which is considered evident to all living beings at one point in life (Sandamali, 126). Marlin struggles to escape without succeeding (Hemingway, 35). Such struggles elaborate that one will have to endure overwhelming and even hard to get away at certain times in life. On the other side, Santiago tries his best to put the fish in his boat (Hemingway, 36). The old fisherman had been unable to catch any fish for the last 84 days (Hemingway, 5). Santiago was determined not to lose that opportunity of going back empty-handed as in the previous days. The lions in his dreams symbolize his lost youthfulness when he is stronger (Hemingway, 39). When he needed strength on his tiresome voyage, he would think of his dreams of the lions and acquire strength through dreams (Sandamali, 126). As Hemingway puts it, “He only dreamed of places now and the lions on the beach” he adds that “They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy” (Hemingway, 39). However, Santiago does not sail with Marlin; the sharks smell and evade eating the fish. The fisherman remains with just the skeleton. The sharks in this novel symbolize those obstacles that surface to extinguish someone’s success (Sandamali, 126). In the novel, they destroy the older man’s awaited celebration, diminishing his hopes. Even though he killed some of them, he ended up sailing with a skeleton (Hemingway, 41). As narrated by Hemingway, “the sharks came in a rush, and the old man hit him as he shut his jaws; he further adds that “He hit him solidly and from as high up as he could raise the club” (Hemingway, 39). The use of symbolism has been used to analyze the novel critically.

Another form of symbolism is the lost harpoon. Santiago lost the harpoon while fighting the sharks that had evaded eating his catch. The harpoon symbolizes fishermen’s power in the sea (Sandamali, 127). As Hemingway says, “he hit it with his blood-mushed hands driving a good harpoon with all his strength” (Hemingway, 41). He adds that “he took my harpoon too and all the rope and now my fish bleeds again, and there will be others.” The harpoon was his last weapon; losing it elaborates his vulnerability in case of any danger. The harpoon symbolism is one of the aspects that critically analyze the novel the Old Man and the Sea.

The novel depicts various themes in its flow. One of the themes is love; the understanding between the old fisherman Santiago and the boy he was mentoring Manolin was full of love. Even though Malone was young, they seemed to have an understanding of each other (Hemingway, 8). Even though nature was the root source of Santiago’s misfortunes, he had to endure all the challenges incurred. With all the barriers Santiago experienced, love was the only force that encouraged him to continue striving. The good relationship between the two had grown over times of Malonin’s childhood days (Hemingway, 5). Santiago acted as his mentor, equipping him with fishing skills (Hemingway, 7). He acted as a strong pillar to Manolin as he gave him the companion and sense of self-worth that the boy lacked from his father. Manolin trusted and respected the old fisherman, and from time to time, he would bring food for him (Hemingway,10). He sympathized with the man on their bad days, such as the suffering he endured in fighting Marlin. The novel also elaborates on Manolin’s plans for the forthcoming winter (Hemingway, 43). He plans to take care of Santiago by providing him with water and clothes. Santiago’s love does not just end with Manolin; he extends it to others, even his wife. Even though he had to remove her portraits after she died, it was purely to help him feel lonely. He even shows love to his friend Pederico. Despite his suffering, he still sends him fish heads that he can use as bait (Hemingway, 47). Despite the suffering he endured from nature, he still loved living creatures from fish, turtles, and even birds. Santiago often described his love for the sea as a woman who gives or even withholds favor (Hemingway, 3). Thus, elaborating how love is analyzed in the novel.

