Critical Summary of ‘The Old Man And The Sea’

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Critical Summary of ‘The Old Man And The Sea’

Post by Archer on Sat Jan 22, 2011 4:38 am


‘The Old Man and The Sea’ is a short novel written by Hemingway. It is a little longer than a short story but shorter than full-length novel. It has not been divided into different chapters or parts, but is in the form of continuous narration. It is the last writing of the life of the author, which was publishing in September, 1952. It got tremendous fame. The most remarkable feature of this novel is its style which won it Politzer Prize in 1953 and the Nobel Prize in literature for its author the next year. Hemingway was appreciated for giving a realistic way of expressing his ideas and feelings in the most simple and straightforward manner without taking the help of literary artifices.

The Old Man and the Sea is a modern kind of novel. Its story is different from the popular kind of romantic, imaginative and adventure novels. The author doesn’t want to entertain us by narrating some story of love or to excite our feelings of joy or sorrow. Nor does he want to take us to some ideal world of high ambitions and dreams. Rather he wants to tell us a very serious and purposeful story which excites our minds and provides us food for thought. This novel can be called a moral Fable. Hemingway has tried to convey his ideas and impressions through a meaningful story. He wants to show that human life on the earth is a kind of continuous struggle which is full of numberless problems and difficulties, successes and frustrations. Man is born to be wasted by age and circumstances of life. But he should make his life purposeful and exemplary for others. What makes human life admirable and enviable is the high aims and noble ambitions which require heroic spirits to achieve them. We may say that author has paid rich tributes to human personality in this novel. He has admitted those heroic souls who bravely face the unfavorable circumstances and the hostile nature and remain busy in achieving their noble objects with courage, intelligence and perseverance.

Such persons are honorable of their wonderful achievements which they make for the betterment of humanity. Hemingway thinks that success or defeat do not matter much, because they are in the hands of fate. The real thing is the heroic struggle and the doing of one’s best under circumstances. These ideas have been explained through the story of an old fisherman. He does not lose heart even after remaining unsuccessful in catching any fish for three months. At last he takes his small boat and goes out into the open sea. Here he succeeds in hooking a big marlin. But the powerful fish does not yield to her angler and decides to resist. She continues swimming here and there in the deep sea for two days and nights. The old fisherman is dragged helplessly after her along with his boat. The Old Man decides to face the physical strength of the sea creature with his ingenuity and experience. For two days and nights he keeps pulling lines tightly and straining his all nerves without getting time for rest and sleep. Even he has nothing to eat and drink to keep himself strong against his powerful adversary.

At last the fish becomes dead tired and comes up to the surface of water. The old fisherman draws it closer to his boat and kills it with a harpoon. Then he ties the fish alongside the boat and starts his journey homeward. He feels much satisfied to catch the biggest fish of his life. But on he way he is attacked by fierce sharks who want to eat away the flesh of the baited fish. The old fisherman tries his best to defend his marlin against these cruel invaders. But he feels helpless after the fall of night when he cannot see anything and is left with no weapons to defend his booty. The result is that the sharks snatch away all the flesh of the fish and he is left with nothing but a bare skeleton. It is true that the old man returns home empty-handed after a hard struggle of three days. But his adventure cannot be considered a failure because he succeeds in proving his worth and in raising his image in the eyes of the other fishermen.

This novel can be called an adventure novel in view of the nature of its story. But it is different from a common kind of adventure story because the author does not aim at providing us thrill of action. He has presented courage and bravery as a spiritual thing and an attitude of mind, and he has treated the whole matter psychologically. It is the personality of the old fisherman which remains the center of our attention throughout. We remain interested in his aspirations, fears, weaknesses and the memories of his past life. Hemingway does not make his hero a philosopher or psychologically split personality. He has also refrained from making him an extraordinary human being in the manner of romantic person or tragic hero. He is common person with a practical mind and realistic attitude of life. What makes him extraordinary is his strong will power, his power of endurance and his great courage to face the hardships of life. This novel is good example of realistic depiction of human life because its incidents and experiences are true to life and perfectly credible.

