OLD MAN AND THE SEA Carlos D.
Coton, Ph.D. (1996) (Rev. 2011)
analysis broken down by parts
Part I: The
Old Man and the Boy (through pg. 28 in book)
The Old Man and the Sea is written as one text without breaks. Please refer to the page numbers and to the edition used to
keep track of our divisions.
There is an
old fisherman, Santiago,
in Cuba who has gone eighty-four days
without a catch. He is "thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck,...and his hands had deep-creased scars
from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert"
(10). Santiago's lack of success, though, does not destroy
his spirit, and he has "cheerful and undefeated" eyes (10). He has a single friend, a boy named Manolin,(whose name we do
not know for the first 27 pages of the book) who helped him during the first forty days of his dryspell. After forty days,
though, Manolin's parents decide the old man is unlucky and order their son to join another boat. Despite this, though, the
boy helps the old man to bring in his empty boat every day.
money on the other boat, Manolin asks Santiago if he can return
to the old man's service. Santiago refuses the boy, telling
him to mind his parents and stay with the successful boat. Manolin offers to fetch sardines for the old man, an offer which
Santiago first refuses and then accepts. Hemingway tells us
that "He, [Santiago], was too simple to wonder when he had attained humility. But he knew he had attained it and he knew it
was not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true pride" (14).
Manolin that the next day he will go out far in the Gulf to fish. Manolin responds that he will try to keep his own ship near
Santiago's so that he can help the old man pull in his catch.
The two gather Santiago's things from his boat and go to the
old man's house. His house is very simple with a bed, table, and chair on a dirt floor. There are also religious pictures
and a tinted photograph on the wall, relics of his wife. At the house the two rehearse a nightly ritual of speaking about
fictitious rice and food and a net. None of these really exist but both pretend that they do and the ritual gives them comfort.
Santiago then pulls out a paper and the two discuss baseball, speaking with great enthusiasm of Joe DiMaggio. Manolin leaves
the house and Santiago falls asleep.
returns, he wakes Santiago. The two eat the food the boy has
brought. During the course of the meal, the boy realizes the squalor in which the old man lives and reminds himself to bring
the old man a shirt, shoes, a jacket, and a blanket for the coming winter. The two talk baseball again, focusing as usual
on Joe DiMaggio. Speaking about great baseball stars, the boy calls the old man the greatest fisherman. Santiago accepts the
compliment but denies the truth of Manolin's statement, remarking that he knows better fisherman than himself. The boy then
leaves to be woken in the morning by the old man. Santiago sleeps soundly using his rolled up trousers and the newspaper as
Santiago dreams of Africa,
where he traveled as a shipmate in his youth. "He lived along that coast now every night and in his dreams he head the surf
roar and saw the native boats come riding through it....He dreamed of places now and lions on the beach" (24). His dreams
are limited to this and nothing else: no women, no wife, no storms, never Manolin. The old man wakes and retrieves the boy
from his house. The two take the old man's supplies from his shack to his boat and enjoy coffee at an early morning place
that serves fisherman. The boy leaves to fetch the sardines for the old man. When he returns, he wishes the old man luck,
and Santiago goes out to sea.
any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The shark are all sharks
no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know."
express admonition against interpretation, The Old Man and the Sea has been a favorite subject of literary criticism throughout
the half-century since it was published. As the enduring interest in the text might indicate, there are a variety of different
readings of the novella. It has, for instance, been read as a Christian allegory, a Nietzschean parable of overcoming, a Freudian
dream of Oedipal wish-fulfillment, and a Humanistic saga of triumph in the face of absurdity. In light of these radical disagreements
in opinion, the following analysis will not attempt to present a fully-consistent, authoritative interpretation of The Old
Man and the Sea. Rather, it will elaborate a diversity of viewpoints, endeavoring to represent the novella's rich history
in our modern literary consciousness.
The first sentence
of the book announces itself as Hemingway's: "He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf stream and he had
gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish" (9). The words are plain, and the structure, two tightly-worded independent
clauses conjoined by a simple conjunction, is ordinary, traits which characterize Hemingway's literary style. While in other
works this economy of language is used to convey the immediacy of experience, Hemingway's terseness is heightened here to
the point of rendering much of the prose empty on one level and pregnant with meaning on the other; that is, the sentences
tend to lose their particular connection to reality but at the same time attain a more general, symbolic character, much like
the effect of poetry.
The use of the
number forty in the next sentence is the first of many religious allusions in the novella. We are told that after forty days
the length of time it took Christ to subdue Satan in the desert Manolin's parents decided that "the old man was now and definitely
salao, which is the worst form of unlucky" (9). Despite Hemingway’s denial, the number 40 is a key number in Old Testament
manifestations, occurring no less than 7 times as key factors. This sentence proclaims one of the novel's themes, the heroic
struggle against unchangeable fate. Indeed, the entire first paragraph emphasizes Santiago's
apparent lack of success. For example, "It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty." And
most powerfully, "The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat" (9).
This type of
descriptive degradation of Santiago continues with details
of his old, worn body. Even his scars, legacies of past successes, are "old as erosions in a fishless desert" (10). All this
changes suddenly, though, when Hemingway says masterfully, "Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the
same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated" (10). This draws attention to a dichotomy between two different types
of success: outer, material success and inner, spiritual success. While Santiago
clearly lacks the former, the import of this lack is eclipsed by his possession of the later. This triumph of indefatigable
spirit over exhaustible material resources is another important theme of the novel. Also, Santiago's
eye color foreshadows Hemingway's increasingly explicit likening of Santiago to the sea, suggesting
an analogy between Santiago's indomitable spirit and the sea's
between Santiago and Manolin can be summed up in one sentence:
"The old man had taught the boy to fish and the boy loved him" (10). Manolin is Santiago's
apprentice, but their relationship is not restricted to business alone. Manolin idolizes Santiago but the object of this idolization
is not only the once great though presently failed fisherman; it is an idolization of ideals. This helps explain Manolin's
unique, almost religious, devotion to the old man, underscored when Manolin begs Santiago's pardon for his not fishing with
the old man anymore. Manolin says, "It was Papa made me leave. I am a boy and I must obey him," to which Santiago replies, "I know....It is quite normal. He hasn't much faith" (10).
clear hierarchy of this teacher/student relationship, Santiago
does stress his equality with the boy. When Manolin asks to buy the old man a beer, Santiago
replies, "Why not?...Between fisherman" (11). And when Manolin asks to help Santiago with his
fishing, Santiago replies, "You are already a man" (12). By
demonstrating that Santiago has little more to teach the boy,
this equality foreshadows the impending separation of the two friends, and also indicates that this will not be a story about
a young boy learning from an old man, but a story of an old man learning the unique lessons of the autumn of life.
