Summary and Analysis
A sudden dip in one of the green sticks heralds the start of the novella's central battle. Holding the line gently between thumb and forefinger, Santiago somehow knows that a hundred fathoms down a great marlin is eating the sardines covering the hook that projects from the head of the small tuna. Santiago unleashes the line from the stick and lets the line run through his fingers, careful not to put any tension on it.
Santiago thinks about how big this fish must be, this far out and in this month, and desperately tries to coax or will the fish to eat the bait. He also asks God to help the fish to take the bait, and when the nibbling stops a couple of times, he desperately searches his experience for explanations that indicate the fish is still working on the bait. Then Santiago feels something hard and heavy and allows the line to play out, going deeper and deeper. He assumes the fish will turn and swallow the bait but is afraid to say so, out of a belief that "if you said a good thing it might not happen."
When he feels the fish eat the bait, he prepares the reserve coils of line, allows the fish to eat a bit more, and then sets the hook. He takes the weight of the taut line against his back, bracing himself against the boat and leaning back against the fish's pull on the line. For the first of many times during his great struggle, Santiago says fervently, "I wish I had the boy."
As the fish tows the boat, Santiago wonders what he'll do if the fish suddenly dives down deep and then dies. But he immediately assures himself that there are plenty of things he can do. He thinks about how he hooked the fish at noon and has been holding onto the line for four hours but hasn't yet had a first glimpse of the fish. Santiago drinks a bit of water from a bottle he has tucked away in the bow and tries not to think, but simply endure. When he realizes he can no longer see anything of the land, he reminds himself that he can always sail back by following the glow coming from Havana at night. Then he ponders various times when the fish might come up so he can see it.
After the sun goes down, Santiago ties the dried sack that had covered the bait box around his neck, so the sack hangs down his back and serves as a cushion under the fish line. In the dark, the line looks like a phosphorescent streak in the water. Then he checks the boat's course. Although the fish had been pulling the boat to the northwest, Santiago realizes that the current must be carrying them eastward now. He considers that if he loses the glare of Havana, then they must be going more eastward. Santiago briefly wonders about the results of the baseball game today and wishes he had a radio but then snaps himself up, scolding himself to keep his mind on what he's doing: "You must do nothing stupid." Again, Santiago says aloud, "I wish I had the boy. To help me and to see this." He thinks that, although no one should be alone in old age, it's unavoidable. Then he reminds himself to eat the tuna he caught earlier before it spoils, to keep himself strong.
When two porpoises come playing around the boat, Santiago speaks of them as "our brothers like the flying fish." Then he begins to pity the marlin, which is stronger and stranger than any fish he has ever hooked. Santiago considers whether the marlin has been hooked before, how the marlin cannot know that its adversary is only one old man, what price it may bring in the market, how it pulls like a male and without panic, and whether it has plans or is simply as desperate as he is.
Santiago remembers the time he hooked the female of a pair of marlins and the male stayed nearby until after Santiago had her in the boat. As Santiago was preparing the harpoon, the male jumped to see where the female was and then dove deep and was gone. Santiago still recalls the male marlin's beauty and how the whole incident was the saddest thing he ever saw. Both he and the boy felt sad afterwards, so they begged the female marlin's pardon and quickly butchered her.
Santiago thinks about the fact that both he and the marlin he has hooked have made a choice: the marlin's "to stay in the deep, dark water far out beyond all snares and traps and treacheries" and Santiago's "to go there to find him beyond all people." So now both are joined together, with no one to help either of them. At that moment, Santiago wonders whether he should not have been a fishermen, but then he reminds himself, "that was the thing that I was born for." Immediately, he snaps back to matters at hand, reminding himself to eat the tuna in the morning to keep up his strength.
In the night, Santiago catches another fish on one of his other lines but cuts it loose before he even knows what it is. He also cuts away the other leader line that is still in the water, so he can use all the reserve coils of line to bring in the marlin that he is joined in battle with. He abandons the other catch, the hooks, the lines, and the leaders to land this one fish. Santiago yearns for the boy but then yanks himself back to what he must do at the moment. When the marlin surges forward, the line cuts Santiago's face. He thinks that the fish's back cannot feel as bad as his does but that he has made all possible preparations and that the fish cannot pull the skiff forever. Santiago vows to stay with the fish until he's dead and then recognizes that the fish will do the same with him.
In the light of the second morning, the marlin and the current are still pulling the skiff to the north-northeast, but Santiago sees the fish is swimming at a shallower depth. He prays that God will let the fish jump, to fill the air sacs on its back so it cannot go deep and die, where he would lose it. Santiago keeps pulling the line taut, to the verge of breaking, each time worrying that the fish might throw the hook. He takes consolation that he feels better with the morning sun and that for once he doesn't have to look straight into it. Santiago tells the fish, "I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends." Then he thinks to himself, "Let us hope so."
