Manolin in The Old Man and the Sea: Physical Description & Characterization

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In this lesson, you will learn about one of the two most prominent characters in ''The Old Man and the Sea.'' This character is the boy, Manolin, who helps the old man throughout the novel.

The Boy

Have you ever had an assistant, or someone who helped you with a task? What about a close friend--someone you could always count on to be there if you needed them? In Ernest Hemingway's novel The Old Man and the Sea, one character serves both of these roles. His name is Manolin, though he is mostly referred to as ''the boy.''

Manolin is initially introduced as the old man's assistant. He was a boy who helped the old man, Santiago, on his fishing boat for a long time. However, after Santiago went forty days without catching any fish, Manolin's parents moved him to a different fishing boat that had better luck. But even when he is no longer Santiago's assistant, Manolin remains his friend and, in many ways, his caretaker. The boy is a prominent figure in the old man's life. We see this in particular during the large portion of the book when the old man is out at sea by himself. Although Manolin is not physically with him Santiago thinks about him constantly, and often wishes he were there or refers to what the boy would be doing if he were present.

Physical Description

Very little physical description of the boy is ever provided. We know that he is strong because he helps the old man by carrying the mast of his skiff up a hill. Since the mast is described as being as large as the room where the old man lives we know that it is fairly large, and therefore that Manolin must be strong. Even assuming it is a very small room, it would still be a very heavy solid piece of wood. We can also assume that his age is somewhere around adolescence. He is old enough to be working on different fishing boats, but young enough that his parents still make the decisions about where he will work.

Besides this, we aren't told anything about what he looks like. The boy's appearance has absolutely no effect on his role in the novel, and so it is not described. The entire focus is on Manolin's character and his actions.


There are two main types of characterization, or ways that readers learn about a character's personality. Both direct and indirect characterization are used in The Old Man and the Sea to give us insight into Manolin's personality. Everything in the novel centers around the old man, and the boy's characterization specifically centers around how much he cares for and wants to help Santiago.

Direct Characterization

Direct characterization is when the audience is told explicitly about a personality trait or attitude of a character. One example of this is in Hemingway's statement that ''the old man had taught the boy to fish and the boy loved him.''

Here, we are told right out how the boy feels about the old man. This love and care Manolin has is a significant part of his character, and we see it come through in his actions time and time again.

Another trait Manolin has is obedience. He tells Santiago, ''It was papa made me leave. I am a boy and I must obey him.'' This quote tells us clearly that the boy did not want to leave the old man, but he is obedient and followed his parents' instructions anyway.

Indirect Characterization

In contrast, indirect characterization means we have to look a little more closely at a character's speech and actions in order to understand what they might show us about their personality. For example, by using this type of characterization we can see that Manolin is very hard working. Every day he gets up early and helps the old man get his boat ready. Then he has to help get his own boat ready and spend all day out fishing, but he is always willing to help the old man again when he returns.

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