A similar type
of unexpected equality comes out when Hemingway describes the various ways marlins and sharks are treated on shore. While
this foreshadows the struggle between Santiago's marlin and
the sharks, it is also equalizes the participants. Despite the battles at sea, the marlins and sharks are both butchered and
used by humans on land; their antagonisms mean nothing on shore. Like the case of Santiago and Manolin, this equalization
demonstrates the novella's thematic concern with the unity of nature including humanity a unity which ultimately helps succor
the heroic victim of great tragedy.
This unity is
also brought about in the strange Hemingway-ian conjunction of the beautiful and the barbaric. In other works, this is represented
by bullfighting or big game hunting; here it is represented by fishing. Notice Manolin's excited recollection:
"I can remember
the tail slapping and banging and the thwart breaking and the noise of the clubbing. I can remember you throwing me into the
boat where the wet coiled lines were and feeling the whole boat shiver and the noise of your clubbing him like chopping a
tree down and the sweet blood smell all over me" (12).
almost erotic, imagery stands in stark contrast to the careful art of fishing we see later in the novel. The fact the fishing
requires both calm detachment and violent engagement (a kind of masculine flourish) further illustrates the unity of a world
which both oppresses man and out of which the strength to resist that oppression comes.
peppers the novella with numerous references to sight. We are told, for instance, that Santiago
has uncannily good eyesight for a man of his age and experience. When Manolin notices this, Santiago replies simply, "I am a strange old man" (14). Given the previously mentioned analogy
between Santiago's eyes and the sea, one suspects that his
strangeness in this regard has something to do with his relationship to the sea. This connection, though, is somewhat problematic
as it might suggest that Santiago would have success as a
fisherman. Santiago's exact relation to the sea, though, will
be taken up in later chapters.
of Santiago's house further develops our view of Santiago
as materially unsuccessful. It is interesting, though, that Hemingway draws attention to the relics of Santiago's
wife in his house, presenting an aspect of Santiago which
is otherwise absent throughout the novel. This is significant because it suggests a certain completeness to Santiago's character
which makes him more of an Everyman appropriate for an allegory but mentioning it simply to remove it from the stage makes
its absence even more noteworthy, and one might question whether the character of Santiago is too roughly drawn to allow the
reader to fully identify with his story.
Manolin's repetitive fiction of offering food and retrieving nets heightens both the pathos one feels toward Santiago and
the sense of timelessness about the old man a timelessness which would serve any allegorical aspirations Hemingway has. The
conversation about baseball which ensues after this role-playing is also significant, especially the valorizing references
to the "great DiMaggio." Joe DiMaggio is the heroic archetype for Santiago.
Santiago's identification with DiMaggio "They say his father was a fisherman. Maybe he was poor as we are and would understand"
(22) are especially relevant as DiMaggio, as Santiago, is at the time the story is set in the autumn of his career. (As Manolin
says to Santiago, "Keep warm old man...remember we are in
September" (18)). DiMaggio's struggle to play with a bone spur in his heel is a transparent reference to another heroic archetype,
Achilles. These associations help elevate Santiago's actions
to the level of the heroic.
rejoinder to Manolin's command to keep warm in September, "The month when the great fish come....Anyone can he a fisherman
in May," is also important in that it foreshadows the novella's concern with the lessons learned near the end of one's life.
Santiago, the character in Hemingway's novella, will acquire a great wisdom as Santiago, the fisherman, will catch the big fish.
There is an
interesting irony in the inversion of roles between the paternal tutor Santiago
and the pupil Manolin. While Santiago took care of Manolin on the water by teaching him how
to fish, Manolin takes care of Santiago on land by, for example,
making sure the old man eats. When Santiago wants to fish without eating, Santiago assumes a parental tone and declares, "You'll not fish without eating while I'm
alive." To which Santiago replies half-jokingly, "Then live
a long time and take care of yourself" (19). This inversion sets up the ensuing narrative by making the old Santiago a youth again, ready to receive the wisdom of his quest. Santiago's almost childlike
dream of playful lions symbols of male strength and virility before his voyage is also an indication of Santiago's second
though, the dream of lions on the coast of Africa draws attention to Santiago's personal history
as a Spaniard from the Canary Islands. Santiago is also the
Spanish name for James, the patron saint of Spain. Like Santiago, St. James was a fisherman
before he heeded Christ's call to be a fisher of men, and it was he who first brought Christianity to Spain. This parallel further casts a religious air around
Santiago and his ensuing struggle. And as St. James was the
special patron saint of the Spanish conquistadors who fought to bring their values to the New World, there is a suggestion
that Santiago is bringing his (Hemingways) heroic values to the New World as well.
The nature of
these values is not so clear, especially at this point in the book, but Hemingway does offer some clues. There is, as there
always is with Hemingway, a premium placed on masculinity and the obligations of manhood. When Santiago wakes Manolin up to help him off, the tired boy says simply, "Que va....It is what
a man must do" (26). As for what this manhood entails, perhaps the most illustrative thing Hemingway says so far is in his
characterization of Santiago's humility. Hemingway says of
Santiago, "He was too simple to wonder when he had attained
humility. But he knew he had attained it and he knew it was not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true pride" (14). Humility
and the acceptance of obligation, then, appear to be marks of manhood, a concept Hemingway will flesh out through the course
of the novella.
Part II: The
Old Man and the Sea (28 – 41 )
leaves shore early in the morning, before sunrise. "He knew he was going far out and he left the smell of the land behind
and rowed out into the clean early morning smell of the ocean" (28). Soon, Santiago
rows over the ?great well,' a sudden drop of seven hundred fathoms where shrimp, bait fish, and squid congregate. Moving along,
Santiago spots flying fish and birds, expressing great sympathy
for the latter. As he queries, "Why did they make birds so delicate and fine as those sea swallows when the ocean can be so
cruel? She is kind and very beautiful. But she can be so cruel...." (29).
We are told
that while other fisherman, those who used buoys and motorboats, thought of the sea as a masculine competitor or enemy, Santaigo
"always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favors, and if she did wild or wicked things
it was because she could not help them" (30).
keeps pressing out, past the great well where he has been recently unsuccessful. He travels out where schools of bonito and
albacore are, hoping there might be a big fish with them. Before light, Santiago
casts his bait fish out but does not let them drift with the current. He wants to know exactly where his hooks are. Santiago says of this, "I keep them with precision. Only I have no luck
anymore. But who knows? Maybe today. Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when
luck comes you are ready" (32).
sees a man-of-war bird overhead and notices that the bird has spied something in the water. The old man follows rows near
the bird, and drops his own lines into the area, hoping to capture the fish the bird has seen. There is a large school of
dolphin traveling fast, too fast for either the bird or Santiago
to capture. Santiago moves on, hoping to catch a stray or
perhaps even discover a marlin tracking the school.
man-of-war approaches the boat and receives Santiago's ire.