Hero of The Novel

The central character or the hero of this novel is an ordinary human being. He has nothing in the form of an impressive personality or high social status. He is not at all physically attractive like the young and handsome romantic hero. He is a poor old man who is a fisherman by profession. His name was Santiago and he lived in a locality of fishermen on the coast of Havana in Cuba. He was a man of lean and thin body. His face was covered with brown spots. There were heavy wrinkles on the back of his neck. His hands had deep scars due to life-long pulling of lines. His domestic circumstances were also very depressing. He used to live in a humble cottage alone, where there was nothing but a bed, a chair, a table and some cooking utensils. His wife had died long ago, leaving behind no children. However, the most remarkable quality of the personality of the old man was his heroic spirit and his unconquerable will power. It reflected itself from his blue eyes which were of the color of the sea. The unfavorable circumstances of life had failed to break his optimism and to make him disappointed. He used to be a man of great physical vigor during his youth. People called him the Champion because he had succeeded in defeating a powerful Negro in a hand game competition which continued for twenty four hours. He was deeply interested in base-ball and felt anxious about the results of the competitions going on in this field. The famous player of the game named Di-Maggio was his favorite hero who inspired him and won his admiration.

Like the other fisherman of that locality, old Santiago also used to fish in the Gulf Stream near the coast. But he had failed continuously to catch any fish during the past eighty four days. It had brought him to the verge of starvation. Although he was very expert and experienced in his profession, yet people considered him an unlucky fisherman. A young boy named Manolin used to work with him as an apprentice. But the continued failures of the old man had also influenced the minds of the parents of Manolin. They had taken away their son from Santiago and had sent him to another fisherman who proved to be more fortunate in catching fish. However, the boy Manolin had been deeply impressed by the affection and nobility of the old man and loved him as an elderly person and an experienced fisherman. Although, he worked with another fisherman, yet he daily tired to spare time to set his old friend Santiago, to enjoy his company and to do some services to him. There was deep love and sincere friendship between the two.

Conversation Between The Old Man And Mandolin

The Old Man had not lost heart in spite of remaining unsuccessful in catching any fish for the last three months. He often said that his big fish must be lying somewhere in the sea and he will definitely catch it some day. At last he expressed his intention of going on fishing expedition to the boy Manolin. He thought that the eighty fifth day would prove to be a lucky day for him. He disclosed to the boy that he would go far into the deep sea to try his luck and would get up early in the morning for that purpose. The boy encouraged the old man and appreciated his determination. He took the old fisherman to local hotel named Terrace, to entertain him a little. The owner of this inn named Mr. Martin had good feelings of sympathy for the old fisherman and often tried to oblige him. Both the friends continued sitting there and chatting over a cup of coffee. The old man told Manolin how he was of five years when he went with him to catch fish in the sea. He had a narrow escape against a big fish that they happened to catch. Then he said, “If you were my son, I would have taken you with me the next day. But you are the son of your parents and you are in lucky boat.” The boy replied, “My father forced me to leave you, and I had to obey because I am a small boy.” The old man tried to assure the boy that he know the whole matter and did not suspect his sincerity. The boy tried to encourage the old man by reminding him that on a previous occasion also he had gone without catching big fish for eighty seven days continuously.

After taking the meal, both of them came back to the cottage. They started talking about base-ball which was equally interesting game to both of them. The old man told the boy about the famous base-ball champion, Di-Maggio who was his favorite. He told the boy how this player proved to be an asset for his team in spite of having a bone-spur in his heal. Then he began to tell the boy about his travel to Africa when he was a small boy, and how he used to enjoy the scene of beautiful lions playing on the beach in the evening. These lions left such a deep impression upon his mind that he always saw them in his dreams. The old man told Manolin that he loved the lions as deeply as he loved him. He invariably dreamed of the beautiful lions playing on the African beaches like small cats. The boy tried to admire the old man by telling him that he was the best fisherman of the world. But the old man replied, “Thank you. You make me happy. But I know many better fishermen.” The boy said, “There are many good fishermen and some of them are great but it is only you.” The old man said that although he did not possess as much physical strength as he used to have, yet he knew many tricks about fishing. Above all he was a man of invincible courage and determination.

