Review: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

old man and the sea

I picked this book for the Back to the Classics challenge because initially I thought my book club was going to read it. But we went a totally different direction and read Gone Girl. However, with this pick still looming on my Challenge list, I decided to dive in and knock this one out.

I’m not sure how I escaped AP English and an English minor in college with minimal exposure to Hemingway, but this is my first real foray into his work. I’ve heard his writing described as simplistic. I’d say that’s accurate. I have a son in second grade, who is really just starting to get the hang of reading, and at times, I pictured him reading passages from this book aloud to me. I think he’d be fully capable of doing so. He might not like it, but he could definitely read the words.

At its core this is an epic struggle of man vs. beast. Santiago, poorer than poor, older than old, is able to win a days-long battle with a huge marlin he manages to hook after a very long “unlucky” streak of not catching a fish. It almost kills him to bring this fish up, and then its immense size prohibits him from being able to get it into his boat. So instead he tows it along side, and basically feeds the local shark population on his way back into shore. Although in a total bad-ass fashion he kills a couple of sharks, losing his harpoon along the way.

I believe that when i read the final sentence of this book, I may have spoken aloud, or at the very least, thought to myself, “Well, that was f*cking depressing!” Even though the old man hooked the big fish he’s been waiting his whole life for, you can’t help but feel bad for the guy. First of all, his fishing buddy, a younger guy, has been forbidden to go with him because of his unlucky streak. So the entire time the old man is on the boat, he wishes he had his buddy with him to help. It’s obvious he really cares about the fishing buddy. (And it’s mutual; before the old man sets out to sea, his buddy brings him dinner and helps him out around his home.) Second, the triumph of catching the fish is completely deflated by the fact that the sharks turn his great catch into an all-u-can-eat buffet. By the time he gets into shore he is towing a skeleton. Third, it’s clear that the old man doesn’t have much left in him, and this may have been his final hurrah with the sea.

But, that being said, this is a short and easy read, very easy to understand, and a very simple story at its core. I’m sure that if I were back in AP English I’d be tasked with writing an essay about the deeper meanings of this book, but as I’m a grown-ass woman now, I will not be diving any deeper into Hemingway’s work at this time. If you remember any of the underlying themes from your high school English class, please feel free to share in the comments.


  1. I really like this book. I would say it’s primarily about predators, but the predators are split into two camps: those that greedily destroy others (the other fishermen; the sharks), and those that respectfully work with nature in order to survive (the old man; the marlin). Because the old man has such a long unlucky streak, he feels he has to prove himself. In doing so however, he becomes like the other fishermen: he kills not for food but for personal gain. But during the battle with the fish, he realizes that he and the fish are ‘brothers’. He is sorry that he has done what he has done.

    At the end, Manolin returns to the old man and promises to sail with him again. In that respect, Manolin represents hope for the future – Manolin will continue the respectful fishing traditions of the old man. So: it’s something of a critique of the shark-like capitalist exploitation of the world’s natural resources.

    At least, that’s how I understood it! Thanks for your article. I enjoyed reading it.

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