The old man recalls being stung by the man-of-war before and happily recalls watching their destruction. As he says, "The
iridescent bubbles were beautiful. But they were the falsest things in the sea and the old man loved to see the big sea turtles
eating them" (36). Having worked on a turtle boat for years, Santiago
expresses his sympathy for turtles. He says "most people are heartless about turtles because a turtle's heart will beat for
hours after he has been cut up and butchered....I have such a heart too and my hands and feet are like theirs" (37).
notices the bird again, and suspects that he has found fish again. Soon after, the old man sees a tuna leap from the water
and the bird diving to catch the bait fish stirred up by the tuna's jump. Santiago
gently moves toward the school and soon feels a bite. He pulls the albacore in the boat and clubs him to death.
The old man
soon realizes that he is talking to himself. "It was considered a virtue not to talk unnecessarily at sea and the old man
had always considered it so and respected it. But now he said his thoughts aloud many times since there was no one that they
could annoy" (39). Santiago recalls himself from such thinking,
saying "Now is the time to think of only one thing. That which I was born for" (40). Soon, there, is a strong bite on one
of the lines Santiago cast out earlier.
start into the sea is an excellent demonstration of Hemingway's descriptive art in its successive engagement of various senses.
First, there is smell: "The old man knew he was going far out and he left the smell of the land behind and rowed out into
the clean early morning smell of the ocean" (28). Next, there is sight: "He saw the phosphorescence of the Gulf weed in the
water" (29). And lastly, there is hearing: "...[H]e heard the trembling sound as the flying fish left the water" (30). This
use of different sensory imagery helps create a powerful description of the sea. As the novella's title might indicate, the
sea is to play a very important role in the narrative, and Hemingway's exquisite introduction of the sea, recalling his descriptions
of Santiago at the novella's opening in their sustained beauty,
signals that importance.
description is followed by the first of many instances in this section of apparent contradictions resolved into a greater
unity?a theme mentioned in the part I analysis. Santiago muses
about the fragility of the birds he sees. He says, "Why did they make birds so delicate and fine as those sea swallows when
the ocean can be so cruel? She is kind and very beautiful. But she can be so cruel..." (29). This dichotomy in the sea's temperament
is further illustrated by Santiago's gendered explanation
of the sea's many faces.
Santiago, people refer to the sea as a woman when they love
her. When they view her as a enemy and rival, though, they refer to her as a man. Santiago
"always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favors, and if she did wild or wicked things
it was because she could not help them" (30). Despite the chauvinism characteristic of Hemingway, this view of the ocean is
important in that it indicates that while the sea may bring fortune or ruin, the sea is unitary. It is not sometimes one thing
and sometimes another. The good and the bad, or what people perceive as the good and the bad, are all equal parts of this
this gendered view also suggests an alternative conception of unity, unity between the masculine and the feminine. As the
descriptions of those who view the sea as a man are cast in a negative light, one might argue that the story is repudiation
of a homosocial world of competitive masculinity. Man and man will always yield strife; man and woman, Santiago and the sea, complement each other and create a peaceable unity. The representation
of the feminine, though, in so abstract a context problematizes this judgment, especially when the only flesh and blood woman
we see in the story, the tourist at the very end, is supposed to upset us.
many commentators, the passage in which Santiago describes
the care with which he casts his line is a transparent autobiographical reference: "...I keep them with precision. Only I
have no more luck anymore. But who knows? Maybe today. Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather
be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready" (32). This novella was published after one of the worst disaster of Hemingway's
literary career, Across the River and into the Trees. In a way, this passage is an excuse of that work. He had maintained
the precision and exactitude of his previous works in the work. That this was not appreciated was a matter of luck or, one
might assume, the caprice of literary tastes. In light of this interpretation, The Old Man and the Sea is frequently read
as a symbolic fictionalization of Hemingway's own quest for his next great catch, his next great book.
statement that his eyes adjust to the sun during different parts of the day furnishes another example of the importance of
sight and visual imagery in the novella. Santiago says, "All
my life the early sun has hurt my eyes, he thought. Yet they are still good. In the evening I can look straight into it without
getting the blackness. It has more force in the evening too. But in the morning it is just painful" (33). Given the likening
of natural time cycles to human age, e.g. September as the autumn of life, it is plausible to read this passage as a statement
of the edifying power of age. While it is difficult to find one's way in the morning of youth, this task becomes easier when
done by those who have lived through the day into the evening of life.
man-of-war can also be seen as a symbol of femininity, though one with decidedly negative implications. While the animal is
called a man-of-war, the Spanish name which Santiago uses, agua mala, is feminine, and Santiago refers to it as a whore. He notes its beauty but describes
the power of its sting and calls it the "falsest thing in the sea" (36), recalling recurring cultural associations between
femininity and falsity. He even takes pleasure in the turtle's devouring the man-of-war and recollects fondly when stepped
on their beached brethren. Perhaps this represents the negative aspect of femininity, a counterpoise to the positive imagery
of the sea. In any case, it problematizes the novel's relation to gender and further calls into question the positivity of
Hemingway's conception of the feminine.
the matter further by identifying Santiago with turtles, those
creatures which blindly?literally?devour the feminine man-of-war. The main significance of this identification, however, is
Santiago's likeness to the sea and the various creatures which
inhabit its living waters. About the turtles, Santiago says
"Most people are heartless about turtles because a turtle's heart will beat for hours after he has been cut up and butchered.
But the old man thought, I have such a heart too and my feet and hands are like theirs" (37). This identification is important
as it corroborates our understanding of Santiago's indomitability,
the quality of undefeated-ness Hemingway noted early in the novella; with his body destroyed, his heart, his spirit, will
fight on. This foreshadows the harrowing task Santiago is
about to face with the marlin. Also, Hemingway tells us that Santiago
eats turtle eggs for strength and drinks shark liver oil for health. In this way, he internalizes the characteristics of the
sea and adopts them as his own.
in which Santiago talks to himself on the ocean can be taken
to corroborate the autobiographical interpretation of the novella. Santiago's
speech is really Hemingway's thought; the old fisherman figuratively sails the author's unconscious, represented in Freudian
symbolism by the sea, in an attempt to pull forth the great story from its inchoate depths. According to this view, everything
takes place within Hemingway's mind, a self-referential allegory of the heroic artist?"Now it is time to think of only one
thing. That which I was born for" (40)?searching for greatness in a world which seeks to deprive him of it.