The boy proposed to the old man to go to sleep so that he might get up fresh and energetic the next morning to set out on fishing adventure. He bade good-bye to the old man and started for his own house. He requested the old man to come to awaken him early in the morning. When the old man went to sleep he was lost in his dreams of lions playing on the African beaches. He got up after midnight when it was very cold and still dark. He started for the house of Manolin in the light of moon to awaken him according to promise. Both of them came to the cottage of the old man and carried the oats, the mast, the sails and the other gear of the boat. They started to the shore and put it into the skiff of the old man. Then they went to the inn to have some coffee. The old man sipped carefully because he knew that he would have nothing to take on the next day. For the last many days he had stopped carrying meal with him to the sea. In fact he had become allergic to eating something. The boy had placed a bottle of fresh water for him in the front part of the boat, and he considered it sufficient for him the whole day. Manolin went to the store house and brought some fresh baits for the old man and a few sardines for him to eat. Then he pushed the old man’s boat into water and returned home after wishing him good luck.

Setting out on Adventure

The old fisherman rowed his boat slowly and came out of the boundary of the harbor. It was so dark that he could not see the other boats that had also come out on the surface of the sea. He could only hear the noise produced by the striking of their oars in water. After getting out of the bounds of the harbor, these boats spread to different directions in search of fish. The old fisherman also left behind the smell of shore and came into the atmosphere of deep sea. Before the day dawned, he had reached that part of the sea which was called “Great Well” by the fishermen. Here the depth of the sea suddenly reached seven hundred fathoms and the currents of the sea made a circular hole. At this place hoards of fish of different kind could be found. The old man felt happy to see the flying fish jumping out of water. He considered them the only companions of a fisherman on the wide sea. He felt pity for the small birds who dived into water to catch these fish but could not succeed. He thought that the life of sea birds was even more hard than the life of human beings. According to him, the sea was an unkind and hostile as a beautiful beloved who could be kind to her lovers only now and then. The old man had ventured too far into the deep sea against his own expectations. He thought that he might be able to find some big fish among the hoards of Bonica and Albacores.

Catching of a Dolphin

The old man had dropped four baits at different depths in the sea. The first bait was at the depth of forty fathoms, the second at the depth of seventy five fathoms, the third at hundred fathoms and fourth was held at one hundred and twenty five fathoms. The ends of these had been rightly covered with fresh sardines to make them sweet smelling and tasteful for the sea fish. Each line was attached with a stick to indicate if any fish struggled with the baits in the deep sea. A coil of forty fathoms had been reserved for each line to be tied with it at the time of need. In this way the baited fish could be given a line of three hundred fathoms long. As compared with other fishermen, the old man was keeping his lines at more proper angles in order to entangle some fish at different depths in the sea.

When the sun rose the old man could clearly see the other boats spreading over the surface of water close to the shore. Suddenly he saw a hunting bird circling in the air before his head. The old man thought that the bird had discerned some prey in the sea. He took his boat to that place where the bird had suspended himself in the air.after a while the prey bird dived into the sea. Then the old man saw flying fish jumping out of sea like a fountain. He was convinced that there might be some big crowd of Dolphin at that place. They were chasing the flying fish and were making the surface of water rise high. He bent over the oars and peeped into the deep sea. He saw a poisonous fish of deep red color who was called the “war-ship” by eating away this fish along with its jelly like fins. Suddenly there was a jerk in the line fixed at the rear of the boat. The old man laid down the oar and picked up the line. When he drew it out, he felt happy to see a big Dolphin hooked to it. It was a big fish weighing about ten pounds. The old man felt happy at his success and thought that it had falsified the prejudice of bad luck against him. He thought that the Dolphin caught by him could serve for the purpose of fresh baits.

Hooking of Big Marlin

It was noon when the stick tied to one of the lines gave a sharp jerk. The old man knew that some fish was struggling with the bait hanging at the depth of hundred fathoms. He joyfully held the line in his hand and prayed that the fish might swallow the Sardine attached to the end of the bait. After sometime the line was deeply jerked and its weight increased incredibly. The old man felt delighted to know that some big fish had been hooked. He let the line loose and slip it through his fingers, because the fish was going deep constantly. The old man opened the reserved coil of line and tied it with the line to give full liberty to the fish to go wherever she liked. At last when the line became steady, the old man tried to pull it with both the hands. In spite of his best efforts he could not lift the heavy fish even an inch higher to the surface. He wished that the boy would have been with him to help him in dragging the huge fish to surface. However, the old man felt happy that he had succeeded in hooking a big marlin that would falsify the public opinion about him.

