Tone & Mood of The Old Man and the Sea

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Writing style and sentence structure help to produce the tone and mood of Hemingway's ''The Old Man and the Sea.'' In this lesson, we'll explore the various moods and tones apparent in the novel.

Hemingway's Words

The Old Man and the Sea is a great study in writing style that helps to set both the tone and the mood of the entire work. Generally, when we talk about tone, we mean the author's feelings about his writing, whereas mood is the reader's feelings about what he or she is reading.

If you asked someone how they enjoyed their weekend out of town and they said they dreaded the drive and that their family forced them to go, you could be pretty certain the person did not enjoy themselves. That would explain tone.

If you're reading a review of a product on a popular e-commerce website, and see that it's peppered with words such as 'disappointed,' 'subpar' and 'poor quality,' your feelings about buying the product will probably change. This explains mood.

In this lesson, we'll take a look at how Ernest Hemingway's words influence both the tone and mood of The Old Man and the Sea.


Hemingway is well known for his terse, journalistic style of writing. That means Hemingway makes use of short and concise sentences as well as relying on dialogue to tell the story. Hemingway is also a fan of using factual details to help convey realistic details of the plot. Regardless, we're able to judge some of Hemingway's thoughts based on the way he approached the novel.

Here are some of the key points of Hemingway's writing that might help us determine the tone of the story:

1. Factual: Hemingway's writing style overall lends itself to a factual tone due to his simple sentence structure and straight-forward approach. It presents Hemingway's goal to present a matter-of-fact telling of the story of the fisherman. The simple tone matches the simplicity of the fisherman.

2. Sympathetic: There is a reverence to the way Hemingway addresses the fisherman throughout the novel, which is devoid of humor or comic relief. It's almost as though, because of the fisherman's struggles, Hemingway feels sympathy toward his plight and his situation.

3. Depressive: In one passage, Hemingway quotes the fisherman as saying, 'I wish I had the boy. To help me and to see this.' The old man's statement of longing for his friend strikes a tone that is sad and despairing.

4. Hopeful: It may seem odd to look at hope as a tone of the book, but the fisherman's persistent struggle and desire to persevere light the book with a hopeful tone. References in the book to the fisherman saying, 'Eighty-five is a lucky number' and 'Tomorrow is going to be a good day,' shows that the central character has hope throughout.

5. Nostalgic: Recalling his lost youth seems to give strength to Hemingway's fisherman, and offers a nostalgic air to the story. The fisherman draws on the strength of his youth to help him push forward to success.

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