That the fishermen
call all the fish tuna and only differentiate between them when they sell them is at once a statement of the theme of unity
and a repudiation of the market. It is not ignorance the underlies this practice, but rather a simplifying?though not simplistic?appreciation
of the unity of the sea. There are fish and there are fisherman; those who are caught and those who catch. This distillation
of parts heightens the allegorical quality of the novel. The market forces the fisherman to forget this symbolic binary relationship
and focus on differentiation, requiring a multiplication of the terms of difference. As the novella stakes out a position
of privileging unity, this market-driven divisionism come across negatively. This makes sense in light of Hemingway's previously
mentioned anger at the unappreciative literary audience for his previous effort.
Part III: (41 - 63)
notices a bite on his hundred fathom deep line. The first bite is hard, and the stick to which the line is connected drops
sharply. The next tug was more tentative, but Santiago knew
exactly what it was. "One hundred fathoms down a marlin was eating the sardines that covered the point and the shank of the
hook where the hand-forged hook projected from the head of the small tuna" (41). Encouraged by a bite at such a depth so far
out in the Gulf, Santiago reasons that the fish much be a very large marlin.
The marlin nibbles
around the hook for some time, refusing to take the bait fully. Santiago
speaks aloud, as if to cajole the fish into accepting the bait. He says, "Come on....Make another turn. Just smell them. Aren't
they lovely? Eat them good now and then there is the tuna. Hard and cold and lovely. Don't be shy fish. Eat them" (42). After
many false bites, the marlin finally takes the tuna and pulls out a great length of line.
waits a bit for the marlin to swallow the hook and then pulls hard on the line to bring the marlin up to the surface. The
fish is strong, though, and does not come up and does not even move. Instead, he swims away, dragging the old man and his
skiff along behind. Santiago wishes he had Manolin with him to help for the first time. Alone, though, he must let the fish
take the line it wants or risk losing it. Eventually, the fish will tire itself out and die. "But four hours later the fish
was still swimming steadily out to sea, towing the skiff, and the old man was still braced solidly with the line across his
As the sun went
down, the marlin continued on in the same direction, and Santiago
lost sight of land altogether. The result is a curious stalemate. As Santiago
says, "I can do nothing with him and he can do nothing with me....Not as long as he keeps this up" (47). He wishes for the
boy again and muses that "no one should be alone in their old age....But it is unavoidable" (48). As if in response to this
expression of loneliness, two porpoises come to the surface. Seeing the frolicking couple, Santiago remarks, "They are good....They play and make jokes and love one another. They are
our brothers like the flying fish" (48). Santiago then remembers
a female marlin he and Manolin caught. The male marlin had stayed beside the boat in despair, leaping in the air to see his
mate in the boat before he disappeared into the deep ocean. It was the saddest thing Santiago
had ever seen.
takes one of the baits behind Santiago, but he cuts the line in order to avoid distraction from the marlin, wishing Manolin
were there to watch the other lines. Expressing his resolve, Santiago
says, "Fish,...I'll stay with you until I am dead" (52). He expresses ambivalence over whether he wants the fish to jump,
wanting to end the struggle as quickly as possible but worrying that the hook might slip out of the fish's mouth. Echoing
his former resolve though with less certainty, Santiago says,
"Fish,...I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends" (54).
A small bird
lands on the boat, and while Santiago is speaking to the bird, the marlin lurches forward and pulls the old man down, cutting
his hand. Lowering his hand to water to clean it, Santiago
notices that the marlin has slowed down. He decides to eat a tuna he has caught in order to give him strength for his ordeal.
As he is cutting the fish, though, his left hand cramps. "What kind of hand is that," Santiago
says, "Cramp then if you want. Make yourself into a claw. It will do you no good" (58). The old man eats the tuna, hoping
it will renew his strength and help release his hand.
considers his lonely condition. He is surrounded by a seemingly endless expanse of deep, dark water. Staring at the clouds,
though, he sees a "flight of wild ducks etching themselves against the sky over water, then blurring, then etching again and
he knew no man was ever alone on the sea" (61). Santiago soon
focuses on his hand, though, and contemplates the humiliation of a cramp, an insurrection of one's own body against oneself.
Just then, the
marlin comes out of the water quickly and descends into the water again. Santiago
is amazed by its size, two feet longer than the skiff. Unendingly long. Just as the word sounds. He realizes that the marlin
could destroy the boat if he wanted to and says, "...Thank God, they are not as intelligent as we who kill them; although
they are more noble and more able" (63). Santiago says prayers
to assuage his worried heart and settles into the chase once again.
begins Santiago's pursuit of the hooked marlin, and there
is a good deal of simple description of the mechanics of catching such a fish. This helps create a sense of narrative authenticity,
the clean conveyance of reality for which Hemingway assiduously strove. Despite this focus on specific reality, this section
of the novel can be seen to continue in the symbolic vein of the previous sections.
Hemingway's description of the marlin's initial nibbling on the bait utilizes the same phrases again and again, e.g. "delicate
pulling." While this may express the actual event perfectly, the repetition creates a distancing effect, pushing the prose
more toward poetry and less towards realistic objectivity. As noted before, this heightens the allegorical quality of the
narrative, which, at least explicitly, Hemingway denied.
response with which Santiago's thoughts of loneliness are
met is another expression of the theme of unity in the novella. Santiago
thinks to himself, "No one should be alone in their old age....But it is unavoidable" (48). As if in response to this, Hemingway
introduces a pair of friendly dolphins in the very next paragraph. "They are good," says Santiago.
"They make jokes and love one another. They are our brothers like the flying fish" (48).
Then, as if
on cue, Santiago begins to feel sorry for the marlin he has
hooked. This pity for the great fish is intensified when Santiago
recalls seeing the misery of a male marlin after he had caught its mate. Saddened deeply by this demonstration of devotion,
Santiago and Manolin, with whom he was fishing, "begged her
pardon and butchered her promptly" (50). This is a tender scene and one that deviates a little from the Hemingway mode. This scene, however, paints another great picture of the relationship of Santiago with
nature, especially the sea. Suddenly, Santiago is speaking of his actions as treachery,' a very odd word for a fisherman to
use in describing his trade. The more he identifies with the sea and its creatures, the more despicable his actions become.
