Ernest Hemingway, in full Ernest Miller Hemingway, (born July 21, 1899, Cicero Illinois —died July 2, 1961) was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1954, and the Pulitzer prize for The Old Man and the Sea. He was noted both for his writing and for his adventurous and widely publicized life. His sparse but lucid style was a powerful influence on American and British fiction in the 20th century.
The last novel Ernest Hemingway saw published, The Old Man and the Sea has proved itself to be one of the enduring works of American fiction. It is the story of an old Cuban fisherman and his supreme ordeal: a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Using the simple, powerful language of a fable, Hemingway takes the timeless themes of courage in the face of defeat and personal triumph won from loss and transforms them into a magnificent twentieth-century classic.
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1. What did you think of the novella? Did you like it? Love it? Hate it? What made you lean that way?
2. Have you read this novella before? If so, how was this experience different?
3. What did you expect before picking up this novella? How were your expectations met or missed?
4. What role does the sea play in The Old Man and the Sea? Do you consider the sea a character unto herself? Do you think of the sea as masculine or feminine?
5. Both the man and the boy’s names, Santiago and Manolin, are rarely mentioned in the text. Why? What does this do to your reading experience?
6. What role does Santiago’s pride take in his plight? What role does Santiago’s strength take in his plight? Are these a blessing or a curse?
7. Like other Hemmingway characters, Santiago is very much alone, “beyond all people in the world” (pg. 50) yet he says, “No man was ever alone on the sea.” (pg. 61) Why?
8. Describe the relationship between Santiago and the Marlin. How does this relationship define Santiago’s character to the reader?
9. What was your favorite aspect of this novella? What was your least favorite aspect of this novella?
10. There is quite a bit of symbolism as it relates to man’s struggle with the world. Did you notice the symbolism throughout? If so, how did you interpret it? If not, do you think that matters?
11. Hemmingway is on record saying in response to the symbolism in The Old Man and the Sea that “There isn’t any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is the old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are sharks, no better, no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond then you know.” Why do you believe he said this?
12. Hemmingway’s literature has two very prevalent themes: “the undefeated man” and “winner take nothing”. Do you see these themes in this novella? Where do you see contrary ideas?
13. The Old Man and the Sea is often described as the story of man. Do you agree? Why or why not?
14. The Old Man and the Sea won the 1953 Pulitzer Prize in Literature. In 1954, Hemmingway won the Nobel Prize in Literature for “his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on the contemporary style”. Do you believe these awards to be presented appropriately?
15. Have you read other works of Hemmingway’s? How do you think The Old Man and the Sea compares to these? What work of his is your favorite? Least favorite?
This book evoked mixed feelings. One person hated it. Really hated it. And she is a good reader not given to such outburst. She meant it. Others who had no understanding of the nuances of fishing were less vehement but short of enthusiastic.
A constant theme of the discussion centered on the author not the book. Hemmingway was respected and appreciated in some way by all. His manliness, search for adventure, and zest for life were admired. His untimely death by suicide didn’t fit the way most wanted to remember the author.
Most readers had read the book before, some a half century ago. Most, nearly all, were glad they did and by the way the person who hated the book, instead of turning it in took it home to re-read it. “After hearing this I must have missed something”, she said. I would call that a successful book discussion.
For me, the book was captured in just 22 words. These were discussed in the Weekly Triple column. Click the link to read more.
By Gene Helveston
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