A small, tired warbler flying south comes and sits on the line to rest. Santiago tells the bird the line is steady and then asks the bird what birds are coming to that it is so tired after a windless night. Then he thinks about the hawks the bird will have to face as it heads toward land and says, "Take a good rest, small bird. Then go in and take your chance like any man or bird or fish." He tells the bird that it can stay at his house, if it likes, and that he would take it in the boat if he weren't with "a friend," meaning the marlin. Then the marlin suddenly lurches, pulling Santiago into the bow. The bird flies up and is gone, and Santiago doesn't even see it go.
Santiago notices his bleeding right hand and speculates that something hurt the marlin at that moment and that the marlin is feeling the strain of all this now as he certainly is. He misses the bird's company and thinks that it is tougher where the bird is going, until it makes the shore. He thinks that he must have let his hand get cut by the line when the fish jumped because he's getting stupid or was distracted by the bird. So he vows to keep his mind on the task at hand, reminds himself to eat the tuna so his strength doesn't fail, and wishes for the boy again and for some salt. Santiago washes his hand in the salt water and with great care manages to position himself so he can eat the tuna. Santiago's left hand begins to cramp, and he disgustedly tells the hand to go ahead and turn into a claw, though it will do no good. As he eats the tuna, he hopes it will help his hand not to cramp.
Santiago wishes for some lime and salt for the fish but thinks that the taste is not bad anyway and preferable to dolphin. He also thinks he must be practical and try to eat all the fish now, before it rots in the sun. He wishes he could also feed the marlin, because it is his brother, but he realizes he must keep strong to kill the fish. After he finishes the tuna, Santiago takes the line in his right hand and calls upon God to help the cramp go away. He considers that if the cramp doesn't go away he may have to open the left hand forcibly if he needs it, which he is willing to do. For now, he decides to hope it will open on its own, since he knows he abused the hand in the night.
Santiago sees clouds building up and a flight of wild ducks and thinks that at sea no man is every truly alone. He knows that some fear being out of sight of land and are right to feel that way in months of sudden bad weather. Although this month is one of the hurricane months, he knows the weather is best at this time of year when there is no hurricane, and he sees no signs of one. He thinks about how a hurricane can be seen coming for days at sea, whereas ashore people do not see it coming because they don't know what to look for or perhaps the land makes a difference in the shape of the clouds. He considers the light breeze better for him than for the fish.
Santiago regards the cramp in his hand as a betrayal of his own body and a humiliation, and he wishes the boy were there to rub it for him. Suddenly, the fish makes its first jump, coming completely out of the water. The fish is beautiful and huge, two feet longer than the skiff. Its sword seems to Santiago like a baseball bat and tapered like a rapier; its tail seems like a scythe-blade. Santiago knows that he must keep pressure on the line so the fish doesn't run it out and that he must never let the fish learn its own strength. Santiago thinks that if he were the fish, he would pour everything into a run until something broke; but he thanks God that fish aren't as intelligent as those who kill them, though the fish are "more noble and more able."
Although in his lifetime, Santiago twice caught fish weighing a thousand pounds, he never did so alone and out of sight of land. He realizes he is now "fast to the biggest fish that he had ever seen and bigger than he had ever heard of" and that his hand surely will uncramp because his two hands and the fish and are brothers. Santiago wonders if the fish jumped to show itself to him. He wishes he could show himself to the fish but then decides that if the fish thinks Santiago is more man than he is, he will be so. Santiago momentarily wishes he were the fish, which has so much going for it against his intelligence and will. Although he is not religious, Santiago promises to say ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys and to make a pilgrimage to the Virgin of Cobre if he catches the marlin. He begins saying his prayers quickly and automatically. Afterwards, he feels better but is suffering just as much.
Santiago decides to rebait the other line in case he needs something more to eat. He's also running out of water. He doesn't think he'll be able to catch anything but a dolphin, though he wishes for a flying fish, which is excellent raw. Santiago thinks that he will kill this great fish, even though doing so is unjust, and show it "what a man can do and what a man endures." He also reminds himself that he told Manolin he was a strange old man and so now must prove it, though he has proven it a thousand times before.
Santiago decides to rest. He wishes that he could sleep and dream about the lions and then wonders why the lions are the main thing that is left to him. The marlin begins to swim at a higher level and turns a bit to the east, which Santiago previously thought of as signs that the fish is tiring and the current is pushing it more eastward. Santiago can picture the fish swimming below the water and wonders what it can see at that depth. And he remembers that he, like a cat, once saw well in the dark, though not absolute dark.
Santiago's hand finally uncramps, he shifts the line on his back, and thinks that he is tired and that if the fish is not tired, it is a very strange fish. He tries to think of baseball, of the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers and how this is the second day that he hasn't known what's happening. He tells himself he must have confidence and be worthy of the great DiMaggio, "who does all things perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in his heel." He wonders momentarily what a bone spur really is.
