Hemingway uses character development to draw readers in to the story along with some suspense. While these two things are used quite a bit in almost every novel ever written, in Old Man and the Sea they are the two most effective things that keep a reader engaged.
In between the parts of the story where there is some sort of action going on, the old man thinks about his life. The memories that come up help develop his character and create lively past for the old man. While I was reading the book, I found myself getting bored with the fishing parts and looking forward to the next thoughts and memories the old man would have at the beginning of the story. I really wanted to know more about the old man and his life. Because I was drawn in to the character, I started paying more attention to the fishing parts because I saw how his past effected his thoughts about fishing. For instance, in the beginning it mentions that the old man had a wife who was religious (Hemingway 14). While he is fishing he says Hail Marys and promises to make a pilgrimage in order to catch his fish (Hemingway 34). Although the old man says he is not religious, he still prays partially because of his wife. Because of how his past shapes his character and how his character shapes his actions I was able to become interested in the fishing parts as well as the thoughtful parts.
In addition to creating a marvelous character, Hemingway uses a good deal of suspense too. When the fish starts nibbling at the old man's hook, the old man starts talking to the fish and to himself (Hemingway 25). The old man trying to convince the fish to take it and trying to convince himself the fish will take it really build the tension because the reader can tell how much the fish matters to the old man. When the fish is circling, the old man keeps thinking that the fish will kill him with each pass (Hemingway 45). This builds a lot of suspence because at this point one of the two will die, and it is hard to tell which one it will be.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. New York: Scribner, 2003. Print.