The Old Man and the Sea
Part I: The Old Man and the Boy (through pg. 28)
Please Note: The Old Man and the Sea is written as one text without breaks. Please refer to the page numbers and to the edition used to keep track of our divisions.
There is an old fisherman, Santiago, in Cuba who has gone eighty-four days without a catch. He is "thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck,…and his hands had deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert" (10). Santiago’s lack of success, though, does not destroy his spirit, and he has "cheerful and undefeated" eyes (10). He has a single friend, a boy named Manolin, who helped him during the first forty days of his dryspell. After forty days, though, Manolin’s parents decide the old man is unlucky and order their son to join another boat. Despite this, though, the boy helps the old man to bring in his empty boat every day.
After earning money on the other boat, Manolin asks Santiago if he can return to the old man’s service. Santiago refuses the boy, telling him to mind his parents and stay with the successful boat. Manolin offers to fetch sardines for the old man, an offer which Santiago first refuses and then accepts. Hemingways tells us that "He, [Santiago], was too simple to wonder when he had attained humility. But he knew he had attained it and he knew it was not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true pride" (14).
Santiago tells Manolin that tomorrow he will go out far in the Gulf to fish. Manolin responds that he will try to keep his own ship near Santiago’s so that he can help the old man pull in his catch. The two gather Santiago’s things from his boat and go to the old man’s house. His house is very simple with a bed, table, and chair on a dirt floor. There are also religious pictures and a tinted photograph on the wall, relics of his wife. At the house the two rehearse a nightly ritual of speaking about fictitious rice and a net. Santiago then pulls out a paper and the two discuss baseball, speaking with great enthusiasm of Joe DiMaggio. Manolin leaves the house and Santiago falls asleep.
When Manolin returns, he wakes Santiago. The two eat the food the boy has brought. During the course of the meal, the boy realizes the squalor in which the old man lives and reminds himself to bring the old man a shirt, shoes, a jacket, and a blanket for the coming winter. The two talk baseball again, focusing as usual on Joe DiMaggio. Speaking about great baseball stars, the boy calls the old man the greatest fisherman. Santiago accepts the compliment but denies the truth of Manolin’s statement, remarking that he know better fisherman than himself. The boy then leaves to be woken in the morning by the old man. Santiago sleeps.
Santiago dreams of Africa, where he traveled as a shipmate in his youth. "He lived along that coast now every night and in his dreams he head the surf roar and saw the native boats come riding through it….He dreamed of places now and lions on the beach" (24). The old man wakes and retrieves the boy from his house. The two take the old man’s supplies from his shack to his boat and enjoy coffee at an early morning place that serves fisherman. The boy leaves to fetch the sardines for the old man. When he returns, he wishes the old man luck, and Santiago goes out to sea.
"There isn’t any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The shark are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know."
Ernest Hemingway, 1952
Despite Hemingway’s express admonition against interpretation, The Old Man and the Sea has been a favorite subject of literary criticism throughout the half-century since it was published. As the enduring interest in the text might indicate, there are a variety of different readings of the novella. It has, for instance, been read as a Christian allegory, a Nietzschean parable of overcoming, a Freudian dream of Oedipal wish-fulfillment, and a Humanistic saga of triumph in the face of absurdity. In light of these radical disagreements in opinion, the following analysis will not attempt to present a fully-consistent, authoritative interpretation of The Old Man and the Sea. Rather, it will elaborate a diversity of viewpoints, endeavoring to represent the novella’s rich history in our modern literary consciousness.
The first sentence of the book announces itself as Hemingway’s: "He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish" (9). The words are plain, and the structure, two tightly-worded independent clauses conjoined by a simple conjunction, is ordinary, traits which characterize Hemingway’s literary style. While in other works this economy of language is used to convey the immediacy of experience, Hemingway’s terseness is heightened here to the point of rendering much of the prose empty on one level and pregnant with meaning on the other; that is, the sentences tend to lose their particular connection to reality but at the same time attain a more general, symbolic character, much like the effect of poetry. Hemingway’s style, then, helps explain why so many commentators view his novella more as a fable than as fiction.