The Historical Contest With The Marlin

Old Santiago felt that the hooked fish was very strong and brave. He was surprised to know that the fish did not yield to him and made up her mind to save her life instead of coming to the surface. The fish started swimming to the north-west direction in the deep sea. The old fisherman felt helpless and could not help being dragged after the powerful fish along with his boat. The old man thought that if he tried to pull the line tightly, it might break. Therefore he could do nothing but keep the line carefully held in his hands, giving as much length to the fish as she desired. He felt thankful to God that the powerful fish was only swinging in the deep sea instead of going deep which could be dangerous for him. He prepared himself for a long struggle against the sea monster. He thought that the blind physical strength of the big fish could only be defeated with ingenuity and human experience. He consoled himself by thinking that his adversary was in a difficult position due to the painful bait in her mouth, without being able to eat any thing to sustain herself. He was confident that the fish would soon feel exhausted and would offer herself to her angler. He expected that the hooked fish might rise to the surface before evening or at any time in the night.

The Steps Taken By The Old Man And His Thought About The Fish

The old man had passed the line over his back and shoulders and kept it tightly pulled with his both hands. He had fully strained himself on the line and was looking over it into the deep sea. He had gone so far into the sea that he could not see the greenery of the shore now. Only the tops of the mountains could be visible, shining in the light of the sun as if covered with snow. The sea was looking very dark and the light was creating reflections of its seven colors in the water. The old man was standing at his place in the boat and he was profusely sweating due to the hot sun. He was deeply impressed by the bravely of the Marlin and wished to have a look at her. Now he was feeling thirsty. He bent forward, picked up the bottle and took a small draught of water, holding the line in his hands as usual. After sunset it became cool and perspiration of the old man dried on his legs and back. When the cold increased he took up a sack and spread it on his back. He realized painfully that nobody should be so miserably alone in his old age.

He wished that the boy should have been with him to assist him and to see the great competition going on. In order to maintain his physical vigor, he ate two or three pieces of the Tuna fish caught by him. Then he began to think about the great fish hooked by him. He wondered that the brave fish continued her struggle throughout the night without changing her course or direction. She did not show any sign of nervousness or anxiety in her struggle. He had never seen such a powerful fish in his whole life. He thought that if the fish tried to jump or run wildly, she could endanger the life of her angler. Perhaps the fish didn’t know that her adversary was all alone and he was an aged person. He remembered how once he had angled one of a female fish. Her male partner felt much upset and continued swimming around his boat all the time because he could not see his companion in great distress. The old man also felt pity for the hooked marlin. He thought that she had decided to live in deep seas, far away from the world of clever human beings. In spite of that she fell a prey to human deceit. The old man felt that he should not have been a fisherman. But then he realized that he was born only to hook fishes in his life.

The Fish Gives A Glimpse

The old man had cut off all the spare lines before the dawn. He wanted to provide as much length and liberty to the hooked fish as she liked. Instead of baiting any new fish, he didn’t like to lose the hooked marlin. He thought that perhaps he would never be able in the future to catch such a big fish. He was joining the spare coils with the reserved coils of lines. Suddenly the marlin took a violent jerk which made him fall down in the boat. He received a painful injury under his left eye and began to bleed. But the old man stood up at once and reestablished the line on his back and shoulders. He sat down in front part of the boat, taking a support of the planks. He tried to forget his pain by thinking that the fish would also be undergoing unbearable pain. He said aloud, “Fish, I shall follow you even if I have to lose my life.”

When sun rose up the old man realized that the fish had not yet been exhausted. He felt encouraged to see that it was swimming at lesser depth now as indicated by the angle of the line. He thought that if he increased tension on the line, it will break down. If he tried to twist the bait into the mouth of the fish, it might also get loose. He addressed the fish and said, “I love you and respect you. But I will kill you before the end of this day.”

Old Man’s Talk With The Bird

Suddenly the old man saw a small warbler flying over his head. It appeared that the small bird felt dead tired and wanted to take rest on the boat. At last the bird descended to the line and rested there. The old man wished to spread the sail for him, but his hands were not free. He felt happy to find a new companion of life and began to talk to it. Suddenly there was a powerful jerk in the line which injured the hands of the old man. The bird also flew away and went out of sight. The old man felt unbearable pain but he hoped that his injury would heal up soon. He transferred the weight of the line to his left shoulder and sat down carefully in the boat in order to dip his injured hand in the saltish water of the sea. He saw how the water of the sea had become red due to the blood flowing from his hands.

