Overview and Setting


The Old Man and the Sea is one of the most popular and moving works of the twentieth century. When The Old Man and the Sea first appeared in the September 1, 1952, issue of Life magazine, millions of people stood in line at newsstands to purchase a copy; 5,300,000 copies were sold in two days. The excitement generated by the novella, rare for such a serious piece of literature, can be traced to its unforgettable portrait of the old fisherman, Santiago, and its vivid presentation of the novella’s other principal presence: the sea.

The Old Man and the Sea probes basic questions of life and death, and explores humankind’s relationship with nature. Free of the sentimentality that often characterizes stories dealing with nature and animals, the story still carries emotional impact. Above all, it is an action story, with the great noble marlin, the malignant savage sharks, and the wise, skillful, and patient old man holding center stage.


The narrative takes place in the 1940s. Although the opening and closing scenes take place on land in a small Cuban fishing village, the dominant setting is the Gulf Stream off the coast of Cuba. Hemingway believes the sea to be the last great unexplored territory on earth, and this work travels deeply into the nature of this mysterious setting.

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