The use of the number forty in the next sentence is the first of many religious allusions in the novella. We are told that after forty days‹the length of time it took Christ to subdue Satan in the desert‹Manolin’s parents decided that "the old man was now and definitely salao, which is the worst form of unlucky" (9). This sentence proclaims one of the novel’s themes, the heroic struggle against unchangeable fate. Indeed, the entire first paragraph emphasizes Santiago’s apparent lack of success. For example, "It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty." And most powerfully, "The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat" (9).
This type of descriptive degradation of Santiago continues with details of his old, worn body. Even his scars, legacies of past successes, are "old as erosions in a fishless desert" (10). All this changes suddenly, though, when Hemingway says masterfully, "Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated" (10). This draws attention to a dichotomy between two different types of success: outer, material success and inner, spiritual success. While Santiago clearly lacks the former, the import of this lack is eclipsed by his possession of the later. This triumph of indefatigable spirit over exhaustible material resources is another important theme of the novel. Also, Santiago’s eye color foreshadows Hemingway’s increasingly explicit likening of Santiago to the sea, suggesting an analogy between Santiago’s indomitable spirit and the sea’s boundless strength.
The relationship between Santiago and Manolin can be summed up in one sentence: "The old man had taught the boy to fish and the boy loved him" (10). Manolin is Santiago’s apprentice, but their relationship is not restricted to business alone. Manolin idolizes Santiago‹as we are meant to‹but the object of this idolization is not only the once great though presently failed fisherman; it is an idolization of ideals. This helps explain Manolin’s unique, almost religious, devotion to the old man, underscored when Manolin begs Santiago’s pardon for his not fishing with the old man anymore. Manolin says, "It was Papa made me leave. I am a boy and I must obey him," to which Santiago replies, "I know….It is quite normal. He hasn’t much faith" (10).
Despite the clear hierarchy of this teacher/student relationship, Santiago does stress his equality with the boy. When Manolin asks to buy the old man a beer, Santiago replies, "Why not?…Between fisherman" (11). And when Manolin asks to help Santiago with his fishing, Santiago replies, "You are already a man" (12). By demonstrating that Santiago has little more to teach the boy, this equality foreshadows the impending separation of the two friends, and also indicates that this will not be a story about a young boy learning from an old man, but a story of an old man learning the unique lessons of the autumn of life.
A similar type of unexpected equality comes out when Hemingway describes the various ways marlins and sharks are treated on shore. While this foreshadows the struggle between Santiago’s marlin and the sharks, it is also equalizes the participants. Despite the battles at sea, the marlins and sharks are both butchered and used by humans on land; their antagonisms mean nothing on shore. Like the case of Santiago and Manolin, this equalization demonstrates the novella’s thematic concern with the unity of nature‹including humanity‹a unity which ultimately helps succor the heroic victim of great tragedy.
This unity is also brought about in the strange Hemingway-ian conjunction of the beautiful and the barbaric. In other works, this is represented by bullfighting or big game hunting; here it is represented by fishing. Notice Manolin’s excited recollection:
"I can remember the tail slapping and banging and the thwart breaking and the noise of the clubbing. I can remember you throwing me into the boat where the wet coiled lines were and feeling the whole boat shiver and the noise of your clubbing him like chopping a tree down and the sweet blood smell all over me" (12).
This ecstatic, almost erotic, imagery stands in stark contrast to the careful art of fishing we see later in the novel. The fact the fishing requires both calm detachment and violent engagement (a kind of masculine flourish) further illustrates the unity of a world which both oppresses man and out of which the strength to resist that oppression comes.
Hemingway also peppers the novella with numerous references to sight. We are told, for instance, that Santiago has uncannily good eyesight for a man of his age and experience. When Manolin notices this, Santiago replies simply, "I am a strange old man" (14). Given the previously mentioned analogy between Santiago’s eyes and the sea, one suspects that his strangeness in this regard has something to do with his relationship to the sea. This connection, though, is somewhat problematic as it might suggest that Santiago would have success as a fisherman. Santiago’s exact relation to the sea, though, will be taken up in later chapters.
The simplicity of Santiago’s house further develops our view of Santiago as materially unsuccessful. It is interesting, though, that Hemingway draws attention to the relics of Santiago’s wife in his house, presenting an aspect of Santiago which is otherwise absent throughout the novel. This is significant because it suggests a certain completeness to Santiago’s character which makes him more of an Everyman‹appropriate for an allegory‹but mentioning it simply to remove it from the stage makes its absence even more noteworthy, and one might question whether the character of Santiago is too roughly drawn to allow the reader to fully identify with his story.
