Study Guide

The Old Man and the Sea Suffering

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In The Old Man and the Sea, the ability to withstand physical pain is one of Santiago’s defining characteristics. We're just happy that's not our defining characteristic. 

But for Santiago, suffering is a necessary step in his battle with the fish. It adds intensity to the struggle and commands a respect from the reader. The mental anguish of losing the fish to the sharks is surprisingly underplayed; this is a type of pain, it seems, that can be controlled by sheer willpower. Or maybe the old man knew it was too good to be true all along.

Questions About Suffering

  1. Is the old man the only one who feels pain? Think again – bet you forgot about Manolin (that’s the boy) crying at the end. Does that count?
  2. What’s the worst kind of pain the old man feels, and when does he feel it?
  3. Let’s say the old man struggled painlessly against the fish, in the sense that it wasn’t much of a struggle at all. Imagine it. OK, now you can answer this question: How is pain a necessary element of The Old Man and the Sea?
  4. Are the old man and the fish similar in the way they handle and experience pain? What does this say about the man and the fish?

Chew on This

Physical pain is the worst kind of pain in The Old Man and the Sea.

Psychological pain is the worst kind of pain in The Old Man and the Sea.

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