Ernest Hemmingway, The Old Man and The Sea



There are two parts to this assignment. Both parts are to be passed in on time as LATE PAPERS WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED.


Part 1: Do ONE of the following essay questions. (50%)


1. The Pre-Socratic philosopher Anaximander has said: "Into those things from which existing things have their coming into being, their passing away, too, takes place, according to what must be; for they make reparation to one another for their injustice according to the ordinance of time." Discuss the notion of cosmic justice/injustice as it appears in The Old Man and The Sea.


2. Explore The Old Man and The Sea as a novella about the strength of the human being.


3. Explain and analyze the role and meaning of fratricide in the Old Man and The Sea.


4. Discuss to what extent you view The Old Man and The Sea, on the one hand, as a novel depicting "man vs. nature," and on the other hand, to what extent it is about "man as nature." How does Hemmingway combine these two views, and to what effect?


5. The ancient Greeks thought that the development of character and virtue (or excellence) occurred only through struggle, tension, and contending against a noble opponent. They called this overcoming of obstacle through challenge agvn, or agon, the word from which our word "agony" is derived. In The Old Man and The Sea, Santiago goes through much "agony," contending with a great, noble fish. Analyze the extent to which the novel is a representation of the contentious nature of human existence.


6. Santiago understood the sea "as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favours, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them." In his view, the ocean is blameless for the wicked things that happen upon it. A similar view is also central in the study of "theology," a term coined by the Greek philosopher, Plato. Since Plato, most theologians have suggested that, in all the evil things that happen in the world, "the gods are blameless" (Republic 379bc). Investigate the manner in which Santiago thinks about "natural evil," or the suffering that is just given to the nature of things (as opposed to the evil inflicted by human beings upon themselves and each other).


7. Santiago says, "Fish... I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends." Examine the relationship between loving and killing in The Old Man and The Sea.

Santiago contemplates the difference between fish and human beings; he decides that, "they are not as intelligent as we who kill them; although they are more noble and more able." Discuss what the old man means. How can fish be more noble than human beings? What does it mean to be noble? How is intelligence related to nobility?


8. In The Old Man and The Sea, Santiago pits his "will" and "intelligence" against the nobility and the ability of the great fish. What are will and intelligence? Does intelligence truly distinguish us from the animal kingdom? If so, what do we make of the old man's constant dialogue with the fish, or of his distinctions between smart and stupid sharks? From whence does nobility arise, if not intelligence?


9. The old man claims not to be religious, and yet he prays and vows to make a pilgrimage to the Virgin of Cobre if he should catch the great fish. Discuss the significance of prayer in the novel, and how one can pray, yet lack religion. What is prayer? What is religion?


10. The old man vows to kill the great, noble fish, "although it is unjust." He hopes to show the fish "what a man can do and what a man endures." Santiago, in this passage, brings up the theme of achieving greatness through suffering, as well as the relationship of human greatness to justice. How do you think greatness and justice are related in the novel? How are they related in your own experience? Where do they conflict in the novel? Do they ever conflict in real life?


11. Santiago calls himself a "strange old man."  During his second day at sea, he also calls the great fish "very strange." Explore what the old man might possibly mean by calling himself and the fish "strange."


12. During the second night on the boat, Santiago thinks to himself about the fish: "The punishment of the hook is nothing. The punishment of hunger, and that he is against something that he does not comprehend, is everything." Explore the manner in which existence for both the old man and the great fish is defined as a kind of punishment. Consider the image of fishing as a metaphor for the human condition generally. What might the hook represent? What might be meant by the punishing "hunger" of human existence? What might be suggested by the image of human beings struggling against the incomprehensible? Analyze the broader implications of the fishing image in The Old Man and The Sea.


13. At various times, Santiago tells himself to stop thinking; at other times, he tells himself to think and to remain clear-headed. What is the relation of thought to overcoming obstacles and meeting challenges in The Old Man and The Sea? What is the relationship of thought with Santiago's greatness?


