The Old Man and the Sea

Describe the setting and explain its significance


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This short novel, as the title suggests, is mainly set on the sea over a period of three days. The protagonist, Santiago, is a fisherman by profession and lives in a small village in Cuba. Geographically, Cuba is an island in the Caribbean, whose main industry is fishing; Hemingway himself had lived in Cuba for a few years before the Fidel Castro revolution, obtaining an intimate knowledge of the places that are described in The Old Man and the Sea.

Havana is the capital of Cuba and forms a distant background to Santiago’s journey; he uses the lights of the city to find his way back home at night. A more important town in the novel is the little fishing village in which Santiago lives and where Spanish is spoken. Hemingway seems to have based the village on a real one called Kojimar. The warm waters of the Gulf Stream flow very close to this village, bringing the giant marlin in the months of September and October. Santiago sets out on his momentous journey in the early fall, probably in September. During the course of the novel, the setting becomes symbolic; the sea represents the total universe against which humanity (represented by Santiago) is pitted and in which, everybody has to take a chance.