Soon, though, Santiago's treachery is transformed from his act of killing to his having gone out further than most fisherman
The end of this
passage begins another shift in tone, this time to the tragically heroic. The image of a struggle between two figures alone
in the great ‘beyond' certainly conjures an air of monumental conflict. This heroic angle is played up even more when
Santiago ends these reflections by thinking, "Perhaps I should
not have been a fisherman....But that was the thing I was born for" (50). Again, this emphasis on fate is typical of heroic
stories, especially tragedies.
one might also read this statement of fate as an expression of Santiago's
own place in a symbolic story about the writing process itself. Santiago,
a product of Hemingway's authorial imagination, was born to play the role he has in the narrative. In this way, the character's
succumbing to fate is a comment on the creative process by which the author controls the destiny of his or her characters.
identification with and affection for the marlin increases the longer he is with the fish. In order to convince the fish to
be caught and to steel himself for his difficult task, Santiago says, "Fish,...I love you and respect you very much. But I
will kill you before this day ends" (54). Soon after, Santiago
tells the bird that has landed on his boat that he cannot help because he is "with a friend" (55). And later, Santiago goes as far as to wish that he could feed the marlin, calling it his brother.
of Santiago's left hand is interesting First, it creates tension by debilitating the protagonist even more, making failure
more likely and so his triumph sweeter. Second, if we accept the autobiographical reading of the novella, it can be a symbol
for writers block. This is importantly different from Hemingway's previous attempts to blame the readers for his recent lack
of success. Now, suddenly, the fault is his own. But not fully. The hand reacts in spite of its possessor's intention, and
Santiago speaks to his hand as if it operated independently
of himself. This certainly makes the question of who is responsible for Santiago’s and Hemingway's failures more complicated.
Santiago's response to the cramp also affords us an opportunity
to investigate Hemingway's conception of manhood. As Hemingway writes, " It is humiliating before others to have a diarrhea
from ptomaine poisoning or to vomit from it. But a cramp, he thought of it as a calambre, humiliates oneself especially when
one is alone" (62). A man's sense of humiliation does not depend exclusively on the presence (or imagined presence) of others
who would look upon him with disgust or disdain. It rests on an internal standard of dignity, one which privileges above all
control over one's self. It is not only inconvenient or frustrating that Santiago's hand cramped,
it is, as Santiago says, "unworthy of it to be cramped" (64).
This concern with worthiness is important to the novel.
concerns about his own worthiness come to a head when he finally beholds the fish he is tracking. When Santiago finally catches a glimpse of the great marlin, he imagines he is in some sort of
aristocratic feud, with each participant needing to demonstrate his prowess to the other before the fight. Not, though, to
intimidate the opponent, but rather to demonstrate his own status, to show the other that he is a worthy antagonist. "I wonder
why he jumped, the old man thought. He jumped almost as though to show me how big he was. I know now, anyway, he thought.
I wish I could show him what sort of man I am. But then he would see the cramped hand" (64). This necessity to be seen as
worthy in the eyes of a perceived equal or superior complicates the internal standard of manhood which Hemingway seems to
From the time
Santiago sees the fish to the end of the book, he seems obsessed
with the idea of proving himself a worthy slayer of such a noble beast. This obsession, more often than not, is couched in
self-ascriptions of inferiority. Santiago thanks God that
marlins "are not as intelligent as we who kill them; although they are more noble and able" (63). And he thinks to himself,
"I wish I was the fish....with everything he has against only my will and my intelligence" (64). The dissociation between
intelligence on the one hand and nobility and ability on the other is very interesting, as it amounts to an exaltation of
the natural and animalistic over the human, if we accept intelligence as the mark of humanity. This heightens the stakes of
the struggle between the marlin and Santiago, and almost necessitates the long battle that
ensues, for Santiago's eventually victory can only be seen
as deserved if he has proved his worthiness and nobility through suffering. In the end, though, we might still ask, according
to the novella's own terms, whether Santiago's victory over
the fish amounted to a triumph for humanity or a miscarriage of justice, in which an ignoble human brute defeats the sea's
paragon of nobility.
Part IV: (63
how much longer it will take to subdue the marlin, Santiago throws another line out to catch a fish for food. His cramped
hand begins to relax, and in his exhaustion, Santiago thinks
about Joe DiMaggio and his bone spur. Comparing a bone spur to the spurs of fighting cocks, Santiago concludes that "Man is not much beside the great birds and beast" (68).
As the sun sets,
Santiago thinks back to triumphs of his past in order to give
himself more confidence in the present. He remembers a great arm-wrestling match he had at a tavern in Casablanca. It had lasted a full day and a night, but Santiago,
El Campeon (The Champion) as he was known then, eventually won. "He decided that he could beat anyone if he wanted to badly
enough and he decided that it was bad for his right hand for fishing" (70). He tried to wrestle with his left hand but it
was a traitor then as it had been now.
then catches a dolphin (the fish and not the mammal) for food and throws the line out again in case he needs more sustenance
later. As the sun sets again, Santiago ties together two oars
across the stern to create more drag. Looking up into the night sky, Santiago
calls the stars his friend and says, "The fish is my friend too....I have never seen or heard of such a fish. But I must kill
him. I am glad we do not have to try to kill the stars" (75). After considering this, Santiago
begins to feel sorry for the fish again and concludes that the people who will buy his meat at the market will not be worthy
to eat of such a noble beast.
exhaustion, Santiago decides that he must sleep some if he
is to kill the marlin. He cuts up the dolphin he has caught to prevent spoiling, and eats some of it before contriving a way
to sleep. Santiago wraps the line around him and leans against
the bow to anchor himself, leaving his left hand on the rope to wake him if the marlin lurches. Soon, the old man is asleep,
dreaming of a school of porpoises, his village house, and finally of the lions of his youth on the African beach.
is awoken by the line rushing furiously through his right hand. The marlin leaps out of the water and it is all the old man
can do to hold onto the line, now cutting his hand badly and dragging him down to the bottom of the skiff. Santiago finds his balance, though, and realizes that the marlin has filled the air sacks
on his back and cannot go deep to die. The marlin will circle and then the endgame will begin.
the marlin begins a large circle. Santiago holds the line
strongly, pulling it in slowly as the marlin goes round. As Santiago
says, "the strain will shorten his circle each time. Perhaps in an hour I will see him. Now I must convince him and then I
must kill him" (87). Santiago continues pulling him in until
the marlin catches the wire lead of the line with his spear and regains some of the line. Eventually, the marlin clears the
lead and Santiago pulls back the line he lost.
At the third
turn, Santiago sees the fish and is amazed by its size. He
readies the harpoon and pulls the line in more. The marlin tries desperately to pull away. Santiago, no longer able to speak for lack of water, thinks, "You are killing me, fish....But
you have a right to. Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than you, brother. Come
on and kill me. I do not care who kills who" (92). This marlin continues to circle, coming closer and pulling out. At last
it is next to the skiff, and Santiago drives his harpoon into
the marlin's chest.
"Then the fish
came alive, with his death in him, and rose high out of the water showing all his great length and width and all his power
and his beauty" (94). It crashed into the sea, blinding Santiago
with a shower of sea spray. With the glimpse of vision he had, Santiago
saw the slain beast laying on its back, crimson blood disseminating into the azure water. Seeing his prize, Santiago says, "I am a tired old man. But I have killed this fish which is my brother and
now I must do the slave work" (95).