Santiago’s and Manolin’s repetitive fiction of offering food and retrieving nets heightens both the pathos one feels toward Santiago and the sense of timelessness about the old man‹a timelessness which would serve any allegorical aspirations Hemingway has. The conversation about baseball which ensues after this role-playing is also significant, especially the valorizing references to the "great DiMaggio." Joe DiMaggio is the heroic archetype for Santiago. Santiago’s identification with DiMaggio‹"They say his father was a fisherman. Maybe he was poor as we are and would understand" (22)‹are especially relevant as DiMaggio, as Santiago, is at the time the story is set in the autumn of his career. (As Manolin says to Santiago, "Keep warm old man…remember we are in September" (18)). DiMaggio’s struggle to play with a bone spur in his heel is a transparent reference to another heroic archetype, Achilles. These associations help elevate Santiago’s actions to the level of the heroic.
Santiago’s rejoinder to Manolin’s command to keep warm in September, "The month when the great fish come….Anyone can be a fisherman in May," is also important in that it foreshadows the novella’s concern with the lessons learned near the end of one’s life. Santiago, the character in Hemingway’s novella, will acquire a great wisdom as Santiago, the fisherman, will catch the big fish.
There is an interesting irony in the inversion of roles between the paternal tutor Santiago and the pupil Manolin. While Santiago took care of Manolin on the water by teaching him how to fish, Manolin takes care of Santiago on land by, for example, making sure the old man eats. When Santiago wants to fish without eating, Santiago assumes a parental tone and declares, "You’ll not fish without eating while I’m alive." To which Santiago replies half-jokingly, "Then live a long time and take care of yourself" (19). This inversion sets up the ensuing narrative by making the old Santiago a youth again, ready to receive the wisdom of his quest. Santiago’s almost childlike dream of playful lions‹symbols of male strength and virility‹before his voyage is also a gesture of Santiago’s second youth.
Besides this, though, the dream of lions on the coast of Africa draws attention to Santiago’s personal history as a Spaniard from the Canary Islands. Santiago is the Spanish name for James, the patron saint of Spain. Like Santiago, St. James was a fisherman before he heeded Christ’s call to be a fisher of men, and it was he who first brought Christianity to Spain. This parallel further casts a religious air around Santiago and his ensuing struggle. And as St. James was the special patron saint of the Spanish conquistadors who fought to bring their values to the New World, there is a suggestion that Santiago is bringing his (Hemingways?) heroic values to the New World as well.
The nature of these values is not so clear, especially at this point in the book, but Hemingway does offer some clues. There is, as there always is with Hemingway, a premium placed on masculinity and the obligations of manhood. When Santiago wakes Manolin up to help him off, the tired boy says simply, "Que va….It is what a man must do" (26). As for what this manhood entails, perhaps the most illustrative thing Hemingway says so far is in his characterization of Santiago’s humility. Hemingway says of Santiago, "He was too simple to wonder when he had attained humility. But he knew he had attained it and he knew it was not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true pride" (14). Humility and the acceptance of obligation, then, appear to be marks of manhood, a concept Hemingway will flesh out through the course of the novella.
The Old Man and the Sea
Part II: The Old Man and the Sea (28 – 41)
Santiago leaves shore early in the morning, before sunrise. "He knew he was going far out and he left the smell of the land behind and rowed out into the clean early morning smell of the ocean" (28). Soon, Santiago rows over the Œgreat well,’ a sudden drop of seven hundred fathoms where shrimp, bait fish, and squid congregate. Moving along, Santiago spots flying fish and birds, expressing great sympathy for the latter. As he queries, "Why did they make birds so delicate and fine as those sea swallows when the ocean can be so cruel? She is kind and very beautiful. But she can be so cruel…." (29).
We are told that while other fisherman, those who used buoys and motorboats, thought of the sea as a masculine competitor or enemy, Santaigo "always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favors, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them" (30).
Santiago keeps pressing out, past the great well where he has been recently unsuccessful. He travels out where schools of bonito and albacore are, hoping there might be a big fish with them. Before light, Santiago casts his bait fish out but does not let them drift with the current. He wants to know exactly where his hooks are. Santiago says of this, "I keep them with precision. Only I have no luck anymore. But who knows? Maybe today. Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready" (32).
