Britcent Audiobook Review: 3 Key Themes From 'The Old Man and the Sea'

4 min read

Level: Upper-intermediate

A modern classic and an epic tale of human perseverance, this might just be the next book you should listen to…

Hemingway's classic novella 'The Old Man and The Sea' depicts the tragic tale of an old Cuban fisherman, Santiago, as he struggles with the biggest catch of his life. Whilst this book was published in 1952 there are many important life lessons and philosophical truths that make it relevant even in 2021! Let's dive into three key themes that make this gripping tale of struggle, perseverance and determination of the human spirit the next book you should put on your reading list.

Isolation at Sea

The book follows a couple days in the life of a lonely old Cuban fisherman, Santiago, as he embarks on an adventure across the sea. Santiago is characterised as an isolated underdog; alienated from the other fishermen in his town. His only friend is his young fishing apprentice Manolin, but even he is forced to leave the old man to help on a more successful fishing boat. Thus for most of the novel the reader is left with only Santiago and his thoughts. This allows us a intimate glimpse into the mind of the protagonist.

"Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same colour as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated."—Ernest Hemmingway, 'The Old Man and The Sea'

This characterisation is typical of Hemingway's heroes. Isolation is often explored by this author and his protagonists often reach their greatest achievements as a result of their isolation. Indeed in 'The Old Man and The Sea' it is only in isolation that Santiago can be freed from the confines of society as he ventures out further into the sea to meet the greatest catch of his life.

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Mind Over Matter

Another important theme explored in 'The Old Man and The Sea' is the honour in struggle and the importance of perseverance. Some view Santiago's battle with both the sea and its inhabitants as paradigmatic of mankind's battle against the natural world. However, I think this battle exemplifies the endurance of the human spirit. At many points Santiago considers giving up, but nevertheless he endeavours to transcend his external difficulties and does so by showing a great deal of mental fortitude.

"Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is."—Ernest Hemingway, 'The Old Man and The Sea'

Santiago's mental endurance is something that is extremely appealing and satisfying for the reader as we root for him to conquer his surroundings. I think this especially strikes a chord with the modern reader after the year we've had internationally! A tale of resilience and perseverance is both appealing and relatable.

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Learning From Our Mistakes

Whilst our protagonist shows great courage and determination this does not mean he is flawless. Far from it! Pride is another key theme explored by Hemingway. After many days of unsuccessful fishing Santiago's pride is damaged so he takes an arguably foolish risk by venturing further out into the sea in order to attempt to score a catch. This leads our protagonist into the treacherous situation he finds himself in which will ultimately end in tragedy.

"You must get well fast for there is much I can learn and you can teach me everything."—Ernest Hemingway, 'The Old Man and The Sea'

However this is not lost on Santiago as he repeatedly laments his choices. 'I am sorry that I went too far out. I ruined us both.' Thus Hemingway offers the reader an important life lesson to learn from their mistakes. A hopeful ending to this tragic tale.

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If you like the sound of this captivating tale click the link above to access the full audiobook! Or perhaps you would like just a taster? Listen to chapter one on our YouTube channel, or scroll down to listen to it here. Follow the words on the screen as Britcent tutor Beck reads them to help you improve both your listening and reading skills! Want to discuss books and much more with a real native speaker? Try signing up for a lesson with one of our professional Britcent tutors. Your teacher can give you lots of tips on pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and more.

Vocabulary takeaway






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