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For a long time, it was common for a young person seeking to learn a trade to apprentice with an older, experienced person. This apprenticeship served to pass on useful skills and develop real-world experience in working. Manolin is an apprentice fisherman in a fishing village; many of the men in the village work on the water, and so it is normal for Manolin to apprentice with one fisherman or another. He sails with Santiago for forty days, during a long streak of bad fishing:
But after forty days without a fish the boy's parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week.
(Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, Google Books)
This, again, is typical; if Santiago is not catching fish, switch to a fisherman who does catch them. However, during their time together, Manolin becomes enamored with Santiago's personality and his experiences, and they become good friends with a father-son relationship. Manolin is the innocent side of Santiago's personality, sharing many of his interests but looking on them with fresh eyes; Santiago, for his part, sees Manolin as someone who should aspire to greater things than Santiago did in his own life, but also enjoys the boy's attention and loves him as a son. By the end of the story, Manolin has resolved to learn from Santiago no matter what his parents say, thus ensuring that Santiago's life and experience will live on.
Though I will deal directly with friendship first. Their relationship goes far beyond friendship; they have a soul bond. The boy needs the old man as a teacher and the old man needs the boy as family. Hemingway creates a very powerful, poignant relationship between the old man, Santiago, and the young boy, Manolin. At the onset of the novel, even though the entire town has turned against Santiago, because he is salao, truly unlucky,Manolin still cares and believes in Santiago. The young boy can no longer fish with the old man;his parents forbid it. However, by the end of the novel, Manolin makes his own decision to fish with Santiago.Santiago undergoes the trial with the marlin, nearly losing himself, his soul, when the fish is torn apart by sharks for no reason at all. Manolin cares for Santiago upon his return to the village.Santiago sees youth in Manolin, a young boy who is not scarred by the world as he is;Manolin is the hope for a new day, necessary to the Hemingway
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