Santiago thinks that "Man is not much beside the great birds and beasts" and that he'd rather be the marlin, unless the sharks come. He says, "If the sharks come, God pity him and me." Then Santiago considers that DiMaggio, whose father was a fisherman, would probably stay with a fish as long as Santiago has, unless the bone spur hurt too much.
As the sun sets, Santiago deliberately tries to give himself confidence by remembering in great detail the time in Casablanca when he arm wrestled for an entire day with "the great Negro from Cienfuegos who was the strongest man on the docks." Back then, Santiago was called El Campeón (the champion). By Monday, many bettors wanted the match called a draw, so they could go to work loading sacks of sugar or mining at the Havana Coal Company. But Santiago finished off his opponent before anyone had to go to work. For a long time afterward, everyone called him The Champion. The next year, few bets were placed on the return match, and Santiago easily beat the man, having already broken his spirit. Santiago won a few more matches, felt he could beat anyone, and then decided to give up arm wrestling because it might harm his right hand for fishing. He had tried his left, but "his left hand had always been a traitor and would not do what he called on it to do and he did not trust it."
Santiago sees a plane to Miami pass overhead and wonders what it would be like to fly low over the sea. He recalls the days when he used to watch the fish below from his seat in the mast-head of the turtle boats. As the sun goes down, he passes an island of Sargasso weed that heaves and sways as if the ocean were making love under a yellow blanket. Then Santiago catches a dolphin. Careful not to lose his hold on the line with the marlin, he brings in the dolphin, clubs it, and then rebaits the line and tosses it overboard.
Santiago notices that the marlin has slowed its pull on the line. He considers lashing the oars together across the stern to increase the boat's drag. He leans forward, pressing against the wood of the skiff so that it takes much of the strain of the line from his back. He feels good that he is learning the best way to handle the line and that he has eaten once and will again soon, while the great marlin has eaten nothing.
As the stars come out, Santiago thinks of them as his distant friends. He considers the marlin his friend, too, and marvels that he has never seen or heard of such a fish as this one, yet he must kill it. He considers that humans are lucky that they don't have to try to kill the stars, the sun, or the moon; it is bad enough they have to kill their brother creatures. Even as he remains determined to kill the marlin, Santiago feels sorry that it has had nothing to eat. He feels that the people it will feed are not worthy of this great fish.
Santiago decides to be cautious and not use the oars for drag, relying instead on the fish's hunger and its inability to understand what it is up against. He chooses instead to rest for a while, as much as he can, until his next duty. He determines to sleep to keep himself clear-headed, just as the stars, the moon, the sun, and even the ocean sleep. But he decides first to eat the dolphin.
When he guts the dolphin, he discovers two fresh flying fish inside. He positions himself in the boat, and when he washes the dolphin remains from his hands, he leaves a phosphorescent trail in the ocean. He also notices that the marlin's speed has slowed a bit. He eats half of one of the two dolphin fillets and one of the flying fish, thinking how miserable raw dolphin tastes. He wishes he had brought along salt and limes or had the foresight to splash water on the boat's bow, to evaporate and leave sea salt. He notices the clouds and says that there will be bad weather, but not for three or four days.
Santiago positions himself to sleep, pressing his body against his hand and rigging the line so that he cannot lose it in his sleep. He dreams at first of a school of porpoises during their mating time, jumping and diving back into the same hole. Then he dreams that he is asleep in his bed, cold from a north wind, and that his hand is asleep from his lying on it. Finally, he dreams of watching the lions from where the ship is anchored, and he is happy.
Santiago is jerked suddenly awake by the line racing out, and then the fish jumps several times. His hand and back are cut and burned, but he works very hard to make the marlin pay for every inch it drags out. Santiago wishes the boy were there to wet the lines and to be with him. Santiago wonders whether hunger or fear made the fish jump, though the fish seemed fearless, and then reminds himself that he must be fearless.
As the sun rises on his third day at sea, Santiago drags his cut right hand in the salt water to clean the cuts, and then he switches the line to his right and does the same for his left hand. He begins to think that the weakness in his left hand is because he didn't train it properly and that if it cramps again, the line can cut it off. But then he decides that thinking such a thing is evidence that he's beginning not to think clearly, so he eats the second flying fish. He thinks that he has done everything he can and that he's ready for the marlin to circle and the fight to come. Soon, he feels the marlin begin to turn.
Santiago continues to battle the marlin, pulling in line to shorten the fish's circles. Wet with sweat and aching, he sees black spots before his eyes but attributes them to the tension he is putting on the line. Twice, he has felt weak and dizzy. He does not want to fail himself and die on a fish this great. So he asks God to help him endure and promises to say a hundred Our Fathers and a hundred Hail Marys. Because he cannot say the prayers now, he asks God to consider them said, promising to say them later. He feels the fish bang the leader with its sword. When Santiago feels the trade wind pick up, he begins to think hopefully that he'll need the wind to take the fish in. He thinks that he simply must steer south and west to head back, that a man never really gets lost at sea, and that Cuba is a long island.