In this section,
Santiago continues his obsession with proving his worthiness
to the hooked fish. He says, "I'll kill him....in all his greatness and glory. Although it is unjust. But I will show him
what a man can do and what a man endures" (66). Again, the fish is construed as a noble superior, the death of which would
be unjust. The last sentence foreshadows the intense struggle to ensue. Also, because of the particularities of traditional
English usage, the last sentence of the quote can be read two ways. A man can refer to a human being or a male. As Hemingway
is usually understood to conflate the noblest qualities of human beings with the noblest qualities of the male gender, I think
it is best to read the statement both ways at once. Making Santiago
a representative for all humankind serves primarily to heighten the allegorical nature of the novel.
In the next
paragraph, Santiago makes some very interesting comments about
the nature of worthiness, emphasizing its curiously fragile nature. Having told Manolin on several occasions that he was a
strange old man; strangeness here is synonym for nobility, something which normal people apparently lack. He must now prove
it; "the thousand times he had proved it mean nothing. Now he was proving it again. Each time was a new time and he never
thought about the past when he was doing it" (66). This is a difficult passage to interpret as it could be read as an expression
of Santiago's particular psychology, as a matter of fact, he never thought about the past and always needed to prove himself
as each new situation arose, or as a broader statement about nobility, one which holds that nobility is not a really a quality
of character but of actions. Given the novella's aforementioned emphasis on allegorical generality, it seems safe to accept
the latter reading. As with the necessity of having one's worthiness recognized (conferred?) by others, this alienation of
nobility from the person to his deeds complicates Hemingway's internal standard of manhood.
In the course
of these considerations, Santiago recalls the figure of Joe
DiMaggio, identified at the beginning of the novella as a heroic paragon. "I must have confidence," thought Santiago, "and I must be worthy of the great DiMaggio who does all things perfectly even
with the pain of the bone spur in his heel" (68). It is strange, though, that immediately after valorizing DiMaggio, Santiago immediately diminishes the baseball player's greatness by thinking
that the pain of a bone spur could not be as bad as the pain of the spur of a fighting cock. He even concludes that "man is
not much beside the great birds and beasts. Still I would rather be that beast down there in the darkness of the sea" (68).
Again, Nature, and the marlin especially, is privileged above even the greatest exemplars of human greatness.
In order to
counteract these feelings of inferiority, Santiago recalls an almost mythic arm wrestling match he had in his youth. Given
that this match lasted a full day and night with blood flowing from beneath each participants' fingernails, it seems reasonable
to read it as hyperbole, underscoring the fable-like quality of the novella.
The theme of
sight and the use of visual imagery appears many times in this section In wondering how the world looks in the darkness of
the deep of ocean, Santiago remarks, "Once I could see quite
well in the dark. Not in the absolute dark. But almost as a cat sees" (67). Also, when Santiago sees a plane flying overhead,
he considers what the fish would look like from such a height, in particular, how their rich colors, purple, green, and golden,
change. This emphasis on sight and the visual field seems both to be an attempt by Hemingway to convey realistic experience
“we do belong to a visually-oriented culture” and to follow the age-old association between the sense of sight
and the perception of a deeper reality. Santiago's uncanny
vision tells the reader to give credence to the wisdom he uncovers through his adventure.
At one point
in the novel, Santiago's concern about worthiness takes on
an added dimension. Instead of concerning himself solely with his own worthiness to kill the marlin, he now concerns himself
with whether the people who will buy and eat the meat of the marlin will be worthy to do so. "How many people will he feed,
he thought. But are they worthy to eat him? No, of course not. There is no one worthy of eating him from the manner of his
behavior and his great dignity" (75). This extension of unworthiness from the killer to consumer underscores how truly inferior
Santiago thinks people are with respect to great beasts such
as the marlin. If he truly believes this, though, why would he continue. He may prove his own worth by enduring his struggle,
but there is no way for the people in the fish markets to prove themselves. Indeed, the exalting the nobility of his prey
too much seems to exclude commercial fishing for marlins altogether.
The theme of
unity comes out in this section as well. Whereas this theme had previously taken the form of Santiago's
identification with the sea and its creatures, Santiago expands
the scope of his identification by including the celestial bodies as brothers. He claims fraternity with the stars on several
occasions and justifies his need to sleep by considering the behavior or the moon and sun and ocean. He says, "I am as clear
as the stars that are my brothers. Still I must sleep. They sleep and the moon and the sun sleep and even the ocean sleeps
sometimes on certain days when there is no current and a flat calm" (77). This broader identification underscores the unity
of human life with all of nature.
When he finally
does fall asleep, Santiago has a very interesting dream. He
dreamt of "a vast school of porpoises that stretched for eight or ten miles and it was in the time of their mating and they
would leap high into the air and return into the same hole they had made in the water when they leaped" (81). The imagery
here can be interpreted as sexual, emphasizing the feminine character of the sea which Santiago spoke about in the first section.
It is mating season and the porpoises, phallic symbols par excellence, go in and out of the same hole, erotic symbol par excellence,
in the ocean, already known to us as feminine.
Santiago's final confrontation with the fish after he wakes
further develops Santiago's equality with the fish and the operative conception of manhood
which Santiago works to uphold. Pulling in the circling fish
exhausts Santiago, and the exasperated old fisherman exclaims,
"You are killing me, fish....But you have a right to. Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more
noble thing than you, brother. Come on and kill me. I do not care who kills who" (92). As before, the marlin is Santiago's exemplar of nobility. It is very interesting that Santiago does not seem to care who kills whom. This, like so much of
Santiago's relation to the fish, seems to recall an aristocratic
code of honor in which dying by the hand of a noble opponent is as noble an end as defeating him. Indeed, it might even be
a preferable end because one does not know under what conditions one will die.
obsession with valorizing his opponent seems to a far cry from our common idea that one must devalue or dehumanize that which
we kill. To view a victim as an equal is supposed to render killing it a sin, and make oneself susceptible to death: the golden
rule, if you don't want to die (and who does?), don't kill others. Santiago
defies this reasoning, thought he accepts the consequences of its logic of equality. Instead of trying to degrade his object,
he elevates it, accepting with it the equalizing proposition that his death is as worthy an outcome of the struggle as the
his opponent's death. He is only worthy to kill the opponent if he is worthy to he killed by him: two sides of the same coin.
That this relates
to Santiago's (and we might suppose Hemingway's) conception
of manhood is likely obvious. The connection between the fish's behavior and masculine behavior is brought out most powerfully
when Santiago tells himself, "Keep your head clear and know
how to suffer like a man. Or a fish...." (92). Comporting oneself with grace (or calmness as Santiago's quote in the previous paragraph indicates) in the face of pain is central to the
novella's idea of manhood. Santiago himself says "pain does
not matter to a man," and it is only by ignoring his pain that he can sustain the effort to capture the fish. Withstanding
pain, then, handling it as a man, is the essence of proving himself worthy to catch the marlin.
