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The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea

by Ernest Hemingway

Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.

Plot Type : Voyage and Return

Anticipation Stage and ‘fall’ into the other world

The old man prepares for his journey out to sea. He then goes out to sea.

There’s some anticipation here (Where will he go? What will he do? What fish might he catch?) and then there’s some traveling into the other world – the sea (whereas the world he started on is the land). "The sea," or "la mar," as the old man calls it, has all the characteristics of another world. It has different creatures, demands different skills, and operates under a unique set of rules.

Initial Fascination or Dream Stage

The old man hooks a big, dreamy fish.

The fish is too big to be true. The old man will later wonder if the whole thing was a dream. He is also fascinated by the enormity, color, and strength of the fish. Sounds like the right stage to us.

Frustration Stage

The problem with big fish is that they put up one hell of a fight before going down.

We threw this into the frustration stage, but it’s not necessarily a frustrating endeavor for the guru-like old man. He never complains about the challenge or whines about the pain (a whining protagonist isn’t generally recommended), but works through it with dignity and grace. Except for that one teensy point when he says, "Fish, you are going to have to die anyway. Do you have to kill me, too?" So that’s maybe a little bit frustrated. Perturbed, we’ll say.

Nightmare Stage

The sharks chomp away at Buffet Marlin.

Everything was so perfect in the dream…until the nightmare. The sharks come out of the ocean like the boogie man out of your closet: the old man’s worst nightmare.

Thrilling Escape and Return

The old man returns to land with a big, dreamy skeleton.

Not so much of a thrilling escape, but certainly a return, isn’t it? Booker says the question during this stage is whether the protagonist learned anything or was changed in any way. Indeed, we say, he has. The old man returns to land as the champion, or El Campeon, as in the days of his youth. He has once again proven himself and his strength to the world, who marvel at the enormity of the fish’s eighteen foot skeleton.

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