Understanding The Old Man and the Sea


This Web page has been designed to assist students to:

  • Explore 20th century modern literature.
  • Develop perspective on changing theories about literature and writing.
  • Deepen appreciation for Hemingway’s break from traditional literature.

For ease of study, topics have been divided into 4 categories

  1. Ernest Hemingway
  2. The Theory of Omission
  3. The World of The Old Man and the Sea
  4. The Old Man and the Sea:
    1. Overview
    2. Themes in focus

Note: Some of these categories will naturally overlap.

Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961)

The sparse, economical style of Ernest Hemingway’s writing is so commonplace today that it is hard to understand what a break from tradition it was when Hemingway pioneered it. Throughout his life, Hemingway style was admired or disliked, yet never ignored.

Ernest Hemingway Wikipedia biography on life of Hemingway and his books and articles. This is an excellent place to start for one who is encountering Hemingway for the first time.

Ernest Hemingway Biography of Hemingway and details about The Old Man and the Sea from the Nobel Prize website.

 Ernest Hemingway For four years, Hemingway worked for the Toronto Star. The Star has an online collection of Hemingway’s 191 columns with annotations and analysis from editors and reporters.

Ernest Hemingway PBS travel guide, Michael Palin, journeys through Hemingway’s world with stops in Chicago, Italy, Paris, Spain, Africa, Key West, Cuba, and the American West.

Ernest Hemingway Biography series broken into seven articles covering Hemingway’s life. Includes photographs.

Ernest Hemingway Article about Hemingway and his editor, Maxwell Perkins. Full access available through library.

Ernest Hemingway Answers to commonly asked questions about Hemingway, his life, his writing, and his stories.

Ernest Hemingway Articles published in The Atlantic from 1939 to 1983 that critiqued and assessed Hemingway’s stories and books as they were published.

Ernest Hemingway National Portrait Gallery featured Hemingway in Picturing Hemingway: A Writer in His Time. The photographs and articles detail his life and literary achievements.

Ernest Hemingway Using Hemingway’s papers, letters, and journals, Megan Floyd Desnogyers describes the author’s childhood, writing life, and publishing journey. Original documents as resources.

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Theory of Omission

Hemingway pioneered a writing style which omitted extra words and anything which might make the plot obvious. This lean writing style is now commonplace, but was a significant shift in the early 20th century.

Theory of Omission  Wikipedia summary of Hemingway’s “Iceberg Theory” or “theory of omission.”  The article has background information and links to other writers who make use of the writing style.

Theory of Omission Short description with Hemingway’s quote about omitting ideas in The Sun Also Rises.

Theory of Omission  Detailed article about Hemingway’s early manuscripts and examples of how he developed the ideas behind the theory of omission. Library access required.

The World of The Old Man and the Sea

Putting the story of Santiago as a Spanish expatriate in a Cuban community is a critical part of reading and understanding The Old Man and the Sea.

The Old Man  BBC article about the death of the man who inspired the central character in The Old Man and the Sea.

The Old Man  Stories and pictures from the man on whom Hemingway based his story.

Cuba YouTube video (5:18) with interviews from people who Hemingway based The Old Man and the Sea.

Cuba Pictures and details about Hemingway’s life in Cuba while writing The Old Man and the Sea.

Cuba While researching human smuggling in Cuba, historian-writer Dennis Noble also photo-documented Hemingway’s favorite spots in Cuba.

Cuba Article on the importance of reading The Old Man and the Sea in the Cuban context. Full article available through library access.

Reviews A collection of critiques from The Atlantic of The Old Man and the Sea written after the novel was published.

The Old Man and the Sea Overview

The Old Man and the Sea Stop-motion video (4:00) of scene-by-scene pen and ink illustrations of The Old Man and the Sea. Artist Marcel Schindler.

The Old Man and the Sea SparkNotes’s online edition of the play with study guide.

The Old Man and the Sea Summary of symbols and their meaning in The Old Man and the Sea.

The Old Man and the Sea Summary of The Old Man and the Sea and its themes.

The Old Man and the Sea Comprehensive document (PDF) of The Old Man and the Sea, an overview with symbols, themes, and motifs.


Theme in focus: Isolation

Isolation Student video (6:35) which focuses on Santiago’s isolation from the Cuban community.

Isolation Short analysis on the theme of isolation in The Old Man and the Sea with an emphasis on open-ended questions to prompt thinking about the story and isolation.

Isolation Essay by Dr. Jeffrey Herlihy detailing Santiago’s isolation as a Spaniard in Cuba. Additional references listed at the bottom of the document.


Theme in focus: Pride

Pride Essay about the use of pride in The Old Man and the Sea.

Pride Summary of how Santiago’s pride motivates him throughout The Old Man and the Sea.

Pride  A comparison of pride in classical heroes which leads Santiago to battle the marlin.

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