On the fish's third circle, Santiago sees the fish pass under the boat. He can't believe the fish is so big. Eventually he sees the huge scythe blade of the fish's tail. Santiago prepared his harpoon long before, so now he reminds himself to be calm and strong and bring the fish in close. Many times, Santiago hauls the fish closer but the fish manages to right itself and swim away. Santiago thinks that the fish is killing him but that it has a right to, for he has never seen anything greater, more beautiful, calmer, or more noble than this fish he calls brother. He thinks, "Come on and kill me. I do not care who kills who." But he immediately tells himself to be clear headed and not think such things and to suffer like a man — or a fish. Against the fish's agony, Santiago pits all his pain, his remaining strength, and his long gone pride. Eventually he brings the fish close enough and, with all his strength, drives the harpoon in.
After killing the marlin that he calls brother, Santiago tells himself he must now do the slave work of lashing the fish to the boat and bringing it in. Santiago thinks of the fish as his fortune, although that is not why he wishes to touch the fish. He thinks about how he felt the marlin's heart when he drove in the harpoon. He also thinks about how he and the boy will splice the fishing lines that he now uses to fasten the marlin to the skiff. Although he thinks of the money the fish will bring, Santiago thinks even more of the fact that the great DiMaggio would be proud of him this day.
Santiago needs nourishment and moisture for the strength to bring the fish in, so he shakes some small shrimp out of a bed of seaweed, eats them, and drinks half of one of the two remaining drinks he has left in the water bottle. As he steers toward home, his head becomes a bit unclear, and he begins to wonder whether he is bringing the fish in or the fish is bringing him in. He thinks that he should let the fish bring him in, if doing so pleases the fish, for he has only bested the fish through trickery and the fish meant him no harm. As they speed together toward home, the old man keeps looking at the fish, to remind himself what he truly has done.
Within an hour, the first shark attacks. The attack is no accident. Following the scent of blood, the mako charges out of the depths, homing in. The mako is fast and fearless, well-armed, built to feed on all the fish in the sea, and beautiful except for its jaws. Most of all, it is no scavenger. Its teeth are long, like an old man's fingers, but crisped like claws. Santiago prepares the harpoon, though the rope is short because of what he cut away to lash the marlin to the skiff. His head is clear now and he realizes how little he can do to prevent the shark from hitting the marlin. Still, he hopes to get the shark, and he wishes bad luck to its mother.
The mako tears into the marlin just above the tail. Santiago, who knows where the shark's brain is located, drives the harpoon in with all his strength, resolution, and hatred. After the shark dies, Santiago assesses that the shark took about 40 pounds of the marlin, his harpoon, and all his rope. As the marlin bleeds anew, Santiago cannot bear to look at the mutilated fish. He knows more sharks will come, drawn by the blood. For a moment, he tries to console himself that he killed the mako, the biggest he has ever seen. He wishes he was at home in bed and only dreaming that he caught the marlin. But then he quickly reminds himself, "A man can be destroyed but not defeated."
As bad as he feels, Santiago must sail on and take what is coming. Still, he knows that he can't stop thinking; that and baseball are all he has left. So he wonders if the great DiMaggio would have liked the way he stabbed the mako in the brain. He wonders if his own injured hands were as great a handicap in his battle with the shark as DiMaggio's bone spurs, though he doesn't know what bone spurs are. He also tries to cheer himself by affirming that every moment he is drawing nearer to home and that the skiff sails lighter for the loss of the forty pounds.
Santiago knows more sharks will come. At first, he can think of nothing he can do against them. Then suddenly he realizes that he can lash his knife to one of the oars. That way, though he is an old man, he won't be unarmed. He considers it silly, even a sin not to have hope. For a moment, he claims not to want to think about sin because he doesn't understand it and doesn't believe in it. Yet he wonders if it was a sin to kill the fish, even though he did so to keep himself alive and to feed many people. He also recognizes that he killed the fish out of pride and because he was born to be a fisherman — like San Pedro (St. Peter) and the great DiMaggio's father — just as the fish was born to be a fish. He wonders whether killing the marlin was not a sin because he loved it — or whether that made killing it even more of a sin. He admits that he enjoyed killing the mako shark, which lives on live fish as he does and is not a scavenger, but beautiful, noble, and fearless. Eventually, Santiago decides that he killed the shark in self-defense and killed it well, that all animals kill one another, and that fishing kills him even as it keeps him alive. Then he reminds himself that the boy keeps him alive and that he mustn't deceive himself too much.
Santiago pulls off a piece of the marlin's meat, where the shark cut it. He tastes it, noticing the quality and noting that it would bring the highest price in the market. Yet he cannot keep the scent out of the water, so he knows more sharks will come. For two hours he sails, occasionally resting and chewing a bit more of the marlin to be strong. When he sees the first of the two shovel-nosed sharks, he says, "Ay," an involuntary noise that a man might make "feeling the nail go through his hands and into the wood."
