A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Besides being fine (if sometimes jarringly macho) writing by a Nobel- and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, The Old Man and the Sea offers gorgeous descriptions of marine and animal life in the exotic regions where Hemingway spent time and where he has Santiago visit in his youthful travels. It also offers a window on village life in pre-Castro Cuba, and economic realities of fishermen's lives in developing countries that have probably not changed much in the interim.
Perseverance, resourcefulness, and the ability to make the best of existing circumstances are all core values here, as well as the loyalty of the boy Manolin to Santiago despite much adversity.
Positive Role Models
Santiago is a veritable icon of tenacity and refusal to give up; his young assistant Manolin, who cannot defy his parents to accompany Santiago fishing, nonetheless remains loyal to him by helping his longtime mentor in many small ways.
Violence & Scariness
There is a fair amount of graphic description of gutting and butchery of fish, including one scene of killing a female marlin as her mate looks on from outside the boat.
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Mild invective, e.g. "whore."
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Products & Purchases
It's the early '50s in Cuba. Santiago makes much of the fact that he doesn't have a radio on which to listen to baseball.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Santiago and Manolin drink beer; some of Santiago's reminiscences involve bars.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that context and the teacher's skill will influence how well their kids relate to this reading-list staple. Widely regarded as Hemingway's masterpiece, it won the Pulitzer Prize and had much to do with his winning the Nobel. It's packed with epic struggles (man vs. nature, man vs. himself), eternal issues (love, survival, teaching the next generation, tenacity against the odds) and strong writing. It's also about three days in a boat in which most of the action takes place in the title character's head, punctuated by graphic descriptions of, say, the gutting of fish. It's also somewhat fraught with a late-in-life perspective that may be largely lost on young readers. Readers young and old are rarely ambivalent about this book -- it's either love or hate, often mixed with a hefty dose of parody (Hemingway at times writes like a macho parody of himself). To nudge kids in the love direction, you may wish to check out Alexander Petrov's 1999 Oscar-winning animated film adaptation.
Is It Any Good?
Not everyone, especially among the young, is prepared to engage with a plot that's largely waiting and introspection, punctuated by description and reminiscence, however beautifully written. Generations of critics and readers have showered this book with praise; generations of other readers, particularly those required to read it in school, have blasted it as the worst book they ever read, when they admit to getting through it at all, despite its brevity. Whether the particular class for which your kid is reading the book intends to focus on Hemingway, symbolism, heroic struggle, marine life, pre-Castro Cuba, or baseball in the Eisenhower era, it might be helpful to get a few bearings before sending him or her out on the high seas in this book.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.