Summary of The Old Man and the Sea

Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea tells the tale of Santiago, an aging fisherman who embarks on one last voyage to seek out the great marlin that has eluded him for the past eighty-four days. On this fateful voyage, Santiago struggles against the ferocious nature of the sea, only to discover that his greatest battle occurs not at sea, but within himself.

Through his dedication, perseverance, and wisdom, he finds victory in the end by conquering his own weaknesses through faith in himself and an unwavering devotion to his passion for fishing and life. For this reason, he travels out into the ocean until he hooks the big one, but he has problems bringing it back to shore and faces many challenges along the way. When Santiago finally reaches land with his prize, it’s not what anyone expected.

Setting of the Story

The story takes place on a hot, clear day in Cuba. Santiago, an old fisherman, is out at sea fishing with his young apprentice named Manolin. The large part of the story takes place on a sea, where Santiago undertakes his remarkable journey.

Major Themes in The Old Man and the Sea

1.      Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is although a poetic element, yet it appears as a theme in the story. Foreshadowing is when the author gives clues or hints to what will happen later on in the story. It is important because it helps you predict events before they happen. In this story, there are many parts where you can see foreshadowing happening.

One of these parts is at the very beginning of the book when Santiago talks about his past adventures he says that he had taken great risks. From this sentence we know that Santiago will take risks in order to catch a fish like he has always done before. We also know that something bad may happen during one of these risks as well.

2.      Fate

Fate is another major theme of the story as this book is about an old man who has been constantly fishing for years, but does not have any luck. He takes a trip out to sea on his small boat with his only companion, a young boy.

Once they are at sea, he hooks a large fish that requires all of his energy to reel in. Although he eventually succeeds in catching the fish, he becomes exhausted and dies from exhaustion as soon as it is on board. 

The old man symbolizes Hemingway’s idea of grace under pressure–a person who doesn’t give up even when something difficult comes their way or they’re up against incredible odds. It also reflects Hemingway’s desire to never be a coward during life-threatening situations.

3.      Mortality

Mortality is a major theme in The Old Man and the Sea. Santiago’s battle with the fish is symbolic of a man’s struggle against death, as Santiago wants to catch it to show that he is still alive. Another key concept in this work is that of greed.

In some cases, greed can be good for a person because it can motivate them to achieve success. At other times though, greed can have negative consequences like when Santiago struggles with killing the fish he has been hunting for days.

4.      Redemption

Redemption is yet another significant theme of the book. After being lost at sea for eighty-four days, Santiago’s faith is restored when he hooks a huge marlin. He eventually manages to bring it ashore, only to have it eaten by sharks in front of him. This event breaks his heart and leaves him with nothing to live for.

But the boy finds a school of sardines while fishing, and they netted so many fish that they can’t pull them out of the water. Santiago sees this as a sign from God that he should keep going, even if all he catches is small fry like sardines. So he sets out once again on his old boat, Queequeg at his side.

5.      Beauty

This theme is present throughout the novel, with each section of the novel contributing to it in some way. Early on, when Santiago is fishing as a young boy, he catches a beautiful fish that he has never seen before. As time goes on and he becomes an old man, he continues to catch many different species of fish.

However, none are as beautiful or as rare as the one that he caught in his youth. When Santiago catches what seems to be his final fish – a small tuna – it’s not just any other fish. Rather than being ugly or gruesome-looking like so many others, this tuna is neither long nor short (77). This symbolizes how beauty can be found in unexpected places.

6.      Nature vs. Nurture

Nature vs. Nurture is a theme in this novel that illustrates how individuals are shaped by both their environment and their genes. Santiago, for example, is able to go through such an arduous journey of catching a fish because he has been fishing since he was a young boy. However, when Santiago finds himself on land after being on the boat for three days without food or water, he’s forced to use his last strength to catch something to eat. 

After failing once more, Santiago remembers something his mother said when he was just a boy: A man can be destroyed but not defeated. And so Santiago goes back into the sea with his bicorn hat in tow–the one thing that never leaves his side-to-catch the big fish.


In conclusion, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway follows an old fisherman, Santiago, as he struggles to land a giant marlin after battling it for three days and nights. Santiago’s battle with the giant fish symbolizes his desire to overcome hardship and defeat self-doubt in order to prove himself capable of achieving his goals despite the naysayers who do not believe in him. 

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