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As Santiago remembers hooking the marlin, he recalls how male marlin always let the female marlin eat first, and so the female marlin had been hooked. The male marlin stayed right by her, and even after Santiago had clubbed her and lifted her on board, the male marlin, still trying to locate his mate, jumped into the air to see where the female was. Santiago is greatly impressed by this memory of loyalty and love and companionship, and recalls that even after the marlin had jumped he still stayed around:
Then, while the old man was clearing the lines and preparing the harpoon, the male fish jumped high into the air beside the boat to see where the female was and then went down deep, his lavender wings, that were his pectoral fins, spread wide and all his wide lavender stripes showing. He was beautiful, the old man remembered, and he had stayed.
This impresses Santiago as being one of the "saddest things" he had ever seen. This is an interesting response, given Santiago's career as a fisherman and the way that he made his living from the death of fish like the marlin. What it indicates is the depth of Santiago's character and his sentimentality.
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