The Old Man and the Sea Essay, Journal & Narrative Writing Prompts

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'' is a story of strength and perseverance. This lesson provides essay questions and journal and narrative prompts for students to analyze the story more in depth.

The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea is the story of Santiago, an elderly fisherman that is struggling through an 84-day dry spell where he has caught no fish. He then decides to go out farther than all the rest of his fellow fisherman to try and catch something impressive. His plan works, and he ends up spending three days trying to catch an 18-foot marlin. He does manage to catch it, but on his way back home, sharks start to pick at the marlin's flesh until it is nothing but bones. Santiago ends up bringing back only a skeleton of the marlin and nothing more. This depresses the old man, but the town sees the large skeleton and is impressed.

The story shows that you can be the odd man out and yet still do big things. It also shows that other people's opinions should not be as important as the belief in yourself. The following essay questions and prompts are meant to get students thinking about the messages in the story and make the book more relatable and understandable.

Essay Questions

The following essay questions are a variety of compare and contrast, persuasive, and cause and effect questions to give several different ways for students to delve deeper into the novel.

  • Compare Hemingway's life and struggles to those of Santiago's. Explain how Hemingway's life influenced this book.
  • Persuade a reader that Santiago's pride was his undoing or his strength, and why.
  • Discuss what caused Santiago to become so stubborn about fishing? Was it the environment in Cuba? His chosen profession? His age?
  • Compare and contrast another book of Hemingway's with this one. What are the similarities and differences? Why do you think he has similar themes?
  • Compare and contrast Manolin and Santiago. Then explain why these two men are so close.
  • Discuss the symbolism in the novel, is there a theme in the symbolism? Faith? Religion? Why do you think that is?
  • Santiago says 'I can be destroyed, but not defeated.' What does this saying mean to you; how can you relate this to your own life?
  • Compare and contrast Santiago's strive for his goal with your personal battle for a goal. How is it similar? How is it different?
  • Explain what the main theme of The Old Man in the Sea is.
  • DiMaggio is Santiago's hero, who is your hero? Why did you chose your hero? Do they have similarities to Santiago's?


The following prompts can be used for students to write in a journal or write a narrative. It depends on the activity or need in class that day.

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