The Old Man and the Sea


Discussion Questions

1. Consider the physical pain that Santiago suffers in The Old Man and the Sea. How does Hemingway use Santiago's pain to strengthen the novel, and how might this convey the author's attitude toward pain?

Physical pain provides the pressure that Santiago needs to display "grace under pressure," a phrase that doesn't appear in this novel, but was famously used by Hemingway to describe what he meant by having "guts." While Santiago's capture of the giant marlin using primitive equipment would be impressive in and of itself, it becomes downright heroic in light of the injuries he sustains to accomplish it.

If interpreted as a Christian parable, The Old Man and the Sea also uses physical pain to strengthen the comparison between Santiago and Christ. It is through suffering and seeming defeat that Santiago redeems himself as a fisherman, as Christ redeemed humanity by allowing himself to be crucified.

Santiago's claim that "pain does not matter to a man" underscores the Hemingway Code Hero's stoic stance toward suffering. A true man, as defined by Hemingway, can play baseball even with a bone spur, as the great Joe DiMaggio does. That is, to be successful, a man must first overcome his own limitations, including physical pain.

2. How do Santiago's sparse eating patterns affect how the reader views him?

Santiago's almost nonexistent eating and drinking patterns further distinguish him from ordinary humans. His ability to withstand not only hunger, but thirst, mockery, poverty, misfortune, and the elements with stoic composure are heroic feats on their own.

Combined with his devotion to traditional fishing as a lifestyle, the fact that he no longer dreams of women or allows the picture of his absent wife to distract him, the bare simplicity of his shack, and the importance he places on teaching his young disciple, Santiago's ability to survive on donated food places him in the role of an ascetic. Santiago, who draws his self-identity and...

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