His Hands Gets Cramped

After some time the old man stood up again and tried to hold the line carefully as before. He felt that his left hand was cramped. The old man thought that if the boy were with him he would have softened the muscles of his left hand by massaging it. He addressed his left hand and requested it to get well because the fish was going to come to the surface of water. After that he felt a change in the pull of the line which was held by his right hand. He saw that the angle of the line had changed a little. Suddenly the surface of the sea swelled up due to the powerful movement of the fish who came out of water. The old man was wonderstruck to see the huge size of the fish getting out of water gradually. After giving a short glimpse of its size, the fish again dived into the deep sea. The old man thought that he had never seen such a monstrous fish in his whole life. He could not understand why the fish had decided to jump out of water for a while. Perhaps she wanted to show herself to her angler how big and powerful she was. The old man pledge that he would also like to prove to the creature, “what a man can do and what he can endure.”

Prays For Supernatural Help

The old man realized that he would have to struggle for a long time to come. In order to provide himself energy and to maintain his strength, he tried to eat a few more slices of the Tuna fish caught by him. Then he began to talk to his left hand and asked him when he would get all right. He rubbed his cramped hand on his trousers. In order to make it warm, but all in vain. He wondered why at such critical moment his left hand betrayed his body. At last his left hand got normal towards noon. The old man felt anxious about the prolonged struggle put up by the Marlin. The old man wished to get the help of some supernatural power. He thought that he was not a religious person in the traditional sense.

But he pledged that if he succeeded in catching that fish, he would say prayers ten times and would pay compliments to Mary. Then he began to say prayers in a mechanical manner. He thought that his behavior was based on injustice. In spite of that he would not sit contented uless he had overpowered the great marlin, however powerful action that he was an extraordinary kind of old man. Then he wished that the fish should go to sleep for a while and let him sleep and rest also. He wanted to have dreams of the lions playing on the African beaches. In the afternoon, the fish started moving towards north east. The old man wondered what was in the mind of the fish. He addressed her loudly and said, “Fish, if you are not still tired then you are really strange.” The old man felt that the night was about to fall. He thought that if the fish decided to remain in water for that night also, he would feel the need of eating something to provide himself nourishment. He also saw that there was only a little water let in the bottle.

The Memory Of His Historic Hand-Game Competition

In order to boost up his morale, the old man recalled to his mind the historic hand-game competition he had with the Negro from Cienfuegos. He was known as the strongest man at the docks. Santiago challenged him to a trial of physical strength and endurance through the hand-game. The competition was held at an inn of Casablanka. Both the men seated themselves round a table, facing each other. A line was drawn at the center of the table. The two contenders rested their elbows on the line, holding up their forearms and gripping each other’s hand tightly. Each one of them applied his whole strength to bring down the opponent’s arm down to the surface of the table, without leaving his seat. The hard competition continued throughout the day and night. A large crowd of spectators kept sitting around them, watching them with great curiosity in the light of oil lamps. The referees continued changing duties after every eight hours. There was a lot of betting on the fate of the contest. The old man remembered how he kept his attention focused on the arm and face of his adversary. Due to constant straining, blood started oozing from the finger tips of both contenders. The odds continued changing from time to time, but the contest seemed to end in a draw. The supporters of the Negro went on offering him drinks and cigarettes. He once succeeded in upsetting the balance and bringing Santiago’s hand three inches lower to the surface of the table. But the old man soon succeeded in regaining the balancing position. The spectators who had to go to their duties in the morning, demanded that the competition should be declared ending in a draw. But the referees didn’t agree. When the day was going to dawn, Santiago strained his full might on the hand of the Negro and succeeded in making it touch the surface of the table. In this way the Negro got defeated and Santiago was declared to be the new Champion.

The Marlin Accepts Defeat

At last the sun rose for the third day. Santiago felt that the marlin was a spent up force and its resistance was almost finished. It was gradually coming up to the surface of the sea. Finally the baited fish started circling round the boat. The old fisherman continued pulling the line to draw the fish closer to himself. When the marlin was at a distance of thirty yards from boat, it took a desperate jump and appeared on the surface of water. The old man could clearly see its grand stature and the yellow strips on its body. He wanted to draw the fish so close to the boat that he could kill it with his spear. A strange struggle was going on between the old fisherman and the baited fish. At times the sea monster looked quite close to the boat, but the next moment it took a violent twist and got out of the reach of the old man.

