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Literary Devices in "The Old Man and the Sea"


“The Old Man and the Sea,” published in 1952, earned Ernest Hemingway a Pulitzer Prize. This novel tells the story of Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman who hasn’t caught a fish in 84 days. Over the next few days at sea, Santiago catches a large marlin and ties it to his boat, but sharks eat the fish before Santiago can reach the shore. Hemingway uses simple language and structure to convey thoughts on struggle and heroism.

Characterization

Hemingway often created male characters who would face extreme circumstances with courage. This type of character became known as the “Hemingway hero.” Santiago fits the bill of an unlikely hero. While younger fishermen laughed at his age or bad luck, Santiago was unaffected. Even though the odds were against him, Santiago continued to go out to sea to catch a fish. Hemingway wrote, “His eyes were the same color as the sea … cheerful and undefeated.” The narrator also describes Santiago as humble and respected by Manolin, his admirer and apprentice, which are traditional characteristics of heroic figures. Santiago’s recurring dream of lions on the beach in Africa also indicates a strong and brave character because lions are viewed as kings of the jungle or a symbol of royalty.

Point of View

The story is told by a narrator rather than in first person, but the reader gleans many feelings from Santiago through both spoken and unspoken thoughts and conversations with Manolin. The narrator also tells the thoughts of Manolin, so with this omniscient point of view, the reader gains an understanding of the relationship between Santiago and Manolin. The reader sees that Manolin is captivated by Santiago’s stories of his adventures as well as his abilities as a fisherman.

Conflict

“The Old Man and the Sea” expresses the conflict between man and nature. Even while catching the fish, Santiago says, “Fish… I love and respect you.” At another point in the story, Santiago says aloud to himself, “The fish is my friend, too,” and “It is enough to live on the sea and kill our own true brothers.” These simple expressions are packed with Santiago’s conflict about his relationship with nature and his feelings about the marlin.

Symbol of Joe DiMaggio

Santiago often talks about baseball and a contemporary hero of baseball, Joe DiMaggio. Santiago idolizes DiMaggio, much like Manolin admires Santiago. Santiago considers DiMaggio a real man and hero because he was successful, even while withstanding pain from a bone spur. Santiago’s respect for DiMaggio also implies the theme of what it means to be a man. As Santiago struggles with the marlin, he’s determined not to give up on the marlin, much like DiMaggio continued to play baseball and fight through the pain.

About the Author

Cara Batema is a musician, teacher and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science and health. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and creative writing.

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