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Plot Summary of the Old Man and the Sea

Updated on April 10, 2015
Colin Quartermain profile image

Colin has been reading as long as he can remember, and the works of Conan Doyle were some of the early works that kept him reading.

The Old Man and the Sea is arguably the most famous of all the Ernest Hemingway novels ever published; The Old Man and the Sea is also the most acclaimed of all Hemingway novels.

The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea was written by Ernest Hemingway in 1951 whilst the American author was in Cuba, and a year later it was published Charles Sribner’s Sons.

Critical acclaim would come in 1953 when The Old Man and the Sea won that year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; the story would also play a part when Hemingway the Nobel Prize in Literature the following year.

The Old Man and the Sea focuses on a day in the life of Santiago, the “Old Man”, an aging Cuban fisherman who has suffered a long run of bad luck. On this day though, Santiago has an epic contest with a giant Marlin.

Ernest Hemingway’s work is held in high esteem not just because of the style of the writer, but also because there is underlying meaning to his work. In The Old Man and the Sea there is the idea of perseverance but also underlying religious connotations; and of course, there are comparisons to be made with stories like Moby Dick.

Spoiler Alert - The Old Man and the Sea Summary

Santiago is a fisherman with many years of experience behind him, but his luck has seemingly deserted him, for Santiago has not managed to catch a fish in 84 days. This run of bad luck has meant that Manolin, his young apprentice, has been forced by his parents to find a new teacher, a fisherman who is catching fish and therefore making money.

Manolin though has not totally deserted the Old Man, for each evening the young man returns to Santiago’s cabin. There he helps Santiago to retrieve his fishing gear, whilst chatting about baseball. Manolin also cooks for Santiago, as well as offering the Old Man encouragement. It is Manolin’s encouragement alone that convinces Santiago to go out each morning, to turn around his luck.

The Old Man and the Sea then focuses on the 85th day of Santiago’s bad luck streak. On this day, the Old Man decides to take his skiff further out into the Gulf Stream, and there he sets his lines, and Santiago awaits a fish to take the bait.

At noon, a fish finally bites, and the experienced fisherman is convinced that it is a valuable marlin. Despite making use of all of his skill and experience though, Santiago cannot pull the fish aboard his skiff, and instead he finds that the fish is pulling his boat further from shore.

Santiago uses all his strength to try and pull the fish in, with the line digging painfully into his hands, but for two days and two nights, neither fish nor man can gain an advantage.

As time passes, Santiago gains a great deal of empathy with the Marlin, and the fisherman refers to the fish as his brother, and admires the determination that the fish is displaying.

Finally, on the third day, the marlin shows the first signs of tiring, but Santiago himself is also at the end of his reserves, but with one last effort, the Old Man manages to spear the fish with his harpoon.

Ernest Hemingway

Florida Memory No Known Restrictions
Florida Memory No Known Restrictions | Source

Santiago feels that a certain amount of regret that the contest between fish and man could not have gone on forever, but the fisherman is comforted by the fact that the marlin will bring a great deal of money when it is sold. As Santiago lashes the fish to the side of his boat, the fisherman realises that it is the largest fish that he has ever seen.

Santiago then sets sail for home, but the adventure is not yet over, for the blood of the marlin is leaving a trail in the water, a trail which is attracting sharks from far and wide. The Old Man attempts to defend his catch from the hungry sharks, and a great mako shark is killed by Santiago. When he kills the shark though, Santiago loses his only weapon, his harpoon.

The great mako though has managed to grab a bite from the marlin, and even more sharks are now approaching. Despite his exhaustion, Santiago manages to craft a new harpoon from an oar and his knife.

Night comes, but of course, the pursuit of the sharks doesn’t end, and Santiago fights desperately to defend his prize. Santiago manages to kill five sharks, but in the end the body of the marlin is devoured, and all that the Old Man has left of his prize, is the head, tail and skeleton of the fish.

Arriving home, Santiago feels that once again his bad luck has defeated him, and he returns to his cabin, very tired, saddened and very hungry, and the fisherman falls into a deep sleep.

In the morning, whilst the Old Man sleeps, a crowd of local fisherman gather around Santiago’s boat. Each is amazed at the size of the marlin lashed to the side of the boat, and the skeleton is eventually measured at 18 feet.

Manolin rushes to Santiago’s cabin, the young man worried about his old friend, but finding the Old Man alive but tired, the pair agree to go fishing together again.


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  • Colin Quartermain profile imageAUTHOR

    Colin Quartermain 

    3 years ago

    Many thanks for the comment daydreamer; think it was the first piece of Hemingway I ever read, and was one of the reasons I became so hooked on reading fiction.

  • daydreamer13 profile image


    3 years ago

    One of my all time favorites. Nice hub.


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