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Pat Swenson, CSUN - The Old Man and the Sea
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Prof Pat Swenson

Campus Email: pat.swenson@csun.edu

Elements of Fiction

Literary Theory

Myth & Archetype: The Hero's Quest

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Department Information

Department of English

708 Sierra Tower
Phone: 818.677.3431

English Department Website

Liberal Studies Program

EA 100
Phone: 818.677.3300

Liberal Studies Website

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway - Discussion Guide



Santiago, Marlin, Joe DiMaggio, Manolin, Sharks, Villagers


Person-against-self - an internal conflict of feelings.

Person-against-person - the typical protagonist vs. antagonist scenario.

Person-against-society - the protagonist battles against the larger organizations of society
(or a system of beliefs held by society).

Person-against-nature - the protagonist is threatened by a component of nature.


Analyze Themes: The Hero Archetype, Pride and Honor, Struggle and Determination, Defeat, Death, and Resurrection, Friendship, Love, and Devotion

Symbols & Motifs: The Marlin and Sharks, Christianity/Crucifiction Imagery, Death and Renewel, Lions on the Beach

Metaphor/Allegory: The Modern Literary Canon, Minimalism and Subtext: Hemingway's Iceberg Principle, An Allegory for Writers/Artists, Christian Allegory vs. The Religion of Man

Discussion Questions

1. What is Santiago's role as fisherman? How do the villagers view him?

2. Define the relationship between Santiago and Manolin.

3. Analyze Santiago's inner conflict and introspection while at sea.

4. Describe the connection Santiago feels toward the Marlin.

5. What role do the Sharks play in the novel? Are they Santiago's sole antagonists?

6. Why does Santiago idolize Joe DiMaggio? How does he draw strength from this hero? How do his thoughts of DiMaggio's struggles help him battle the elements/antagonists of society and nature?

7. What is the role of the sea and all its inhabitants? Does the sea, with all its elements of life and challenges, represent or symbolize the nature of society in general, and Santiago's fishing village in particular?

8. Is Santiago a tragic hero with a tragic flaw (pride/hubris)? Does his pride ultimately lead him to defeat or triumph?

9. What is the significance of religious imagery? How does Hemingway portray Santiago as a Christ-like martyr? In what ways does this imagery reinforce the theme of transcendence, of turning loss into gain and death into life?

10. Determine the effect Hemingway's style of narration and point of view has on tone and meaning.