The fisherman addressed the Marlin and said: “Fish, you are bound to die after all. Will you put me to death with you also?” His mouth had dried so much that he could hardly speak. Each limb of his body was aching with pain and exhaustion. He felt so dead tired that he had no strength to pick up the bottle of water lying in the boat. Both of his hands had been badly bruised due to constant pulling of the line. Black spots appeared before his eyes due to fatigue and weakness. He felt alarmed only and put a little water on his head and neck. He tried to encourage himself by thinking that he should keep himself fully in his senses at the important moment when the marlin was offering itself for death. He was at a loss to know whether he was killing the fish or the fish was putting him to death. He thought that the fish also had the right to kill him. Then he said loudly, “I do not bother who kills whom!”

The Act Of Killing The Marlin

The old man summoned all the strength and pride at his disposal to avail himself of the opportunity he had been waiting for. He continued drawing the marlin closer to himself till its mouth touched the planks of the boat. He at once put the line under his feet. Then he picked up the harpoon and lifted it with both hands as high as he could. He drove it with full force into the side of the marlin near its heart. The fish felt panicky and raised her whole body out of water. But the next moment if fell flat on the surface of the sea, causing a huge splash of water which fell on the old man and his boat. Santiago felt satisfied to see that he had killed the huge fish. She was floating on the surface of water with her belly turned up. The iron shaft of the harpoon had pierced through the shoulder of the fish so that the blood flowing from its heart had reddened the sea water. The old man had thus succeeded in killing the great marlin whom he called ‘brother.’ He took up the rope of the harpoon and tied it with the front part of the box. Then he sat down to relax for a moment. He felt relieved to think that the real flight had ended, though a little labor had yet to be done. The fish was so huge that the boat could not contain it. There was no other alternative but to lash it with a rope along side of the boat. The old man estimated that the extraordinary fish might be weighing more than one thousand and five hundred pounds. He felt unable to calculate the price of its meat without a paper and a pencil. He felt that his hero Di-Maggio would also feel proud of his brave deed. By chance the trade wind had started blowing to the South West. It proved very helpful to the old man in his voyage home-ward. He sprawled himself in the rear of the boat and let it move steadily. He felt as if another boat had been tied to his skiff. His skiff was sailing well in spite of the slight damage suffered by it.

The Homeward Journey

The old man thought that he should get some nourishment to overcome his physical weakness and exhaustion. The sardines provided by the boy had degenerated and were not worth-eating. By chance he found a tuft of sea-weed floating close to his boat. He picked it up with the help of his spear and squeezed it in the boat. The weed contained a dozen tiny fish called shrimps. The old man started eating them after pinching their heads with his thumb and forefinger. He knew that they were quite nourishing and had good taste also. Then he drank some water from the bottle and felt his senses rehabilitating themselves. He looked at his hands that had been badly injured. But he knew that the saltish water of the sea would soon heal them up. He was constantly gazing at the big fish to make sure that he was not seeing a dream. The sky was overcast with clouds, and it indicated that the breeze would be blowing the whole night. He felt pity for the marlin whom he had defeated and killed with trickery.

The Attack Of The Sharks

After an hour the old man had to face a new challenge. He saw a horrible shark advancing towards his boat. He recognizes it to be a Mako that could swim very faslty and could prey upon every kind of fish. The smell of the blood flowing from the body of the Marlin has attracted it. It started chasing the boat to attack the baited fish and to eat its meat. All of a sudden the plundering shark attacked at the tail of the dead marlin. The old man was ready to face this fearless creature with his harpoon. He drove his weapon into the brain of the Mako that made her unconscious. The shark sank into the sea, but it took away meager chunk of the marlin’s flesh. It had also taken away the old man’s harpoon along with its rope. The old man was filled with deep regret at the loss. He also felt sad to see his beautiful marlin mutilated. He felt as if his own body had been torn away. He regretted of having hooked that great marlin whom he loved.

