External Conflicts in The Old Man and the Sea: Types & Analysis

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine the external conflicts that Santiago faces in Ernest Hemingway's 'The Old Man and the Sea'. This short story is about an aging man who has lost the respect of his community after a streak of bad luck.

Background and Definitions

Like 'Batman versus Superman', every movie, novel, and short story contains some type of conflict. Conflict contributes to the plot of the story through some type of struggle between opposing forces. Conflict can be internal or external. In Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago is fighting an uphill battle against the sea, the community, and the aging process. Let's examine some examples of external conflicts from Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea.

Man Versus Society

After 84 straight days of not catching any fish, Santiago, the elderly fisherman, starts to lose the respect of the people in his community. The boy who fished with him, Manolin, still has faith in him, but his parents don't. Manolin's parents ''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.'' Because he is considered unlucky, Santiago is forced to face the sea on his own.

The other fishermen ''sat on the Terrace and many of the fishermen made fun of the old man and he was not angry. Others, of the older fishermen, looked at him and were sad. But they did not show it and they spoke politely...'' No one wants to be made fun of or pitied, but that is the conflict that Santiago faces with his community.

Man Versus Nature

The main external conflict Santiago faces is with the sea itself. For a fisherman to go such a long period of time without a catch is devastating. Santiago has faith in his skills, but he realizes he is aging and that some things may be harder than they used to be. '''I may not be as strong as I think,' the old man said. 'But I know many tricks and I have resolution.' ''

Santiago also faces conflict with the great fish that takes him several days to kill. '''Fish,' he said, 'I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends... let us hope so', he thought.'' The marlin is the largest he has ever seen and proves to be a formidable opponent, even for a seasoned fisherman.

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