The two shovel-nosed sharks — Santiago calls them galanos — are stupid from hunger but closing in on the marlin. These sharks are different from the mako. They are bad smelling and scavengers as well as killers. They are the kind that cut off a sleeping turtle's legs and flippers or hit a man in the water, if they're hungry, even though the man has no blood or fish scent on him. They even hit the marlin differently, shaking the skiff as they jerk and pull at the meat.
With his injured hands, Santiago raises the oar with the knife lashed to it and drives it into the brain of one of the sharks and into its eye, killing it. Santiago swings the boat to reveal the second shark and stabs it, barely piercing its hide but hurting his own hands and shoulder. Then he repeatedly stabs it in the head, the eye, and the brain until it is dead.
After he cleans the blade and gets back on course, Santiago thinks that the two shovel-nosed sharks must have taken a quarter of the marlin, and he apologizes to the great fish. He tells it, "I shouldn't have gone out so far, fish." Then he adds, "Neither for you or for me." He checks the lashing on the knife and wishes he had a stone to sharpen it. He admonishes himself not to wish for what he didn't bring with him but to focus on what he can still do to defend the marlin. He says aloud that he gives himself much good advice but that he is tired of it. He tries to remember that the skiff is much lighter now and not think of the marlin's mutilation. He thinks that the great fish would have kept a man all winter but then tries not to think of that either. He wishes catching the marlin had been a dream but then thinks that it might have turned out well.
When the next shovel-nosed shark comes like a pig to a trough, Santiago stabs it and kills it, but the knife blade snaps. He doesn't even watch the dead shark falling away into the deep water, growing smaller and smaller, although that always fascinates him. Instead, he feels beaten. He feels too old to club sharks yet decides he will try with the oars, the club, and any other items left in the boat. He admits that he is more than tired now; he is tired inside.
At sunset, the sharks hit again. Santiago knows he must let the sharks get a good hold on the marlin and then club them. He does so with the first shark, hitting it on the head and then the nose, until it slides away from the marlin. The second shark has been feeding on the marlin and already has pieces of meat in its jaws. When Santiago clubs it, it only looks at him and wrenches away more meat. When the shark comes again, Santiago hits it repeatedly until it slides away. For a while he doesn't see them, but then he sees one swimming in circles. He knows he couldn't expect to kill them, though he could have in his time, but he has hurt them both badly and would have killed the first one if he had used a bat.
He tries not to think about the marlin, which is half ruined now. As night falls, he knows he will soon see the glow of Havana or one of the new beaches, and he hopes no one has been worried. He thinks at first that there is only Manolin to worry, though he knows the young man would have confidence in him. But then he realizes that some of the older fishermen will worry and some others, too; and he thinks, "I live in a good town."
Santiago apologizes again to the marlin for going so far out. He tells the fish that together he and it have ruined many sharks and wonders how many sharks the marlin killed in its lifetime with its spear. He believes that if he'd had a hatchet he could have lashed the marlin's bill to an oar and fought with that, which would have made a formidable weapon. He wonders what he will do now when the sharks come in the night but remains determined to fight them, even until he is dead.
Santiago knows from his pain that he is not dead. He remembers all the prayers he promised to say if he caught the fish but is too tired to say them now. He hopes for some luck to bring in the half of the fish he has left and wonders whether he violated his luck by going out too far. Then he decides that he is being silly and needs to concentrate. He wishes he could buy some luck and wonders whether he might buy it with his broken knife, lost harpoon, and two bad hands. He thinks that might be possible, since he nearly bought some luck with his 84 days at sea without a catch. Then he thinks that he would take some luck in any form and pay whatever price was asked and that right now he wishes to see the glow of Havana's light.
Around 10 o'clock, he does see the glow. He is stiff and sore and hopes not to fight again. But around midnight, the sharks come in a pack. He can barely see them, although he feels them shaking the skiff as they tear at the marlin. He clubs desperately at what he can only feel in the dark, until something seizes the club. He continues to beat at them with the tiller, until the tiller smashes. Then he lunges at a shark with the splintered butt, driving in the sharp end until the shark rolls away. After that, no more sharks come, for there is nothing left of the marlin to eat.
Injured, Santiago can hardly breathe and has a coppery sweet taste in his mouth. Defiantly, he spits into the ocean, telling the sharks to eat his spit and dream they've killed a man. He knows he's utterly beaten. He fits the damaged tiller into the rudder and continues toward home, trying not to think or feel and ignoring the sharks that occasionally come to pick at the remaining bits of marlin. He notices only how light and fast the skiff is and that the boat is not really harmed except for the tiller, which can be repaired. Following the lights in toward shore, he thinks that the wind can sometimes be a friend, that the sea contains both friends and enemies, that his own bed can be a friend, and that to be beaten is very easy. When he asks himself what really beat him, he answers honestly that nothing beat him; he just went out too far. Long after midnight, when everyone else is asleep, he finally comes ashore.