Old Man’s Sense Of Sin

Now the body of the marlin was bleeding more profusely, and it could attract more sharks. The old man had no suitable weapons to defend himself and his dead brother. He thought that it would be a sin to lose hope and feel helpless. He tied the knife to an oar to drive away the aggressive sharks. The old man thought that perhaps he had committed a sin to have killed the innocent marlin. Then he argued that he had killed the fish to keep himself alive and to feed so many other human beings. He consoled himself by saying that he was born to be a fisherman just as the fish was born to be preyed upon. At the same time, the old man admitted that he had killed the marlin for the satisfaction of human pride and vanity. He tried to dismiss the thought of sin from his mind by declaring that he had no deep understanding of the concept of sin. He observed that in this world everything killed something else in some way to keep itself alive. Fishing was a source of sustenance for himself besides being a source of danger to his life. In order to divert his mind, the old man tore a piece of flesh from the mutilated tail of the marlin and started chewing it. He thought that the meat of the marlin was of superior taste and quality and could fetch high price in the market. Then he wondered how man of the common people deserved to eat the meat of such a brave and beautiful fish.

Fight Against A Couple Of Sharks

The old man was lying in a relaxing condition in the back of his boat that was being driven by the trade wind. He knew that he could not prevent the sharks from following the scent of the dead marlin and attacking it to eat its flesh. He knew that some more trouble could be in store for him. After two hours he saw two more sharks approaching his boat to get their share of the dead marlin. They were foul-smelling, hateful sea creatures that could kill all kinds of fish as well as human beings. The old man identified these shovel nosed sharks as ‘galanos.’ He got ready to face them with the knife tied to the end of an oar. One of them got under the boat and began to tear the meat of the marlin, while the other attacked it at the tail. The old man struck his weapon with full force at the head of the shark and killed it. Then he tilted his boat to one side and repeatedly attacked the other shark at its eyes and brain. He succeeded in giving it fatal blows that forced it to loosen its grip on the dead marlin and disappear into the sea. The old man had succeeded in driving away both the plunderers, though they had torn away about one fourth of the meat of the dead marlin. He felt deeply sad to look at the disfigured body of his beautiful marlin and said: “Fish, I wish I had not looked you. I am deeply regretfull of having killed you. In fact, I should not have ventured so far into the deep sea.”

Loss Of The Last Weapon

The smell of the marlin’s blood had spread far and wide in the sea. Santiago knew that it will attract more sharks to attack his dear ‘brother’. He was determined to defend his booty at all costs and to take ashore whatever was left of the big marlin. After some time another shovel nosed shark appeared on the surface of water. The old man let her attack the dead marlin. Then he took up the knife tied on an oar and thrusted it into the head of the shark. The sharp pain made her jerk backward forcefully, so that the blade of the knife was broken. The injured shark sank into the sea but the old man was deprived of his last weapon also. Now he was left with nothing but the harpoon, two oars and a club. Before sunset two more sharks attacked the baited fish. Both of them were ‘galanos’. The old man beat their heads with his club and injured them seriously. He succeeded in driving away, though these sharks had also eaten away sufficient meat of the marlin.

The Last Shark Attack

In the meantime the sun set down and darkness ensued. The old man was yet so far from the seaport of Havana that he could not sea any light. He did not like to look at the marlin that had been reduced to a mere half. He thought that it would be sinful to give up struggle and feel disappointed. He thought that luck might favor him in saving the remaining half of the big fish. He wished to buy luck if it were available anywhere. Then he thought how he could buy luck with a club, broken harpoon and lacerated hands. He thought that if more sharks attack him in the darkness of night, he would feel incapacitated all the more. It would be difficult for him to discern his enemies and to meet the challenge befittingly. It was ten o’ clock at night he saw the brilliant lights of Havana city. He began to row his boat in the direction of these lights, and hoped that he would soon get the shore. The fall of night made him more conscious of the pain and weakness that he felt in every part of his body. He thought that perhaps he would have no more sharks to fight against. But towards mid-night a pack of sharks fell upon his fish. He took up his club and planted blows on their heads blindly. But some of the sharks went below the boat and started tearing away the meat of the marlin. The old man could hear the noise produced by the sharks and felt violent jerks given to his boat. He could do nothing effective to drive them away. When the sharks attacked the head of the marlin, the old man thought that no meat was left on the body of the huge fish. When he was trying to beat these ravagers blindly, one of the sharks seized his club in the mouth and ran away. Then the old man picked up the tiller to fight against his enemies. The shark attacks ceased only when no meat was left on the body of the unfortunate marlin.