The other theme in the novel is the human condition. The Old Man in the Sea describes the human condition as struggling. The life in the Cuban village circulates mostly on the struggles of fishing (Hemingway, 1). Though with all the misfortune, Santiago still strives to make ends meet without getting discouraged. He struggled and managed to catch a marlin longer than his boat, only to lose it (Hemingway, 35). Hemingway elaborates on human conditions with a story that revolves around Santiago, an old fisherman. Santiago is described as a blessed man who is intelligent in doing great things and dreaming big (Hemingway, 6). The great skill and experience of the fisherman become evident when he manages to hook the marlin. He even devises a way to conserve his strength for the proper landing of the catch (Hemingway, 36). On many occasions, people endure much suffering that might even cost them their valuables and their dreams. In the novel, Santiago goes far away from the mainland to fulfill his dream of catching the marlin (Hemingway, 32). He ends up cutting his hands, and at the same time, he loses the fish to the sharks going back with the skeleton (Hemingway, 43). The novel elaborates on the struggles humans have to endure to achieve their dreams. To attain the goals of life, it is vital to learn how to persevere and be encouraged with the little efforts made. Santiago experienced all the misfortune, but he still dreams of the lions he saw back in Africa when he was young (Hemingway, 47). He even hopes to then once again. The struggle endured by Santiago elaborates how the novel critically analyzes the theme of human conditions.

Imagery is also one of the aspects analyzed in the novel. Santiago creates imagery of Jesus Christ. It also depicts the nature of human beings that do not accept defeat in life. The novel depicts crucifixion imagery, the sacrifice, and the glory attained. In the imagery, Hemingway creates a parallel symbol between Santiago and Jesus Christ. The reader imagines Jesus’ suffering when the fisherman cuts his hand. Just like Jesus Christ endured the pain, Santiago struggled with the cut. The arrival of the sharks creates an imagery of crucifixion (Hemingway, 40). As Hemingway narrated, Santiago made a noise similar to that of Jesus being nailed (Hemingway, 42). The nose was due to the pain he endured while trying to take the fish on the shore (Hemingway, 37). Besides, the image of the fisherman straining to climb a hill creates the imagery of Jesus Christ carrying the cross to Calvary to be crucified (Hemingway, 47). The position assumed by Santiago as he rests in his bed is also imagery. The fisherman rests facing down, stretching his arms out with the palms raised (Hemingway, 46). His position creates an imagery of Jesus Christ, enduring pain on the cross. The images on the final page are aimed at associating Santiago with Jesus Christ in the bible. Jesus Christ encountered many challenges but did not give up on his goal. Santiago also struggles to take Marlin to the off-show and tries so hard to fight the sharks. He ends up losing the fish as he arrives only with the skeleton (Hemingway, 46). As Jesus Christ was mocked and even betrayed, the fisherman also endured criticism from his fellow fishermen (Hemingway, 14). Just like Jesus had disciples with whom he taught the word of God, Santiago had a boy whom he was mentoring and teaching him how to fish.

Finally, the struggles endured by Santiago depict normal life situations of what people experience daily. The novel explores how symbolism, theme, and imagery coherently evaluate what the novel entails. In symbolism, the essay explores the lions on the beach that occur in Santiago’s dreams to represent his youthful strength that is now gone due to his old age. The shark in the novel represents the situation or people that jeopardize one’s success. The old fisherman lost the big fish to the sharks and also got hurt. Marlin is used in the novel to evaluate the struggle one has to endure in times of life and death. Other aspects, such as theme and imagery, are also evident in the plot of the novel. Love and human conditions are among the themes depicted in the novel. The relationship between Santiago and Manolin depicts the love and strong understanding they have for each other. The struggles and misfortunes endured by Santiago explain the human conditions in the Cuban village critically. In imagery in the novel relates Santiago’s experiences to those of Jesus Christ. The novel is critically analyzed by evaluating how symbolism, theme, and imagery are depicted in Hemingway’s short story.

Work Cited

Hemingway, Ernest. The old man and the sea. World Heritage Publishers Ltd, 2015.

Sandamali, K. P. S., “Symbolism In Ernest Hemingway’s,” The Old Man And The Sea.” International Journal of Scientific and Technology Research 4.12 (2015): 125-129.

Young, Philip, and Charles William Mann. The Hemingway manuscripts: an inventory. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1969.

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