Santiago sees a man-of-war bird overhead and notices that the bird has spied something in the water. The old man follows rows near the bird, and drops his own lines into the area, hoping to capture the fish the bird has seen. There is a large school of dolphin traveling fast, too fast for either the bird or Santiago to capture. Santiago moves on, hoping to catch a stray or perhaps even discover a marlin tracking the school.
A Portuguese man-of-war approaches the boat and receives Santiago’s ire. The old man recalls being stung by the man-of-war before and happily recalls watching their destruction. As he says, "The iridescent bubbles were beautiful. But they were the falsest things in the sea and the old man loved to see the big sea turtles eating them" (36). Having worked on a turtle boat for years, Santiago expresses his sympathy for turtles. He says "most people are heartless about turtles because a turtle’s heart will beat for hours after he has been cut up and butchered….I have such a heart too and my hands and feet are like theirs" (37).
Santiago notices the bird again, and suspects that he has found fish again. Soon after, the old man sees a tuna leap from the water and the bird diving to catch the bait fish stirred up by the tuna’s jump. Santiago gently moves toward the school and soon feels a bite. He pulls the albacore in the boat and clubs him to death.
The old man soon realizes that he is talking to himself. "It was considered a virtue not to talk unnecessarily at sea and the old man had always considered it so and respected it. But now he said his thoughts aloud many times since there was no one that they could annoy" (39). Santiago recalls himself from such thinking, saying "Now is the time to think of only one thing. That which I was born for" (40). Soon, there, is a strong bite on one of the lines Santiago cast out earlier.
Santiago’s start into the sea is an excellent demonstration of Hemingway’s descriptive art in its successive engagement of various senses. First, there is smell: "The old man knew he was going far out and he left the smell of the land behind and rowed out into the clean early morning smell of the ocean" (28). Next, there is sight: "He saw the phosphorescence of the Gulf weed in the water" (29). And lastly, there is hearing: "…[H]e heard the trembling sound as the flying fish left the water" (30). This use of different sensory imagery helps create a powerful description of the sea. As the novella’s title might indicate, the sea is to play a very important role in the narrative, and Hemingway’s exquisite introduction of the sea, recalling his descriptions of Santiago at the novella’s opening in their sustained beauty, signals that importance.
This introductory description is followed by the first of many instances in this section of apparent contradictions resolved into a greater unity‹a theme mentioned in the part I analysis. Santiago muses about the fragility of the birds he sees. He says, "Why did they make birds so delicate and fine as those sea swallows when the ocean can be so cruel? She is kind and very beautiful. But she can be so cruel…" (29). This dichotomy in the sea’s temperament is further illustrated by Santiago’s gendered explanation of the sea’s many faces.
According to Santiago, people refer to the sea as a woman when they love her. When they view her as a enemy and rival, though, they refer to her as a man. Santiago "always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favors, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them" (30). Despite the chauvinism characteristic of Hemingway, this view of the ocean is important in that it indicates that while the sea may bring fortune or ruin, the sea is unitary. It is not sometimes one thing and sometimes another. The good and the bad, or what people perceive as the good and the bad, are all equal parts of this greater unity.
In addition, this gendered view also suggests an alternative conception of unity, unity between the masculine and the feminine. As the descriptions of those who view the sea as a man are cast in a negative light, one might argue that the story is repudiation of a homosocial world of competitive masculinity. Man and man will always yield strife; man and woman, Santiago and the sea, complement each other and create a peaceable unity. The representation of the feminine, though, in so abstract a context problematizes this judgment, especially when the only flesh and blood woman we see in the story, the tourist at the very end, is supposed to upset us.
According to many commentators, the passage in which Santiago describes the care with which he casts his line is a transparent autobiographical reference: "…I keep them with precision. Only I have no more luck anymore. But who knows? Maybe today. Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready" (32). This novella was published after one of the worst disaster of Hemingway’s literary career, Across the River and into the Trees. In a way, this passage is an excuse of that work. He had maintained the precision and exactitude of his previous works in the work. That this was not appreciated was a matter of luck or, one might assume, the caprice of literary tastes. In light of this interpretation, The Old Man and the Sea is frequently read as a symbolic fictionalization of Hemingway’s own quest for his next great catch, his next great book.