This second section of the part that takes place at sea is much longer than either of the two parts that take place on land and comprises the story's central action and its most dramatic moments. While Santiago's struggles in this section can be viewed collectively (as some critics have suggested) as a single trial lasting three days, they can also be considered according to his three principal adversaries: the marlin, the mako shark, and the shovel-nosed sharks. Either way, each challenge is at once game and rite, requiring both luck and faith.
In this section, Hemingway increasingly shifts from the omniscient narrator to Santiago's perspective, combining narrative modes with devices such as letting Santiago talk aloud to himself, presenting a third-person narration of his thoughts, and drifting subtly from either of these into a kind of interior monologue. To convey this limited stream of consciousness (a depiction of the actual flow of thoughts and feelings as they pass through a character's mind), Hemingway simulates a supposed disorganization in the way thoughts leap into the old man's fatigued mind. Yet the technique actually relies on a loose connection of ideas deliberately tied together through recurring images, allusions, actions, and themes.
Throughout this section, Hemingway fully dramatizes actions and themes that he introduced or foreshadowed in the novella's previous pages. For example, several incidents appropriate to this marine setting anticipate the section's significant battles: the man-of-war bird chasing the flying fish suggests Santiago trying to land the great winged marlin; the tired warbler harried by hawks anticipates the worn out Santiago's struggle with the sharks. Here, Hemingway also reintroduces the earlier baseball allusions and images, and the themes those allusions and images advance. When the marlin first jumps, Santiago describes its sword as the length of a baseball bat. After his battle with the shovel-nosed sharks, Santiago wishes he had had a bat. In both cases, Hemingway again connects the marlin and Santiago to the endurance and nobility of the great DiMaggio. Hemingway also unfolds and further dramatizes Santiago's prodigious skill as a fisherman and his dedication to his craft. And Hemingway again yokes a belief in luck with religious conviction, as when Santiago alternates between wishing for luck in catching the fish (which he is afraid to mention for fear it won't happen) and praying to God to make the great fish swallow the bait, to help him land the fish, and to help him defend the fish against the sharks.
Supporting this reintroduction or repetition of actions, images, allusions, and themes, Hemingway uses a stylistic technique of repeating sounds and rhythms, words and sentence structures. For example, when Santiago prepares to eat the dolphin fillets and the two flying fish he found inside the dolphin, Hemingway writes, "Back in the bow he laid the two fillets of fish out on the wood with the flying fish beside them." The use of language (in this case, the repetition of sounds) suggests incantation and ritual and serves the same function as the catechism-like structure of earlier conversations with Manolin, thereby reinforcing the same images, allusions, and themes.
These repetitions and reintroductions complement the novella's many cycles: For example, the novella's basic structure comes from Santiago's journey from the land, to the sea, and back to the land again. The nature of all life consists of a passing on of collective knowledge and memory from one generation to the next, as well as a passage from youth to old age. The natural order binds together all creatures in mutual dependency and a common fate as hunter and hunted, predator and prey. (As Santiago points out, "everything kills everything else" in the world.) Even Santiago's fate represents a cycle — from the failure of 84 days without a catch, to the hard-won victory over the marlin, to the tragedy of its loss to the sharks, to the redemption at the story's end.
From the moment Santiago feels the marlin's first tug at the other end of the line, he feels connected to it in a variety of ways, as he does to his brothers the flying fish, the turtles, and the porpoises. Oftentimes, Santiago anthropomorphizes (endows with human characteristics and feelings) the creatures he feels connected to. So he refers to the marlin as "he," although he cannot know its gender. As he and the great fish remain locked in battle, he first pities and admires the fish and then empathizes and identifies with it. When the marlin lurches forward and the line cuts Santiago's hand, he immediately assumes that something must have hurt the marlin, as he himself is hurt. He muses that both he and the fish have made choices that inevitably led them to be locked in this life-and-death struggle, isolated, with no one to help either of them. Just as the marlin was born to be a fish, Santiago reflects, he was born to be a fisherman. In the inevitability of their circumstances and their suffering, both seem reminiscent of Job.
Santiago also resembles St. Francis of Assisi in recognizing the connection of all living creatures. His conversation with the warbler bird that must eventually face the hawks as it heads toward land is just one example. When Santiago's own left hand cramps, he feels betrayed and humiliated by it, and his attitude and response suggest St. Francis of Assisi's mockery of his body as "Brother Ass" whenever it failed him in his calling. In fact, recurring references to the cramped left hand (and the old man's claws) compare it to the eagle's claws, the hawk's claws, even the shark's teeth that are crisped like claws.