14. Explain what Santiago means when he says, "pain does not matter to a man." Does this distinguish a certain kind of man from all others? Or does Santiago mean that pain means nothing to all men? Furthermore, does the human ability to withstand pain somehow set us apart from other animals? Explain how you think Santiago means this statement.


15. Santiago considers the suffering of the fish as well as his own: "I must hold his pain where it is... Mine does not matter. I can control mine. But his pain could drive him mad." Examine the importance of "self-control" in the story. Can a beast be noble yet lack self-control? How is self-control related to intelligence and will? What is the relationship between self-control and madness? Make reference to Hemmingway's book in your answers.


16. Courage, as Aristotle notes, is a virtue or excellence of the soul. It is a kind of "mean" or middle ground between fear and confidence in relation to pleasures and pains; if a person is too weak in the face of pains or what is fearful, then he is a coward. Likewise, if a person lacks any fear or understanding of what is truly fearful, then he is not courageous but over-confident, rash, or foolhardy. Courage is somewhere in the middle between being cowardly, on the one hand, and being foolhardy in the face of danger, on the other. Examine the portrayal of the old man's virtue in the novel. To what extent is the old man brave or courageous? What other virtues might Santiago be said to embody?


17. Towards the end of the novel, Santiago asks of the fish, "[I]s he bringing me in or am I bringing him in?" Discuss what makes the old man feel this way, and how Hemmingway might be using the ambiguity of the situation to speak metaphorically about fishing.


18. Examine The Old Man and The Sea in light of Matthew 4:19, wherein Christ says to his disciples, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." What does Christ mean in this passage, and do you think Hemmingway's use of fishing in the novel may be understood similarly in symbolic terms? If so, explain how.


19. Why does Santiago have such disdain for the shovel-nosed "galanos" sharks, on the one hand, but considerable respect if not admiration for the Mako "dentuso" sharks on the other hand? Explain why "self-restraint" is an important factor in the old man's view of sharks.


20. The old man ruminates upon the meaning of "sin" in the novel. On the one hand, Santiago thinks that "everything is a sin," since everything kills everything else. On the other hand, he considers the manner in which not all kinds of fishing are sinful, but this hunt in particular, since the defeat of the great fish arose from his own sinful transgression of a boundary, or the violation of a kind of natural limit to where an old man ought to fish. In essay format, consider what is sin? Why is the notion of sin problematic for Santiago?


21. Write an essay that examines the relationship between the old man, Santiago, and the boy, Manolin.


22. Santiago considers himself very unlucky, but he does not despair of his bad luck, recognizing that luck comes and goes, and that character is more important: "[W]ho knows? Maybe today. Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready." Examine the relationship between character and luck in The Old Man and The Sea.


23. Herodotus' account in his Histories of Solon's visit with Croesus. What does Solon say about happiness? Why is it impossible to be happy, in Solon's view? What role does luck play in happiness? How might this be illustrated by The Old Man and The Sea?

24. Humility has been defined as "the understatement of a powerful personality." What does this mean and to what extent does it apply to the kind of humility the old man has attained.


25. Discuss the role that luck plays in this book and consider the different shades of meaning Hemingway gives to it.


26. Where is the one passage in the book that unmistakably alludes to Christ on the Cross? What does such symbolism add to the novel? Do you find any other passages that may be reinforcing the Christ imagery? Can you be sure that they are doing so? The old man is sometimes taken as a symbol of Christ on the Cross. How do you reconcile this notion with the old man's own comment on page 64, "I am not religious," which he follows up with a perfunctory rattling off of a batch of "Our Fathers" and "Hail Marys"?


27. How much convincing evidence do you find for regarding the fish as more than just a marlin? If the fish is a symbol, what does he symbolize?


28. Are we justified in interpreting baseball and Joe DiMaggio as more than their literal selves? If so, what do they represent?


29. Does Hemingway encourage us to think of the sea in more than literal terms? If so, what is the sea standing for?


30. How do you interpret the young lions? Are they literal or symbolic or both, and why do you think so? If they are symbolic, what do they symbolize?


31. The great fish come in September, not in May. Santiago catches his big fish in September. Are we to take September only literally? If it is more than literal, what is it standing for?


