Study Guide

The Old Man and the Sea Luck

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The Old Man and the Sea begins with a declaration that the old man is unlucky. He agrees, too. But by the end of the story the reader is left wondering what it really means to be lucky or unlucky, and whether the old man truly is salao (the colloquial pronunciation of salado—slang for unlucky). At one point, the old man states that even though he believes in luck, he would "rather be exact," suggesting that skill and preparedness are more important than superstition. Still, he bases many of his decisions and actions in a persistent belief in Lady Luck—maybe that's what helps him deal with the tragic loss of the marlin at the end.  

Questions About Luck

  1. Does his belief in luck help or hurt the old man in his struggle against the fish?
  2. At what times does the old man discuss his superstitious beliefs? See any common threads here?
  3. Heads or tails?
  4. After he has caught (and lost) the huge marlin, is the old man lucky or unlucky?

Chew on This

While the old man is deemed and admits to being "unlucky" at the beginning of the novel, the end of his tale proves that he is neither lucky nor unlucky: luck is ultimately irrelevant in his world.

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