Study Guide

The Old Man and the Sea Plot Analysis

By Ernest Hemingway

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Plot Analysis

Initial Situation

The old man hasn’t caught a fish in eighty-four days. It’s cramping his style.

This situation has been the situation for a while. Eighty-four days, in fact. And it has to end soon, since winter is coming and the old man has no 1) food 2) money or 3) clothing for warmth. Sounds like it’s time for a conflict, quite possibly leading to a climax.


The old man hooks a marlin. The really, really, ridiculously big marlin.

Water splashing, back-breaking work, agonizing pain and a declaration of fight to the death – this climax certainly rocks the boat.


The fish puts up one hell of a fight over three days, and the old man’s body may be failing him.

This is not a simple hook, line, and sinker fishing endeavor. And no, we have no intentions of stopping these awful puns. As you might expect, shortly after the conflict, things get complicated. The fish turns out to be about a gazillion pounds and the old man gets a cramp in his hand. Not to mention all the talking to himself and psychological complexity of his feelings for the fish, a.k.a. his brother, enemy, and dear friend.


The old man harpoons the marlin to death.

We’ve been building toward this very moment for about, oh, 80 pages now. We waited for it, waited for it, waited for it…and now it’s here. That makes it a climax, as far as we’re concerned.


Jaws! Rather, the sharks attack.

But all is not done. There’s that pesky suspense stage, which in this case takes the form of several vicious sharks followed by a pack of even more vicious sharks. Will the sharks eat the fish? Will the old man kill the sharks? Is he going to collapse from exhaustion?


The old man resigns himself to the fact that his fish is eaten, and he is beaten…supposedly.

The old man accepts this fact rather calmly. You know, after trying to club a pack of man-eating sharks to death. Because the suspense and action are over, and you breathe a sigh of relief (or more a sigh of depressed acceptance, in this case), you know you’re at the denouement. Also, you just had the suspense stage, and you know this one comes next.


The old man dreams about the lions.

What an great conclusion. Seriously – Hemingway built up this whole lions thing throughout the text, just subtly weaving it through, asking us to notice without beating us on the head with a sign that says, "LIONS AND IMAGERY THIS WAY." Then he ends with this deceptively simple line. It’s bittersweet, and it makes you ask lots of conclusion-y questions about whether the old man was defeated, if he’ll go on to fish another day, and just what’s the deal with these lions.

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