Home Coming
The old man realized that he had been defeated. The long struggle against the sharks had made him completely exhausted. The taste of his mouth had become metallic. When he coughed and spitted into the sea, it was mixed with blood. He addressed the marlin and told her that his own blood had got mixed with her blood. He lay down in the rear of the boat to feel at ease. In order to protect himself from cold, he spread an empty sack on his back and shoulders. The boat had now been relieved of its burden and was sailing quite lightly and smoothly. The old man had now been freed of all worries and fears. He was interested in nothing else except to keep his boat in the right direction. A few more sharks came to the skeleton of the marlin here and there, but the old man did not bother about them much. Their attempt to find some pieces of meat on the body of the marlin was just like picking up crumbs from a dinner table where people had already taken meal. At last Santiago saw the lights of the coastal colony. All the lights of the Terrace had been put out, and there was no one to be seen outside. The old man imagined that all the people would be resting in their comfortable beds. He thought that the comfortable bed was a great blessing of God. He took his boat to the foot of a rock and tied it there. There was no one to help him. He folded the sails slowly, and carried the mast on his shoulder. When he was climbing the shore slowly, he realized how dead tired he was. He stopped for a moment and turned to look at the great marlin that had been reduced to a mere skeleton and was lashed to his boat. He had to sit down five times for rest before reaching his shack.

After entering his cottage, the old man put the mast against the wall. Then he took a glass of water from the pitcher and sprawled himself on the bed. He pulled the blanket up to his shoulders and fell asleep, with his face turned down and the palms of his hands turned upwards. He presented the picture of Christ crucified.

Reaction of the People

In morning many fisherman gathered round the boat of the old man. They understood what had happened to him. On the one hand, they admired him for his bravery in catching such a huge fish in the deep sea without any aid. On the other hand, they felt sorry for his bad luck that his baited fish was eaten away by the sharks. One of the fishermen went into water and started measuring the skeleton of the big fish. He declared that the marlin was more than eighteen feet long. All of them agreed that no one else had ever caught such a huge fish. That day a group of tourists also came that way. A woman and her husband were wonderstruck to see the huge skeleton and head of the marlin.

Manolin’s Consoling Words

All fishermen of the colony were deeply concerned about the mysterious absence of old Santiago. The coastal guard had sent an aeroplane to search him out, but they failed to discern his boat in the wide sea. The boy Manolin was the one who felt upset. He daily came to peep into the old man’s shack to know if he had returned or not. That morning when he peeped into the shack, he felt relieved to see the old man sleeping on his bed. But when he saw Santiago’s lacerated hands and miserable condition, he could not control his tears. However he felt encouraged to see that the old man was alive and breathing normally. He silently went out to bring some drink for the old man. He went to the hotel and asked its master to prepare a glass of good coffee with a lot of milk and sugar. The man also felt for the loss of the old man and offered to provide him anything he wanted to eat. The boy came back to the old man and sat beside his bed, waiting for him to awake. He covered the coffee pack to keep it hot. He did not like to disturb the old man in his sound sleep. As soon as the old man rose up, the boy offered him hot coffee. When the old man was drinking coffee, he admitted to Manolin that he had been defeated by the sharks. The boy tried to console him that he had not been defeated by the marlin. He told Santiago that he had deputed a man to look after his boat and the angled fish. The old man felt how pleasant it was to talk to a man instead of talking to himself in the sea.

The old man told Manolin that he missed his company very much. Manolin assured Santiago that he would come back to him, without caring for the will of his parents. They would again go together on fishing errands. The old man said, “No, I am an unlucky fisherman.” The boy said, “Do not bother about good luck; I shall bring it with myself.” He told the experienced fisherman that he had yet to learn a lot from him about the art of angling. He advised the old man to take complete rest and to get all right as soon as possible. Both of them decided to get a new spear and a new knife for fishing. Santiago told Manolin that when he spitted into the sea last night, it was mixed with blood. He felt as if something had been damaged in his chest. The boy requested the old man not to feel worried in any way and take complete rest which he needed so badly. Then he urged upon the old man to lie down for rest. He said that he was going out to bring some food for him to eat and some ointment for his injured hands. The old man asked the boy to bring also the newspapers of the last three days, so that he could know the results of the base-ball competitions held during this period. When Manolin stepped out of the cottage, old Santiago lay down on his bed, with his face turned down, and began to see the dreams of loins playing on African beaches.

Free Your Soul
Free Your Soul

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