lunes, 4 de septiembre de 2017

The Old Man and the Sea - Defeat as Victory

"He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream". This is the simple beginning of the famous story which most kids have known at school. But in spite of its simplicity, this is the tale of life and death where an old fisherman struggles proudly against a big fish to regain his good reputation. Ernest Hemingway published The Old Man and the Sea in 1952 and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. This delightful story has deep ideas about the difficulties in life and how to overcome them, and we can approach it by watching a wonderful animated video that won the Academy Award for Animated Short Film, together with some tests to get a good grip on this moving story.

1. Let's start from the beginning

When you read the beginning of this story, you are well aware of the narrative mood. Santiago and Manolin, the two main characters, are presented and described vividly. You can read (and listen to) the whole original story at Listen to the first three paragraphs before doing the test below, where you have to unscramble the text after clicking on the Go to the text button. Then, you'll have to click on the sentences following the chronological order.

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week. It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.
    The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck. The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection on the tropic sea were on his cheeks. The blotches ran well down the sides of his face and his hands had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert.
    Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.

2. The video with the story

Now you are going to watch one of the best animated videos ever! It was created by Alexander Petrov. It is an impressive 20-minute animated short which tells the whole story with beautiful images made in pastel oil paintings on glass. Besides, it is subtitled in English. Therefore, the beauty and the comprehension of the story will be easily caught. You also have the video with Spanish subtitles. Enjoy it!


3. Two tests about what Santiago and Manolin say

Now that you have delighted with the animation, it's time to focus on the characters' beautiful words and sentences, which are full of meaning. The simple dialogues between Santiago and Manolin represent their their mutual respect and affection. And Santiago's thoughts when he is in the sea fighting the powerful fish contain the essence of life and death that people have to face. You can enjoy these words and the feelings they express by taking the tests below, where you have to match ten sentences in each test by clicking first on the left column and then on the right one. Pay attention to their deep meanings.

4. A sentence puzzle about the hand game 

As you have seen in the video, there is a story within the story, the one in Casablanca, where Santiago plays a hand game and he beats an apparently stronger man. He is very proud of his win, and people admires him as a great champion. Now let's see if you can beat this test about this exciting story in the form of a sentence puzzle. Click on the sentences following the chronological order.

5. The main themes in the story 

After reading The Old Man and the Sea, you are aware that the story contains a lot of deep ideas and feelings about life itself. Surely, you have grasped some insights into the old man's actions and thoughts. See if they are contained in the following video that talks about the main themes in this story. You may want to take the test below, where you have to put the sentences in the order that they are said in the video. First, click on a number and then click on a sentence.

6. Two good online quizzes and some study questions

Sparknotes website includes a very good interactive quiz about this story. It is divided in sections according to the novel chapters, but you also have the Full-Book Quiz. And there is yet another interesting quizz at CliffsNotes. To take them, you'll have to read the whole story at

Besides, you can find some clarifying study questions at SparkNotes and a good analysis of Hemingway's style at CliffsNotes. They are very useful to get a good grasp of the story elements.

7. Opinions about the story - Defeat as victory

  1. "It is precisely through the effort to battle the inevitable that a man can prove himself. Indeed, a man can prove this determination over and over through the worthiness of the opponents he chooses to face. Santiago finds the marlin worthy of a fight, just as he once found “the great negro of Cienfuegos” worthy. His admiration for these opponents brings love and respect into an equation with death, as their destruction becomes a point of honor and bravery that confirms Santiago’s heroic qualities. One might characterize the equation as the working out of the statement “Because I love you, I have to kill you.” Alternately, one might draw a parallel to the poet John Keats and his insistence that beauty can only be comprehended in the moment before death, as beauty bows to destruction. Santiago, though destroyed at the end of the novella, is never defeated. Instead, he emerges as a hero. Santiago’s struggle does not enable him to change man’s place in the world. Rather, it enables him to meet his most dignified destiny". (SparkNotes)
  2. "The novella is truly universal in its consideration of the plight of an old man struggling against age, poverty, loneliness, and mortality to maintain his identity and dignity, reestablish his reputation in the community, and ensure for all time his relationship with those he loves and to whom he hopes to pass on everything he values most. Ultimately, Santiago's heroic struggle not only redeems himself but inspires and spiritually enriches those around him." (CliffsNotes)
  3. "An inspiring novella that portrays the struggles of one man and his triumph despite defeat. In its simple prose, it allows a glimpse into a mind and heart that has at once been toughened by experience and time, yet softened into something honorable and dignified. It is the meeting of hardship with determination and endurance. It is hope against all loss." (
  4. "The fable-like structure of the novel suggests that the story is symbolic, which is why many view The Old Man and the Sea as an allegory. But Hemingway thought all that was bunk—or at least, that’s what he said. "There isn’t any symbolism," he wrote to critic Bernard Berenson. "The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man … The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know." (Mental Floss)
  5. "The Old Man and the Sea is a beautiful tale, awash in the seasalt and sweat, bait and beer of the Havana coast. It tells a fundamental human truth: in a volatile world, from our first breath to our last wish, through triumphs and pitfalls both trivial and profound, what sustains us, ultimately, is hope". (The Guardian)
  6. "The excitement and tension of the old man's adventure, the magnificence of the great marlin and the beauty of days and nights alone on the Gulf Stream are all well conveyed in "The Old Man and the Sea." Mr. Hemingway has always excelled in describing physical adventure and the emotional atmosphere of it. And many of his stories have glorified courage in the face of danger. This one does, too, for the old man is the very embodiment of dogged courage. "Man is not meant for defeat," says Mr. Hemingway. "A man can be destroyed but not defeated"--that is if he has enough courage". (The New York Times)

8. Reference websites

  1. The Old Man and the Sea - audio and text book at
  2. The Old Man and the Sea at Wikipedia.
  3. SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on The Old Man and the Sea.” SparkNotes LLC. 2002. Web. 30 Aug. 2017.
  4. Criswell, Jeanne Sallade. CliffsNotes on The Old Man and the Sea. 31 Aug 2017.
  5. El viejo y el mar, actividad educativa de Javier Escajedo en Interpeques.
  6. Making Of Alexander Petrov. Video at Youtube.
  7. 11 Facts About Hemingway’s The Old Man And The Sea, at Mental Floss.

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