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Book Review

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Santiago, an old fisherman, hasn't caught anything in 84 days. He's discouraged. His friend and former sailing mate, Manolin, longs to help him, but Manolin's parents refuse because of Santiago's poor fishing record. On day 85, Santiago feels a tug he knows to be the fish he's been looking for. But the fish is so enormous and strong that for several days it pulls him farther out to sea. Hemingway details the valiant struggle between man and fish, lauding the old man for his perseverance despite the fact that sharks ultimately eat his prize fish.

Christian Beliefs

Santiago has religious pictures on his wall. He questions the purpose of sea swallows, birds that are really too weak and delicate to survive against harsher sea birds. Santiago tells God he isn't religious, but that he would say "Hail Mary" and "Our Father" prayers and make a pilgrimage if he catches the fish. He follows this with additional prayers that are more repetitive than heartfelt. Santiago contemplates whether it is a sin to kill the fish. Hemingway employs a fair amount of crucifixion imagery throughout the book to portray Santiago as a Christ figure who transcends death and defeat.

Other Belief Systems

The old man talks quite a bit about luck concerning fishing. Manolin's parents are happier now that he is working with a "lucky" boat.

Authority Roles

Santiago is Manolin's hero. Santiago teaches Manolin a great deal about fishing. However, Manolin keeps a close eye on Santiago to make sure Santiago gets the nourishment and care needed. At times, Santiago is under the authority of both the sea and his great fish. At other moments, he masters them with his skill and perseverance.


Phrases like "God knows," "Christ knows" or "God help me" appear; few, if any, are an intentional misuse of the Lord’s name. In demonstrating his passionate faithfulness to the old man, Manolin uses the words d--n and h---.


Santiago calls the dangerous Portuguese man-of-war invertebrate a whore. He later talks about the same animal heaving and swinging as though “the ocean were making love with something.”

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Other issues: The boy buys the old man a beer. (There is no clear indication as to whether the boy has one himself.) When the old man asks if he'd steal some sardines, the boy says he will, but he doesn't.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

16 and up


Ernest Hemingway






Record Label



Scribner Book Company, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group


On Video

Year Published



Nobel Prize in Literature, 1954; Award of Merit Medal for the Novel from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1954; Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 1953


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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