Study Guide

The Old Man and the Sea Introduction

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The Old Man and the Sea Introduction

Picture it: You're old. Getting out of bed is harder than it used to be, you get cranky when you miss Antiques Roadshow, and you just don't understand kids these days. What do you do? Hit up bingo down at the senior citizen's center? Knit? Sell your house and buy an RV? No! You hop in a boat and head out to sea. Alone. With the goal of catching the biggest fish in the sea.

Sound crazy? Yeah, we think so too. But that's exactly what happens in Hemingway's masterpiece, The Old Man and the Sea.

The story features a stubborn old man who used to be a great fisherman. "Used to" is the keyword there—things haven't been going so well for him lately. He hasn't caught a single fish in 84 days, and if it weren't for his young neighbor buddy bringing him fish, he would very likely starve. But just like any crotchety old grandpa, he's not ready to hang up his fishing pole yet. In fact, he's determined to catch the biggest fish he can. He heads out to sea, and what do you know? He comes face to face with the biggest marlin of all time.

We don't want to give away too much yet (you can always just click on the Summary to find out what happens), but let's just say—things get pretty intense. And there are sharks. And evil octopuses. And singing lobsters. And—wait, no, that's The Little Mermaid. But there are sharks here, at least.

We can almost guarantee you're going to like this book. Hemingway's prose is clipped, direct, and easy to read. This was a big deal back when the book was first published in 1952. Hemingway won the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and has even been credited with changing the style of English prose. Just compare Hemingway's short, to-the-point sentences to Dickens, who loved lengthy, repetitive descriptions. Yeah, we'd take Hemingway any day. Sorry, Tiny Tim.

So break out the sunscreen, lift up that anchor, and sail away into this awesome, classic story. We hope you're craving seafood.

What is The Old Man and the Sea About and Why Should I Care?

Fight a gigantic marlin in the middle of the Gulf Stream? Been there, done that. Stave off hungry sharks while in a rowboat? Check, check. This book is pretty much the story of our life here at Shmoop. 

But really, let’s get down to it. We should care about this novella because it 1) teaches us how to successfully catch a 16-foot fish, and 2) it reminds us of our own loneliness and quest for survival. Yes, even Shmoop gets lonely sometimes. We get put into boxes and packed away in the attic, labeled things like “old,” “uncool,” “boring,” and “stupid,” and these labels slowly but surely wear away at our confidence. And just when things seem really bad—like when we’ve watched the last Murder She Wrote episode we can stand on daytime TV—we start dreaming again about "what if" and about the part of our self that does not fit in the attic boxes.

Santiago was once the best fisherman ever. He was the big cheese. But then he grew older and couldn’t catch a fish for 84 days. Everyone assumes he is cursed and packs him away in the “old” and “unlucky” boxes. He fights the labels, and so do we. It’s our natural human tendency. What else would compel a man to go out into the Gulf Stream in a tiny rowboat all by himself to fish for nearly three days?


The Old Man and the Sea Resources

Movie or TV Productions

1958 Movie
A movie production starring John Sturges and a really, really, ridiculously big fish.

1990 Movie
Because it hadn't been done before, a TV production was made.

1999 Short Movie
An animated short film that won an Oscar.


Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
Listen to Hemingway’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Unfortunately, some other dude is reading it.


Political Cartoon
Someone used The Old Man and the Sea to talk about the 1972 election and the Vietnam war.


The Real Old Man
There was a real old man that inspired Hemingway. And if you don’t believe us, take it up with the BBC.

Hemingway Biography
A biography from people who probably aren’t lying (a.k.a. the Nobel Prize Committee).

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