32. Does Hemingway's text invite us to interpret the sharks as more than literal? If they are more than literal, what do they represent? What is their role in the general human drama?


33. Write a paper in which you comment fully and specifically on the significance for the entire book of Santiago's words, "A man can be destroyed but not defeated." To do this, you will need to start with an exploration of possible meanings of the two words destroyed and defeated.


34. Write a full, detailed answer to this question: "Were you satisfied that the ending of Hemingway's book makes a believable, meaningful, and moving fulfilment of the old man's experience?" For this paper, consider the ending to include all that takes place from the time the first shark comes to the time of the old man's final dreaming of the young lions.


35. Write a carefully planned paper in which you explore the meaning and the appropriateness of Hemingway's title. In doing this, you will need to examine carefully each word of the title and you will also need to consider other possible titles that Hemingway might have used.


36. A character in John Steinbeck's East of Eden says, "No story has power, nor will it last, unless we feel in ourselves that it is true, and true of us...If a story is not about the hearer he will not listen." It might at first seem strange that you might find anything "true" about yourself in The Old Man and the Sea, but some of your contemporaries have "listened" to this story as if it were about themselves. Write a carefully prepared paper in which you consider what the book has to say to you, where you came in, what you heard about yourself as you "listened." Choose this topic only if you honestly feel that the book had something to say to you.


37. In the Preface to one of his novels, Joseph Conrad says that his task as a writer is "by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel--it is, before all, to make you see. That--and no more, and it is everything." Write a carefully prepared paper in which you show fully and specifically the extent to which Hemingway in The Old Man and the Sea fulfils the writer's task of making you hear, feel, and--above all--see. You will want to give special attention to all the possible meanings in that word see.


38.  “A man can be destroyed but not defeated,” says the old man after the first shark attack. At the end of the story, is the old man defeated? Why or why not?


39. Discuss religious symbolism in The Old Man and the Sea. To what effect does Hemingway employ such images?


40. What is the role of the sea in The Old Man and the Sea?


41. Santiago is considered by many readers to be a tragic hero, in that his greatest strength—his pride—leads to his eventual downfall. Discuss the role of pride in Santiago’s plight.


42. The Old Man and the Sea is, essentially, the story of a single character. Indeed, other than the old man, only one human being receives any kind of prolonged attention. Discuss the role of Manolin in the novella. Is he necessary to the book?


Part 2: Do ONE of the following projects. (50%)


1. Create a comic book version of The Old Man and the Sea. Your comic book should follow the literary plot of the original. It should also be illustrated and be no less than 3 pages. You will share your book with the class.


2. Do a character study of DiMaggio. Make a poster that illustrates why DiMaggio was a great baseball player, and explore the reasons why Santiago would look to DiMaggio as a kind of heroic figure.


3. Do some research some on the animals that appear in The Old Man and The Sea (ex.: Portuguese man-of-war, shovel-nosed "galanos" sharks, Mako, or "dentuso" sharks, marlins, sea turtles, dolphins, shrimp, and flying fish). Make a poster that thoughtfully provides information about some of these animals, and that relates your zoological research back to the novel.


4. Write a movie review of the Emmy award-winning 1990 made for TV movie version of The Old Man and The Sea (Director Jud Taylor). Be sure to detail what you thought was good about the movie, as well as what you thought was bad about it. Was the movie true to the book? Did it leave too much out? Did it add things that took away from the book's message? On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate this movie?


5. Write a movie review of the Oscar-winning 1958 version of The Old Man and The Sea (Director: John Sturges). Be sure to detail what you thought was good about the movie, as well as what you thought was bad about it. Was the movie true to the book? Did it leave too much out? Did it add things that took away from the book's message? On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate this movie?


6. Create a piece of masterly artwork that illustrates a scene from The Old Man and The Sea.


7. Do some oceanographic research on the area of the ocean that is described as the setting for the novel. Create a poster that tells something about aquatic life, ocean currents and other climatological factors, as well as fishing industry, any major fishing and marine ports, islands and shipping lanes in the area. Provide a well-labelled oceanographic map of the area.