So while Hemingway the journalist presents the story's creatures in accurate detail, he also frequently uses them to suggest the thoughts, emotions, or circumstances of his characters. Hemingway uses the marlin to represent not only a great fish locked in an evenly balanced and protracted battle with an accomplished fisherman (much like Santiago's lengthy arm-wrestling contest with the Negro from Cienfuegos) but a creature possessing the same qualities that Santiago possesses, admires, and hopes to pass on to the boy: nobility of spirit, greatness in living, faithfulness to one's own identity and ways, endurance, beauty, and dignity.
Although Santiago momentarily contemplates the price the great fish may bring in the market, what he really wonders is whether the fish has plans or is simply desperate as he is. What Santiago desperately wants is one epic catch — not just to survive, but to prove once more his skill, reassert his identity as a fisherman, secure his reputation in the community, and ensure for all time that Manolin will indeed become his successor in what matters most in life. Here, Santiago (and by extension Hemingway) considers whether some design exists in the natural world and its endless cycles that can somehow redeem the individual life from meaningless.
The fundamental message in Santiago's connection to all the creatures linked to him — the flying fish, turtle, marlin, warbler, mako shark — is that noble as he and they are, they all remain subject to nature and so must eventually face destruction in the immutable natural order where "everything kills everything else" and also nourishes everything else. As critics such as Katharine Jobes have pointed out, this is part of the conservation of life, the physical law that says no energy is ever lost but simply transformed in a physical (and here spiritual) assimilation. What redeems the individual life from meaningless in nature's endless cycle is to use one's skills, and what nature has bestowed, to live with great fervor and then to accept destruction with dignity, passing on whatever one can to a successor. So Santiago determines to show "what a man can do and what a man endures" and to prove that he is indeed "a strange old man." In this way, he truly can be "destroyed but not defeated."
As Santiago and the marlin struggle, Santiago repeatedly wishes he had the boy to help him and to see this great battle. When Santiago simultaneously wishes for the boy and for some salt to make palatable the raw tuna he must eat to sustain his strength, he yokes his need for the boy's love and respect (to sustain his soul) with his need to eat the raw tuna (to sustain his body). Each time Santiago wishes for "the boy" in a moment of crisis, he invokes the strength and courage of his own youth, as well as the presence of Manolin (as critics such as Carlos Baker have suggested). Each time, Santiago relies upon his "trick" of imaginative vision to draw into himself the youthful vigor and inspiration he needs to sustain himself. In this way, his thoughts of "the boy" keep him strong and resolute as he faces each new hardship.
Santiago again relies on this "trick" when he gives himself confidence to "stay with the fish" by thinking of the great DiMaggio, who endured the pain of a bone spur to make a great comeback and whose father was a great fisherman. Santiago hopes to be "worthy of the great DiMaggio who does all things perfectly" and later believes that DiMaggio would be proud of him for staying with the fish despite his suffering. Santiago also uses this "trick" when he recalls in great detail his protracted contest with the Negro from Cienfuegos, the contest in which Santiago first earned the title of The Champion (El Campeón).
So Santiago assumes vital strength and spiritual nourishment from his own youthful self, from Manolin, from DiMaggio, and from the Negro from Cienfuegos. That also explains why, when Santiago dreams, the lions are all that he has left. The lions, too, are a source of inspiration. The lions (like "the boy") are identified with both Santiago's youthful self and Manolin and with such qualities as greatness, nobility, vitality, strength, and even immortality. So the lions are what is left because Santiago's imaginative vision is what he has left to rely upon.
Eventually, Santiago kills the great marlin and lashes it alongside the skiff so that the beautiful creature he admires, identifies with, and calls brother seems to be bringing him in rather than he bringing it in. Santiago says he is only better than the fish through "trickery," meaning both the tricks of his trade and that capacity for imaginative vision that he uses to keep strong and resolute. Interestingly, that same imaginative vision demands something to redeem the individual life as the price for acceptance of life's natural cycles.
The death of the marlin represents Santiago's greatest victory and the promise of all those intangibles he so desperately hopes for, to redeem his individual life. Yet Hemingway reports almost matter-of-factly that Santiago enjoys this victory for only an hour before the first shark comes. The omniscient narrator tells us, "The shark was not an accident." Inevitably, as victor, Santiago must fall subject to nature's endless cycle and life's tragedy. Like the marlin, Santiago must lose and become victim. The mako is the largest, strongest, fiercest shark Santiago has ever seen — yet beautiful, noble, and fearless. Consequently, the mako also is identified with Santiago as it assumes its rightful place in the natural order. As hunter (not scavenger), it obeys nature's ordinances and remains true to its own ways.
