Summary and Analysis
When Santiago reaches shore, everyone is in bed, so no one is there to help him. He pulls the skiff up onto the beach as best he can, makes the boat fast to a rock, and then carries the furled mast on his shoulder toward his shack. Looking back, he sees in the reflection from the street light the marlin's great tail standing up way behind the skiff.
As he starts to climb, Santiago falls. He tries to get up but can't, so he sits there, with the mast on his shoulder. He watches a cat going about its business. Eventually he gets up again. Five times he falls and has to sit down again before he finally reaches his shack. Finally inside, he leans the mast against a wall and finds the water bottle in the dark and takes a drink. He lies down on the cot, pulls the blanket over himself, and sleeps face down on the newspapers, with his arms straight out and palms up.
Santiago is still asleep the next morning when Manolin comes to the shack to check on him as the young man has done every morning since Santiago put to sea. Manolin has slept late this morning because a strong, blowing wind is keeping the drifting boats from going out. Manolin cries when he sees the old man's injured hands and quietly goes out to get the old man some coffee.
Outside, many fishermen are gathered around the skiff, and one of them is measuring the marlin's remains. The fishermen ask Manolin how Santiago is, and Manolin tells them that Santiago is sleeping and not to disturb him. When the fisherman who is measuring the great fish reports that it is 18 feet long, Manolin replies, "I believe it."
From Martin, the proprietor at the Terrace, Manolin gets coffee with plenty of milk and sugar. Martin says, "What a fish … . There has never been such a fish." Then he also praises Manolin's two fish, but the boy isn't interested. He tells Martin that he'll be back when he knows what Santiago can eat and that in the meantime, no one should disturb the old man. Martin replies, "Tell him how sorry I am."
Santiago sleeps so long and hard that Manolin has to go across the road to borrow wood to reheat the coffee. Eventually the old man does awaken, and after he drinks some of the coffee, he tells Manolin, "They beat me." Manolin responds adamantly that the great fish didn't beat him, and Santiago explains it was after he caught the fish that he was defeated.
Manolin tells Santiago that Pedrico is taking care of the skiff and the gear and wants to know what Santiago wants done with the fish. Santiago tells Manolin to give Pedrico the head to chop up and use in fish traps and then offers Manolin the spear. Manolin replies that he wants the fish's spear. When Santiago asks whether anyone searched for him, Manolin tells him they did, with coast guard and planes. Santiago replies that the ocean is very large and the skiff small. He notices how welcome it is to have someone to talk to after three days of talking to himself.
When Santiago asks about Manolin's catch, Manolin tells the old man that he caught four fish, but now he will fish with Santiago again. Santiago says no, because he is not lucky. But Manolin says to hell with luck; he'll bring the luck with him. Santiago asks what the young man's family will say, and Manolin replies that he doesn't care and still has much to learn from Santiago.
Thinking about the past three days, Santiago tells Manolin that they must have a killing lance, that they can make the blade out of spring leaf from an old Ford, and that they can get it in Guanabacoa and have it ground to make it sharp. He also mentions that his knife broke. Manolin says he'll get Santiago another knife and then asks the old man how many days of brisa (breeze) are left. When Santiago tells him three days, the young man says he'll get everything ready, and Santiago only needs to get his hands well. Santiago replies that he knows how to care for the hands but that something broke in his chest. The boy tells him to get his chest well, too.
Manolin says he's going out to get the old man a clean shirt and some food, and Santiago asks for the newspapers for the time he was gone. Manolin again tells the old man to get well, for there is much the old man can teach him, and then asks how much the old man suffered. Santiago replies that he suffered plenty. Manolin says he'll also get the old man some medicine for his hands, and Santiago reminds him to give the marlin's head to Pedrico. As Manolin walks down the road, he cries again.
That afternoon, some tourists at the Terrace see the remains of the marlin — now just so much garbage waiting to go out with the tide — and they ask a waiter what it is. The waiter, trying to explain to the couple what happened to the marlin, says tiburon (shark). Misunderstanding, the tourists remark to one another that they didn't know sharks had such beautiful tails. Back in his shack, with the boy sitting beside him, Santiago sleeps again and dreams of the lions.
This third, brief part of the novella completes the cycle of Santiago's journey from the land to the sea and back to the land again. The narrative returns to the third-person, omniscient narration of the first part (which also takes places on land), pulling back from previous explorations of Santiago's thoughts. For example, the narrative simply reports that Santiago knows "the depth of his tiredness" and objectively describes what Santiago sees when he looks back at the marlin's skeleton beside the beached skiff, without moving into his thoughts. Just as the earlier transition into his thoughts when he is alone at sea is intuitive and logical, the depth of Santiago's exhaustion helps smooth this shift back to the earlier narrative mode.
The story benefits from this controlled reporting and psychic distance because all the earlier preparations and foreshadowing assure that the emotional impact of Santiago's tragedy is not lost on readers, but instead resonates within them without melodrama (that is, without unearned sensationalism and extravagant emotional appeal). Santiago has been wholly beaten by the scavenger sharks — those swimming appetites and natural scavengers that Hemingway equates with the pragmatic fishermen and the new materialism, as well as with the inevitable destruction inherent in nature's order and the natural cycle of life. The marlin has been picked clean of all practical and material value, and its earlier association with the crucified Christ (a non-Christian representation of suffering, defeat, and the endurance through which one redeems an individual life within nature's tragic cycle) has been fully conveyed to Santiago.