Santiago’s statement that his eyes adjust to the sun during different parts of the day furnishes another example of the importance of sight and visual imagery in the novella. Santiago says, "All my life the early sun has hurt my eyes, he thought. Yet they are still good. In the evening I can look straight into it without getting the blackness. It has more force in the evening too. But in the morning it is just painful" (33). Given the likening of natural time cycles to human age, e.g. September as the autumn of life, it is plausible to read this passage as a statement of the edifying power of age. While it is difficult to find one’s way in the morning of youth, this task becomes easier when done by those who have lived through the day into the evening of life.
The Portuguese man-of-war can also be seen as a symbol of femininity, though one with decidedly negative implications. While the animal is called a man-of-war, the Spanish name which Santiago uses, agua mala, is feminine, and Santiago refers to it as a whore. He notes its beauty but describes the power of its sting and calls it the "falsest thing in the sea" (36), recalling recurring cultural associations between femininity and falsity. He even takes pleasure in the turtle’s devouring the man-of-war and recollects fondly when stepped on their beached brethren. Perhaps this represents the negative aspect of femininity, a counterpoise to the positive imagery of the sea. In any case, it problematizes the novel’s relation to gender and further calls into question the positivity of Hemingway’s conception of the feminine.
Hemingway complicates the matter further by identifying Santiago with turtles, those creatures which blindly‹literally‹devour the feminine man-of-war. The main significance of this identification, however, is Santiago’s likeness to the sea and the various creatures which inhabit its living waters. About the turtles, Santiago says "Most people are heartless about turtles because a turtle’s heart will beat for hours after he has been cut up and butchered. But the old man thought, I have such a heart too and my feet and hands are like theirs" (37). This identification is important as it corroborates our understanding of Santiago’s indomitability, the quality of undefeated-ness Hemingway noted early in the novella; with his body destroyed, his heart, his spirit, will fight on. This foreshadows the harrowing task Santiago is about to face with the marlin. Also, Hemingway tells us that Santiago eats turtle eggs for strength and drinks shark liver oil for health. In this way, he internalizes the characteristics of the sea and adopts them as his own.
The episode in which Santiago talks to himself on the ocean can be taken to corroborate the autobiographical interpretation of the novella. Santiago’s speech is really Hemingway’s thought; the old fisherman figuratively sails the author’s unconscious, represented in Freudian symbolism by the sea, in an attempt to pull forth the great story from its inchoate depths. According to this view, everything takes place within Hemingway’s mind, a self-referential allegory of the heroic artist‹"Now it is time to think of only one thing. That which I was born for" (40)‹searching for greatness in a world which seeks to deprive him of it.
That the fishermen call all the fish tuna and only differentiate between them when they sell them is at once a statement of the theme of unity and a repudiation of the market. It is not ignorance the underlies this practice, but rather a simplifying‹though not simplistic‹appreciation of the unity of the sea. There are fish and there are fisherman; those who are caught and those who catch. This distillation of parts heightens the allegorical quality of the novel. The market forces the fisherman to forget this symbolic binary relationship and focus on differentiation, requiring a multiplication of the terms of difference. As the novella stakes out a position of privileging unity, this market-driven divisionism come across negatively. This makes sense in light of Hemingway’s previously mentioned anger at the unappreciative literary audience for his previous effort.
The Old Man and the Sea
Part III: (41 – 63)
Santiago notices a bite on his hundred fathom deep line. The first bite is hard, and the stick to which the line is connected drops sharply. The next tug was more tentative, but Santiago knew exactly what it was. "One hundred fathoms down a marlin was eating the sardines that covered the point and the shank of the hook where the hand-forged hook projected from the head of the small tuna" (41). Encouraged by a bite at so deep a depth so far out in the Gulf, Santiago reasons that the fish much be very large.
The marlin nibbles around the hook for some time, refusing to take the bait fully. Santiago speaks aloud, as if to cajole the fish into accepting the bait. He says, "Come on….Make another turn. Just smell them. Aren’t they lovely? Eat them good now and then there is the tuna. Hard and cold and lovely. Don’t be shy fish. Eat them" (42). After many false bites, the marlin finally takes the tuna and pulls out a great length of line.
