The Old Man and the Sea Discussion Questions

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

Hemingway's ''The Old Man and the Sea'' tells of Santiago and his struggle to live as he chooses while still trying to overcome his circumstances. This lesson offers discussion questions for students to use in analyzing and understanding the novel.

The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea is the story of a very old fisherman that has run into a string of bad luck keeping him from catching fish. This has also lost him his one friend and apprentice, Manolin, whose parents require him to find another boat to fish that is doing better. Santiago, unwilling to give up, goes out further than the rest of the fishermen in hopes of finding a better catch. He does end up struggling for 3 days as he tries to reel in an 18-foot marlin. However, on his way to bring it back home, sharks start to eat at it. Although Santiago continues to fight the sharks, they still manage to take the fish down to just bones, leaving Santiago with only a skeleton. Santiago may feel defeated, but the townspeople are in awe of the fish skeleton, and Manolin decides to defy his parents to become partners with Santiago.

This book is written due to Hemingway's fascination with Cuba and the people there. However, the story is based in the 1950's which can make it a challenge for students to relate to. Which is where discussion questions come in. The following discussion questions are set up to provide a variety of different ways for students to analyze this book.


Having discussion questions that only ask for opinions on the book and situations are a great way to get students talking since the answers are never wrong.

  • How do you feel about Manolin having to fish on a different boat during Santiago's struggles?
  • What do you think of The Old Man and the Sea? Why is this book unique?
  • Is there another way that Santiago could have broken his bad luck?
  • Do you think Manolin should have defied his parents in the beginning? Why or why not?
  • Santiago chose to go his own way, why do you think he did? Was he happier because of it?
  • What do you think of Hemingway's style of writing?
  • Have you read another Hemingway novel? Was it better than this one? Why or why not?
  • There is very little action in the normal sense for The Old Man and the Sea, do you think the story needed it? Why or why not?
  • What type of person do you think Santiago is? How about Manolin?
  • Santiago was prideful, do you think this was a strength or a weakness? Why?

Relatable Questions

Getting students to find ways to relate the story to their own personal lives will give them a better understanding of the character's motivations and the author's message.

  • Do you know of anyone that is as stubborn and strong as Santiago? Who and why?
  • Santiago relates to the marlin, what animal would you relate to, and why?
  • Santiago looks up to Joe DiMaggio, who is your hero and why?
  • Santiago fought for days to get the marlin because he believed in its importance, do you have something that important to you? Would you endure what Santiago did for it? Why or why not?
  • Manolin eventually defies his parents to partner up with Santiago; this was going to cause a rift in his family, but he believed it was right. Do you have a passion that you would fight for, even if it meant losing your family? Why?
  • In your home country, is there a labor force that struggles like the fishermen in Cuba? Who are they? Why?

Context Questions

Providing students with some background on Cuba, Hemingway, and the time period is a good way to give them a better idea of the motivations behind the characters and the writing as a whole.

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