Although his name is Spanish for St. James (a fisherman and disciple), Santiago arrives while Manolin and others who might help with the skiff and gear are sleeping, just as Christ kept watch at Gethsemane while the disciples slept. Santiago carries the mast up the hill toward home and looks back at the marlin's skeleton, as Christ carried the cross to Golgotha, "the place of a skull." Santiago sits down five times under the burden of the mast, as Christ fell under the burden of the cross. And when Santiago finally lies down in bed, he sleeps with his arms straight out, in the position of the crucified Christ.
Yet, like the biblical authors, Hemingway doesn't leave the story in unredeemed tragedy. As the mechanical fisherman and their practical materialism must eventually triumph, their inevitable undoing is also embedded in their methods and their philosophy. As all living creatures are both predator and prey in the natural order, all also nourish one another. As Christ must submit to the crucifixion, his resurrection also gives hope and the promise of eternal life. As Santiago must accept his role in the natural order and the cycle of human existence, his suffering, endurance, and nobility in defeat also redeem his individual life. And as Santiago's epic catch (stripped of all practical and material worth) must eventually wash out with the tide as so much garbage, the skeleton still manages to become a vehicle for the intrinsic values Santiago craves most to give his existence meaning and dignity.
The first evidence of this redemption comes the next morning. Manolin discovers Santiago and sees his wounded hands (wounds that suggest the stigmata). Crying, the young man goes to fetch the old man some coffee. Along the way, he sees a group of fishermen clustered around the marlin's remains, still lashed to the skiff. One of the fishermen is measuring the skeleton and reports with admiration that the marlin was 18 feet from nose to tail. Manolin, who has already seen the great skeleton, responds, "I believe it." When Manolin arrives at the Terrace, the proprietor Martin says, "What a fish … . There has never been such a fish." Clearly, the skeletal evidence of Santiago's epic catch is already becoming the stuff of legend, securing forever his reputation in the community.
Manolin's expression of faith in the marlin's epic size is just the beginning of his credo embracing the old man, his abilities, and the philosophy by which he lives his life. Manolin keeps watch as Santiago sleeps and even reheats the old man's coffee. When Santiago finally awakens and tells Manolin, "They beat me," Manolin is the one who interprets Santiago's great struggle. "He didn't beat you. Not the fish." In this second affirmation, Manolin lives up to the true significance of his name (which is short for Emmanuel), thereby conveying his own association with Christ the Redeemer, though again the association is used in a non-Christian manner. Manolin articulates for Santiago the true meaning of his great struggle. Santiago was not beaten by the fish but by the inevitability of nature's cycle. And though beaten, his great suffering and endurance nonetheless bring redemption. Manolin helps Santiago recognize that he has successfully reasserted his identity as an incomparable fisherman, proving once again his dedication to his craft and the value of the philosophy from which that dedication springs.
In accepting the marlin's spear, Manolin accepts for all time Santiago's legacy. The spear can variously suggest the cross, the sword of knighthood (so valued by Don Quixote), the flag of Santiago's way of life, a token from the natural world, or simply the only thing Santiago has left to offer as a symbol of all the intangibles he so desperately wishes to leave the young man. Regardless, Manolin accepts the spear with a clear understanding of its significance, taking a sort of oath that becomes his third expression of faith (which is once again yoked to luck). He tells Santiago, "Now we fish together again." And when Santiago offers the usual reasons against this course of action, Manolin replies, "The hell with luck … . I'll bring the luck with me … . I still have much to learn."
Santiago now clearly understands that he has ensured for all time that Manolin will become his successor in what matters most in life. He resumes their habitual way of conversing and shares something of his recent great struggle. "We must get a good killing lance," he tells Manolin, recalling his earlier need. In all their plans to fish together again, the reader hears the familiar cadences and formality of ritual and catechism. The reader also clearly hears the familiar fictions of the novella's first part (those fictions of a winning lottery ticket or a cast net that had already been sold). Working within the psychic distance of the third-person, omniscient narrative, Hemingway takes great care to avoid any definitive conclusion about whether the old man is dying from the "something" in his chest that is broken. Whether he dies immediately, or soon enough from age and circumstances, the story remains the same. Santiago has secured for himself the only individual redemption and immortality possible to human beings. That is why, when he later dreams, he dreams again of the lions that represent his own youth, the qualities he leaves Manolin, and his immortality.
In living according to his own code of behavior, accepting the natural order and cycle of life, struggling and enduring and redeeming his individual existence through his life's work, and passing on to the next generation everything of value that he has gained, Santiago becomes an everyman (an archetypal representation of the human condition). As such, his story becomes genuinely uplifting. Readers of different ages and levels of understanding can find something inspirational in the story, just as the tourists, who mistake the marlin for a shark, still comprehend from its skeleton something of the great fish's grandeur.
spring leaf curved plate that supports the vehicle above the suspension components and allows vertical suspension movement: also leaf spring; here the words are probaby presented in reverse order as they would be in Spanish.
Guanabacoa one of the oldest European settlements in Cuba; now part of the urban conglomerate of present-day Havana.
barracuda any of a family of fierce, pikelike tropical fish: some species are edible.
tiburon (Spanish) shark.