Santiago waits a bit for the marlin to swallow the hook and then pulls hard on the line to bring the marlin up to the surface. The fish is strong, though, and does not come up. Instead, he swims away, dragging the old man and his skiff along behind. Santiago wishes he had Manolin with him to help. Alone, though, he must let the fish take the line it wants or risk losing it. Eventually, the fish will tire itself out and die. "But four hours later the fish was still swimming steadily out to sea, towing the skiff, and the old man was still braced solidly with the line across his back" (45).
As the sun went down, the marlin continued on in the same direction, and Santiago lost sight of land altogether. The result is a curious stalemate. As Santiago says, "I can do nothing with him and he can do nothing with me….Not as long as he keeps this up" (47). He wishes for the boy again and muses that "no one should be alone in their old age….But it is unavoidable" (48). As if in response to this expression of loneliness, two porpoises come to the surface. Seeing the frolicking couple, Santiago remarks, "They are good….They play and make jokes and love one another. They are our brothers like the flying fish" (48). Santiago then remembers a female marlin he and Manolin caught. The male marlin had stayed beside the boat in despair, leaping in the air to see his mate in the boat before he disappeared into the deep ocean. It was the saddest thing Santiago had ever seen.
Something then takes one of the baits behind Santiago, but he cuts the line order to avoid distraction from the marlin, wishing Manolin was there to watch the other lines. Expressing his resolve, Santiago says, "Fish,…I’ll stay with you until I am dead" (52). He expresses ambivalence over whether he wants the fish to jump, wanting to end the struggle as quickly as possible but worrying that the hook might slip out of the fish’s mouth. Echoing his former resolve though with less certainty, Santiago says, "Fish,…I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends" (54).
A small bird land on the boat, and while Santiago is speaking to the bird, the marlin lurches forward and pulls the old man down, cutting his hand. Lowering his hand to water to clean it, Santiago notices that the marlin has slowed down. He decides to eat a tuna he has caught in order to give him strength for his ordeal. As he is cutting the fish, though, his left hand cramps. "What kind of hand is that," Santiago says, "Cramp then if you want. Make yourself into a claw. It will do you no good" (58). The old man eats the tuna, hoping it will renew his strength and help release his hand.
Santiago considers his lonely condition. He is surrounded by a seemingly endless expanse of deep, dark water. Staring at the clouds, though, he sees a "flight of wild ducks etching themselves against the sky over water, then blurring, then etching again and he knew no man was ever alone on the sea" (61). Santiago soon focuses on his hand, though, and contemplates the humiliation of a cramp, an insurrection of one’s own body against oneself.
Just then, the marlin comes out of the water quickly and descends into the water again. Santiago is amazed by its size, two feet longer than the skiff. He realizes that the marlin could destroy the boat if he wanted to and says, "…[T]hank God, they are not as intelligent as we who kill them; although they are more noble and more able" (63). Santiago says prayers to assuage his worried heart and settles into the chase once again.
This section begins Santiago’s pursuit of the hooked marlin, and there is a good deal of simple description of the mechanics of catching such a fish. This helps create a sense of narrative authenticity, the clean conveyance of reality for which Hemingway assiduously strove. Despite this focus on specific reality, this section of the novel can be seen to continue in the symbolic vein of the previous sections.
For instance, Hemingway’s description of the marlin’s initial nibbling on the bait utilizes the same phrases again and again, e.g. "delicate pulling." While this may express the actual event perfectly, the repetition creates a distancing effect, pushing the prose more toward poetry and less towards realistic objectivity. As noted before, this heightens the allegorical quality of the narrative, which, at least explicitly, Hemingway denied.
The unanimous response with which Santiago’s thoughts of loneliness are met is another expression of the theme of unity in the novella. Santiago thinks to himself, "No one should be alone in their old age….But it is unavoidable" (48). As if in response to this, Hemingway introduces a pair of friendly dolphins in the very next paragraph. "They are good," says Santiago. "They make jokes and love on another. They are our brothers like the flying fish" (48).