Part V: (95
the Marlin, Santiago lashes its body alongside his skiff.
He pulls a line through the marlin's gills and out its mouth, keeping its head near the bow. "I want to see him, he thought,
and to touch and to feel him. He is my fortune, he thought" (95). Having secured the marlin to the skiff, Santiago draws the sail and lets the trade wind push him toward the southwest.
An hour after
Santiago killed the marlin, a mako shark appears. It had followed
the trail of blood the slain marlin left in its wake. As the shark approaches the boat, Santiago
prepares his harpoon, hoping to kill the shark before it tears apart the marlin. "The shark's head was out of water and his
back was coming out and the old man could hear the noise of skin and flesh ripping on the big fish when he rammed the harpoon
down onto the shark's head" (102). The dead shark slowly sinks into the deep ocean water.
The shark took
forty pounds of flesh from the marlin and mutilated its perfect side. Santiago
no longer liked to look at the fish; "when the fish had been hit it was as though he himself were hit" (103). He began to
regret having caught the marlin at all, wishing that his adventure had been but a dream. Despite the challenges before him,
though, Santiago concludes that "man is not made for defeat....A
man can be destroyed but not defeated" (103). This resonates back to the first and opening paragraph and “…the
sail of permanent defeat.”
Soon Santiago considers whether his killing the fish was a sin. He first
says that he killed the marlin to feed himself and others, and if this is a sin, then everything is a sin. But he had not
only killed the marlin for food, "you, [Santiago], killed
him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it
is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?" (105). Santiago
soon ceases this line of thought to concentrate on getting back to shore.
Two hours later,
two shovel-nosed sharks arrive at the skiff. After losing his harpoon to the mako, Santiago
fastens his knife to the end of the oar and now wields this against the sharks. He kills the first shark easily, but while
he does this, the other shark is ripping at the marlin underneath the boat. He lets go of the sheet to swing broadside and
reveal the shark underneath. After some struggle, he kills this shark as well. This maneuvering of the skiff demonstrates
once more the old man’s agility and tricks he had referred to with Manolin before he had set sail.
apologizes to the fish for the mutilation he has suffered. He admits, "I shouldn't have gone out so far, fish....Neither for
you nor for me. I am sorry, fish" (110). Again the original plan of going out
too far, productive and successful as it appeared, now is the downfall of both. Tired and losing hope, Santiago sits and waits
for the next attacker, a single shovel-nosed shark. The old man succeeds in killing the fish but breaks his knife blade in
appear at sunset and Santiago only has a club with which to
beat them away. He does not kill the sharks, but damages them enough to prevent their return. Santiago
then looks forward to nightfall as he will be able to see the lights of Havana,
guiding him back to land. He regrets not having cleaved off the marlin's sword to use as a weapon when he had the knife and
apologizes again to the fish. At around ten o'clock, he sees the light of Havana
and steers toward it.
In the night,
the sharks return. "By midnight he fought and this time he knew the fight was useless. They came in a pack and he could only
see the lines in the water their fins made and their phosphorescence as they threw themselves on the fish" (118). He clubs
desperately at the fish, but the club was soon taken away by a shark. Santiago
grabs the tiller and attacks the sharks until the tiller breaks. "That was the last shark of the pack that came. There was
nothing more for them to eat" (119).
"sailed lightly now and he had no thoughts nor any feelings of any kind" (119). He concentrates purely on steering homewards
and ignored the sharks that came to gnaw on the marlin's bones. When he arrives at the harbor, everyone was asleep. Santiago steps out of the boat, carrying the mast back to his shack.
"He started to climb again and at the top he fell and lay for some time with the mast across his shoulder. He tried to get
up. But it was too difficult and he sat there with the mast on his shoulder and looked at the road" (121). When he finally
arose, he had to sit five times before reaching home. Arriving at his shack, Santiago
collapsed on his bed and fell asleep.
at the shack while Santiago is still asleep. The boy leaves
quickly to get some coffee for Santiago, crying on his way
to the Terrace. Manolin sees fishermen gathered around the skiff, measuring the marlin at eighteen feet long. When Manolin
returns to the shack, Santiago is awake. The two speak for
a while, and Manolin says, "Now we will fish together again," To which Santiago
replies, "No. I am not lucky. I am not lucky anymore" (125). Manolin objects, "The hell with luck....I'll bring the luck with
me" (125). Santiago acquiesces and Manolin leaves to fetch
food and a shirt.
there are tourists on the Terrace. A female tourist sees the skeleton of the marlin moving in the tide. Not recognizing the
skeleton, she asks the waiter what it is. He responds in broken English "eshark," thinking she wants to know what happened.
She comments to her partner that she did not know sharks had such beautiful tails. Meanwhile, back in Santiago's shack, the old man "was still sleeping on his face and the boy was sitting by
him watching him. The old man was dreaming about lions" (127).
This last section
of the novella constitutes the tortuous denouement of the plot. Caught out far at sea, as his original plan had contemplated,
with a dead, bleeding marlin lashed to the side of his boat, Santiago is asking for trouble and trouble he receives. Everything
he has worked so hard for slowly but surely disintegrates, until he arrives back on land in worse condition than he left.
But, let us not forget the wonderful description and miniscule details with which the narrator tells us of the caution Santiago
exercises to tie the marlin to his skiff. Triumph over crushing adversity is the heart of heroism, and in order for Santiago
the fisherman to be a heroic emblem for humankind, his tribulations must be monumental. Triumph, though, is not final, as
Santiago's successful slaying of the marlin shows, else there
would be no reason to include the final 30 pages of the book. Hemingway’s vision of heroism is Sisyphean, requiring
continuous labor for quintessentially ephemeral ends. What the hero does is to face adversity with dignity and grace, hence
Hemingway's Neo-Stoic emphasis on self-control and the other facets of his idea of manhood. What we achieve or fail at externally
is not as significant to heroism as the comporting ourselves with inner nobility. As Santiago
says, "[M]an is not made for defeat....A man can be destroyed but not defeated" (103).
Santiago's personal destruction by reiterating his connection
with the marlin he has caught. Soon after he has secured the marlin to the boat and hoisted his sail, he becomes somewhat
delirious, questioning if it is he who is bringing in the marlin or vice versa. His language is very telling. "...[I]f the
fish were in the skiff, with all dignity gone, there would be no question....But they were sailing together lashed side by
side" (99). Even in death, then, the fish has not lost his dignity. He is “side by side” with Santiago, a partner
in return. This identification is highlighted after the first shark attack when Hemingway tells us that Santiago "did not like to look at the fish anymore since he had been mutilated. When the
fish had been hit it was as though he himself were hit" (103). The more the marlin is devoured, the less strength Santiago has until, when the marlin is simply a bare skeleton, Santiago
"had no thoughts or feelings of any kind" (119).
