The Old Man and the Sea
A book review for parents
This adventure, drama book by Ernest Hemingway is published by Scribner Book Company, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group and is written for adults but is sometimes studied in high school classes.
Santiago, an old fisherman, hasn't caught anything in 84 days. He's discouraged. His friend and former sailing mate, Manolin, longs to help him, but Manolin's parents refuse because of Santiago's poor fishing record. On day 85, Santiago feels a tug he knows to be the fish he's been looking for. But the fish is so enormous and strong that for several days it pulls him farther out to sea. Hemingway details the valiant struggle between man and fish, lauding the old man for his perseverance despite the fact that sharks ultimately eat his prize fish.
Santiago has religious pictures on his wall. He questions the purpose of sea swallows, birds that are really too weak and delicate to survive against harsher sea birds. Santiago tells God he isn't religious, but that he would say "Hail Mary" and "Our Father" prayers and make a pilgrimage if he catches the fish. He follows this with additional prayers that are more repetitive than heartfelt. Santiago contemplates whether it is a sin to kill the fish. Hemingway employs a fair amount of crucifixion imagery throughout the book to portray Santiago as a Christ figure who transcends death and defeat.
Santiago is Manolin's hero. Santiago teaches Manolin a great deal about fishing. However, Manolin keeps a close eye on Santiago to make sure Santiago gets the nourishment and care needed. At times, Santiago is under the authority of both the sea and his great fish. At other moments, he masters them with his skill and perseverance.
Other Belief Systems
The old man talks quite a bit about luck concerning fishing. Manolin's parents are happier now that he is working with a "lucky" boat.
Phrases like "God knows," "Christ knows" or "God help me" appear; few, if any, are an intentional misuse of the Lord’s name. In demonstrating his passionate faithfulness to the old man, Manolin uses the words d--n and h---.
Santiago calls the dangerous Portuguese man-of-war invertebrate a whore. He later talks about the same animal heaving and swinging as though “the ocean were making love with something.”
Nobel Prize in Literature, 1954; Award of Merit Medal for the Novel from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1954; Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 1953
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- In The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway praises determination. He suggests you're a hero not by escaping death or maintaining hope, but simply by persevering.
In what ways do these ideas align with a Christian worldview?
How do they differ from what the Bible teaches?
- Santiago's pride causes him to pursue the big fish. Though he has to endure trials, he ultimately gains greater respect from the local fishermen because of his conquest.
Does his pride lead to positive or negative ends?
What does the Bible say about pride?
- Why do you think Santiago loves and respects his opponent, the fish, so much?
- In Hemingway's estimation, man achieves greatness by battling a worthy earthly opponent.
Does this differ from what Christianity teaches? In what way?
Note: Other issues: The boy buys the old man a beer. (There is no clear indication as to whether the boy has one himself.) When the old man asks if he'd steal some sardines, the boy says he will, but he doesn't.
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.