Then, as if on cue, Santiago begins to feel sorry for the marlin he has hooked. This pity for the great fish is intensified when Santiago recalls seeing the misery of a male marlin after he had caught its mate. Saddened deeply by this demonstration of devotion, Santiago and Manolin, with whom he was fishing, "begged her pardon and butchered her promptly" (50). Suddenly, Santiago is speaking of his actions as Œtreachery,’ a very odd word for a fisherman to use in describing his trade. The more he identifies with the sea and its creatures, the more despicable his actions become. Soon, though, Santiago’s treachery is transformed from his act of killing to his having gone out further than most fisherman go. As Santiago says:
< (50). us? of one either help to no And noon. since been have and together joined are we Now world. the people all Beyond people. beyond him find there out go was choice My treacheries. traps snares far water dark deep in stay has marlin?s] [the ?His,>
The end of this passage begins another shift in tone, this time to the tragically heroic. The image of a struggle between two figures alone in the great Œbeyond’ certainly conjures an air of monumental conflict. This heroic angle is played up even more when Santiago ends these reflection by thinking, "Perhaps I should not have been a fisherman….But that was the thing I was born for" (50). Again, this emphasis on fate is typical of heroic stories, especially tragedies.
Interestingly, one might also read this statement of fate as an expression of Santiago’s own place in a symbolic story about the writing process itself. Santiago, a product of Hemingway’s authorial imagination, was born to play the role he has in the narrative. In this way, the character’s succumbing to fate is a comment on the creative process by which the author controls the destiny of his or her characters.
Santiago’s identification with and affection for the marlin increases the longer he is with the fish. In order to Œconvince’ the fish to be caught and to steel himself for his difficult task, Santiago says, "Fish,…I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you before this day ends" (54). Soon after, Santiago tells the bird that has landed on his boat that he cannot help because he is "with a friend" (55). And later, Santiago goes as far as to wish that he could feed the marlin, calling it his brother.
The cramping of Hemingway’s left hand is interesting First, it creates tension by debilitating the protagonist even more, making failure more likely and so his triumph sweeter. Second, if we accept the autobiographical reading of the novella, it can be a symbol for writers block. This is importantly different from Hemingway’s previous attempts to blame the readers for his recent lack of success. Now, suddenly, the fault is his own. But not fully. The hand reacts in spite of its possessor’s intention, and Santiago speaks to his hand as if it operated independently of himself. This certainly makes the question of who is responsible for Hemingway’s failures more complicated.
In addition, Santiago’s response to the cramp also affords us an opportunity to investigate Hemingway’s conception of manhood. As Hemingway writes, " It is humiliating before others to have a diarrhea from ptomaine poisoning or to vomit from it. But a cramp, he thought of it as a calambre, humiliates oneself especially when one is alone" (62). A man’s sense of humiliation does not depend exclusively on the presence (or imagined presence) of others who would look upon him with disgust or disdain. It rests on an internal standard of dignity, one which privileges above all control over one’s self. It is not only inconvenient or frustrating that Santiago’s hand cramped, it is, as Santiago says, "unworthy of it to be cramped" (64). This concern with worthiness is a important to the novel.
Santiago’s concerns about his own worthiness come to a head when he finally beholds the fish he is tracking. When Santiago finally catches a glimpse of the great marlin, he imagines he is in some sort of aristocratic feud, with each participant needing to demonstrate his prowess to the other before the fight. Not, though, to intimidate the opponent, but rather to demonstrate his own status, to show the other that he is a worthy antagonist. "I wonder why he jumped, the old man thought. He jumped almost as though to show me how big he was. I know now, anyway, he thought. I wish I could show him what sort of man I am. But then he would see the cramped hand" (64). This necessity to be seen as worthy in the eyes of a perceived equal or superior complicates the internal standard of manhood which Hemingway seems to elucidate elsewhere.
From the time Santiago sees the fish to the end of the book, he seems obsessed with the idea of proving himself a worthy slayer of such a noble beast. This obsession, more often than not, is couched in self-ascriptions of inferiority. Santiago thanks God that marlins "are not as intelligent as we who kill them; although they are more noble and able" (63). And he thinks to himself, "I wish I was the fish….with everything he has against only my will and my intelligence" (64). The dissociation between intelligence on the one hand and nobility and ability on the other is very interesting, as it amounts to an exaltation of the natural and animalistic over the human, if we accept intelligence as the mark of humanity. This heightens the stakes of the struggle between the marlin and Santiago, and almost necessitates the long battle that ensues, for Santiago’s eventually victory can only be seen as deserved if he has proved his worthiness and nobility through suffering. In the end, though, we might still ask, according to the novella’s own terms, whether Santiago’s victory over the fish amounted to a triumph for humanity or a miscarriage of justice, in which an ignoble human brute defeats the sea’s paragon of nobility.