After Santiago drives in the harpoon and kills the mako, he knows more sharks will come. The mako has ripped away about 40 pounds of the marlin's meat, and a great cloud of blood trails behind in the water. (Again, biblical significances resonate in the number 40 and in the mixing of water and blood.) To keep himself strong, Santiago eats a piece of the marlin, whom he has said no one is "worthy of eating." Several critics have seen this act as a kind of communion. As Santiago partakes of the great fish, he becomes one with it. As a result, the marlin's death is not meaningless, for the fish fortifies the old man, providing him both physical and spiritual nourishment. Santiago also seems to gain the ability to accept and rise above his suffering, his defeat, and the inevitability of death. In so doing, he gains the capacity to endure, perform the best he can, and go down with dignity.
Somehow this newfound acceptance also affects Santiago's relationship with the people of his village. Whereas before he went far out from the land (and its "traps and treacheries") to the deepest parts of the ocean where the deepest thoughts also can be plumbed, he now seems closer to the community he left behind:
I hope no one has been too worried. There is only the boy to worry, of course. But I am sure he would have confidence. Many of the older fishermen will worry. Many others too, he thought. I live in a good town.
After partaking of the marlin, Santiago is associated with symbols of the crucifixion that were associated with the marlin until its death, as critics such as Philip Young and Arvin Wells have noted. (Later, other allusions to Christ will be associated with Manolin.) For example, the omniscient narrator describes the sound Santiago makes when he sees the shovel-nosed sharks as "just a noise such as a man might make, involuntarily, feeling the nail go through his hands and into the wood." But the image (a rare instance in which the writing seems a bit heavy-handed) is used in a decidedly non-Christian manner to represent suffering, seeming defeat, and the endurance through which one redeems an individual life within nature's tragic cycle. Immediately afterward, the marlin's brave and unavailing struggle to save its own life becomes Santiago's brave and unavailing struggle to save the marlin from the sharks.
In killing the mako, Santiago loses his harpoon — the first of many such losses as he continues a futile battle with the shovel-nosed sharks. One-by-one, Santiago looses what few tools he has left in the boat, yet he vows to go on fighting until he has nothing left or is dead. Unlike the mako, the shovel-nosed sharks are scavengers. Their desecration of the marlin suggests Santiago's derision by the younger, mechanized fishermen who embrace the new materialism as progress. As the scavenger sharks rob Santiago of his victory, the pragmatic younger fishermen rob the natural world and the dedicated fishermen of intrinsic, less tangible values and spiritually satisfying meaning. Even so, the scavenger sharks and the mechanized fishermen inevitably must win — at least for a time.
Suggesting the marlin's wound from the harpoon and the crucified Christ's wound from the soldier's lance, something in Santiago's chest ruptures during his last battle with a shovel-nosed shark. He has trouble breathing and tastes the sweet, coppery taste of his own blood. (Whether or not Santiago will die shortly after his return to land, he will never know another heroic moment at sea or tie into another epic catch.) Thoroughly beaten, Santiago no longer fights the scavenger sharks that briefly come up to nibble away the last bits from the marlin's skeletal remains. The fish has been stripped of all material value, and Santiago apologizes to the fish for going so far out to sea and ruining them both.
Ever since the mako's first attack, Santiago has wondered whether killing the marlin was a great sin. He eventually decides that he has no answer for that. He only knows that he killed the marlin not just to sell for food but for pride and because he is a fisherman like St. Peter (San Pedro) and the great DiMaggio's father. In this understanding resides an echo of God's answer to Job when he asked why the good are made to suffer. Essentially, God's reply is that suffering is in the very nature of the universe. Just as enigmatic, Santiago's understanding is that he did what he had to do, what he was born to do, and what his role in the eternal nature of things demanded. As he sails on in, following the lights on the beach, Santiago wonders what it was that actually beat him. Answering honestly, he admits that nothing actually beat him — he simply went out too far.
brisa (Spanish) breeze.
calambre (Spanish) cramp (muscular).
rapier a slender, two-edged sword with a large, cupped hilt.
scythe a tool with a long, single-edged blade set at an angle on a long, curved handle, used in cutting long grass, grain, and so on, by hand.
Gran Ligas (Spanish) the two main leagues of professional baseball clubs in the U.S., the National League and the American League: also the Major Leagues.
Tigres (Spanish) reference to the Detroit Tigers.
juegos (Spanish) games.
un espuela de hueso a bone spur.
Casablanca seaport in northwest Morocco, on the Atlantic.
Cienfuegos seaport on the south coast of Cuba.
El Campeón (Spanish) The Champion.
masthead the top part of a ship's mast.
dorado (Spanish) gilding or gilt (literally); here a descriptive term for the golden dolphin.
Rigel a supergiant, multiple star, usually the brightest star in the constellation Orion.
dentuso (Spanish) big-toothed; (in Cuba) a particularly voracious and frightening species of shark with rows of large, sharp teeth; here, a descriptive term for the mako shark.
shovel-nosed having a broad, flattened nose, head, or bill.
galanos (Spanish) mottled ones (literally); here a descriptive term for the shovel-nosed sharks.