The sharks are
interesting creatures. They are widely read as embodiments of literary critics, tearing apart the Santiago's (Hemingway's) catch (book). While this may have some credence, the sharks are
better read as representations of the negative, destructive aspect of the sea and, more generally, human existence. As we
have seen, the theme of unity is very important in the novel, but this unity does not only encompass friendly or innocuous
aspects of the whole. While he battles against them, the sharks are no less creatures of the sea, brothers if you will, than
the friendly porpoises Santiago encounters earlier in his
This is brought
out most strongly in the descriptions of the mako, the first shark Santiago
encounters. "He was a very big Mako shark built to swim as fast as the fastest fish in the sea and everything about him was
beautiful except his jaws. His back was as blue as the sword fish's and his belly was silver and his hide was smooth and handsome"
(100). Indeed, "he was built as a sword fish except for his huge jaws" (100). The mako is not a nasty or brutish beast, but
noble in its own way, a predatory marlin. Reflecting on his victory over the mako, Santiago
says the shark is "cruel and able and strong and intelligent. But I was more intelligent than he was. Perhaps not....Perhaps
I was only better armed" (103). The other shovel-nosed sharks are not positively described "they were hateful sharks, bad
smelling, scavengers as well as killers” but they are certainly part of the ocean environment.
On a psychoanalytic
reading of the novella, the sharks might be seen as representations of a guilty conscience. The son has killed the father,
the marlin, to possess the mother, the ocean, and now suffers for his transgression, an inversion of Orestes whom the Furies
pursued for killing his mother.
discussion of sin is very significant in a novella about man's resistance against fate. He wonders if it was a sin for him
to kill the marlin. "I suppose it was even though I did it to keep alive and feed many people. But then everything is a sin"
(105). Santiago attempts to assuage this doubt by recalling that he was "born to be a fisherman as the fish was born to be
a fish" (106) Ignoring the invalid inference made in the first quote “if killing X for reason Y is a sin, it does not
hold that all actions performed for reason Y are sins” This is an important point. According to this reasoning, Santiago is fated to sin and, presumably, to suffer for it. This seems
to express Hemingway's belief that human existence is characterized by constant suffering, not because of some avoidable transgression,
but because that's just the way it is.
Santiago reasons that he did not only kill the marlin for
food. Speaking to himself, he says, "You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive
and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?" (105). Adding to his guilt about killing
the marlin, Santiago then recalls his enjoyment of killing
the mako. As noted earlier, the mako is not a unconditionally wicked creature. As Santiago
says to himself, "He lives on the live fish as you do. He is not a scavenger nor just a moving appetite as some sharks are.
He is beautiful and noble and knows no fear of anything." Why then could he enjoy this killing and not the marlin's? Santiago offers two short responses, though neither one really answers
the question: "I killed him in self-defense....And I killed him well" (107). The second response seems to more significant,
but this would mean that killing the marlin was not a sin since he killed it well too. This suggests Santiago's sin, if it exists, must be interpreted differently.
final section, Santiago repeatedly apologizes to the marlin in a way that provides another
way to read Santiago's sin. He says, "Half fish....Fish that
you were. I am sorry that I went out so far. I ruined us both" (115). According to this and similar passages ("And what beat
you, he thought. Nothing, I went out too far (120)), Santiago's
transgression is no longer his killing the fish, but going out too far in the ocean, "beyond all people in the world" (50).
While the former sin helped account for the inescapable misery of the human condition, the latter focuses instead on escapable
misery brought about by intentional action. Santiago chose
to go out so far; he did not need to do so, but in doing so he must surrender his prize, the marlin, to the jealous sea.
of Santiago's sin is strange because it seems to separate
man from nature in a way which contradicts the rest of the novella. Going out too far is an affront against nature similar
to the hubristic folly of Greek tragedy; he has courted disaster through his own pride. Nowhere previously in the novel was
this apparent, though. The sea seemed to welcome him, providing him company and food for his expedition. There was no resistance
from nature to his activities, except perhaps the sharks, but these were never made to be nature's avengers. This reading
of Santiago's sin thus seems very problematic.
sees the two sand sharks approaching, he says "Ay," a word which Hemingway describes as "just a noise such as a man might
make, involuntarily, feeling the nail go through his hands and into the woods" (107). This the first, explicit identification
of Santiago with Christ. The second identification is near
the end of the novella when Santiago carries the mast to his shack on his shoulder, falling several times recalling the stations
of the cross only to collapse on his bed to sleep "face down on the newspapers with his arms out straight and the palms of
his hands up"?recalling the crucifixion (122). Making this analogy would certainly elevate Santiago's trials. But the allusions are so blatant and so out of place that they are only
successful in drawing attention to Hemingway's narrative conceit, especially if we accept an autobiographical reading of the
book. Besides, Santiago's story does not mirror Christ's except
insofar as both men suffer greatly; the purpose of this suffering and each man's opponent differ radically.
Santiago's discussion of luck after the second shovel-nosed
shark attack is interesting dramatically, as it once foreshadows Santiago's
misfortune and offers the slightest illusion of hope for the reader as the novella approaches its end. He wonders to himself,
"Maybe I'll have the luck to bring the forward half in. I should have some luck. No....You violated your luck when you went
too far outside" (116). This clearly foreshadows the loss of the entire marlin. Later, though, Santiago remarks that "Luck is a thing that comes in many forms and who can recognize her?"
(117). This statement certainly suggests that luck may be with Santiago
even if it is not apparent to him or to the reader. Of course, there is no luck for Santiago,
but suggesting there might be makes Santiago's eventual misfortune
That Santiago completes the novel undefeated and still in possession of his
dignity, is demonstrated by his conversation with Manolin. His first words to the boy are "They beat me. They truly beat me,"
referring to the sharks (124). Immediately, though, he moves to mundane matters such as what to do with the head of the marlin
and what Manolin has caught in his absence. When Santiago
refuses to fish with Manolin because of his own lack of luck, the boy says he will bring the luck. Soon, Santiago is talking about how to make a new killing lance in preparation of their next voyage.
Finally, in the last sentence of the novel, we are told that "the old man was dreaming of lions," the same symbols of strength
and youth which he enjoyed before his voyage (127). True to Hemingway's formula for heroism, Santiago, for all this trials and tribulations, remains the same unsuccessful but undefeated
soul as before.
The female tourist
at the end of the book represents the feminine incapacity to appreciate Santiago's
masculine quest. For her, the marlin skeleton, a phallic symbol, is just "garbage waiting to go out to out with the tide"
(127). She does not speak the waiter and Santiago's language,
and so is ignorant of the old man's great deeds. Her misunderstanding is simple enough, but the fact that she is the only
actual feminine character in the novel and that this episode appears on the last page gives it added significance.
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