Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
For eighty-four days, old Santiago has not caught a single fish. At first a young boy, Manolin, shared his bad fortune, but after the fortieth luckless day, the boy’s father tells his son to go in another boat. From that time on, Santiago works alone. Each morning he rows his skiff out into the Gulf Stream, where the big fish are. Each evening he comes home empty-handed.
The boy loves the old fisherman and pities him. When Manolin has no money of his own, he begs or steals to make sure that Santiago has enough to eat and has fresh baits for his lines. The old man accepts his kindness with a humility that is like a quiet kind of pride. Over their evening meals of rice or black beans, they talk about the fish they had caught in luckier times or about American baseball and the great Joe DiMaggio. At night, alone in his shack, Santiago dreams of lions on the beaches of Africa, where he had gone on a sailing ship years before. He no longer dreams of his dead wife.
On the eighty-fifth day, Santiago rows out of the harbor in the cool dark before dawn. After leaving the smell of land behind him, he sets his lines. Two of his baits are fresh tunas the boy had given him, as well as sardines to cover his hooks. The lines sink straight down into deep dark water. As the sun rises, he sees other boats in toward shore, which is only a low green line on the sea. A hovering man-of-war bird shows him where dolphins are chasing some flying fish, but the school is moving too fast and is too far away. The bird circles again. This time Santiago sees tuna leaping in the sunlight. A small one takes the hook on his stern line. Hauling the quivering fish aboard, the old man thinks it a good omen.
Toward noon, a marlin starts nibbling at the bait, which is one hundred fathoms down. Gently the old man plays the fish, a big one, as he knows from the weight on the line. At last, he strikes to settle the hook. The fish does not surface. Instead, it begins to tow the skiff to the northwest. The old man braces himself, the line taut across his shoulders. He is skilled and knows many tricks; he waits patiently for the fish to tire.
The old man shivers in the cold that comes after sunset. When something takes one of his remaining baits, he cuts the line with his sheath knife. The fish lurches suddenly, pulling Santiago forward on his face, cutting his cheek. By dawn, his left hand is stiff and cramped. The fish has headed northward; there is no land in sight. Another strong tug on the line slices Santiago’s right hand. Hungry, he cuts strips from the tuna and chews them slowly while he waits for the sun to warm him and ease his cramped fingers.
That morning the fish jumps. Seeing it leap, Santiago knows he has hooked the biggest marlin he has ever seen. Then the fish goes under and turns toward the east. Santiago...
(The entire section is 1162 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The Old Man and the Sea is in many ways Hemingway’s most controlled piece of writing. Short and direct, it is the story of Santiago, who essentially is alone throughout the story. Manolin, the boy who usually assists him, has been ordered by his father not to work with the old man after Santiago goes for forty days without a catch. Manolin still comes to see the old man, but he no longer sails with him.
The story opens on the eighty-fourth day since Santiago has caught anything. He survives on the food that Manolin buys him from the money he steals or begs from tourists. Manolin also makes sure that Santiago has bait. As they eat their meager repast, Santiago and Manolin reminisce about happier days, remembering good catches and Joe DiMaggio and other pleasant things from their past.
That night, Santiago dreams of tigers rather than of his wife, now some time dead. He wakes to set out for his eighty-fifth day of fruitless fishing. Fishing is all he knows, so he has no choice. The details of the morning and of the sea are flawlessly presented. Hemingway transports his readers to Santiago’s small boat. Through Santiago’s eyes they see the man-of-war birds flying over a school of dolphin leaping in the aim to snag flying fishes. They are moving faster than Santiago can go, so there is no hope that he will change his luck by catching a dolphin.
As the morning wears on, Santiago hooks one small fish. He is encouraged by this tiny triumph, taking it as a sign that his luck might be changing. His baited line is deep below the surface, a full hundred fathoms down. He waits. The sun beats down hotly upon him as it inches toward its zenith. Then, around noon, something takes the bait. Santiago knows from the feel of the line that he has hooked a big fish.
Rather than coming to the surface, the hooked fish tows Santiago’s boat in a northwesterly direction, continuing this action into the night. Santiago braces himself for a night of struggle, drawing the line across his shoulder. He eats small pieces of the raw tuna he had caught earlier. At a sudden jerk on the line, Santiago’s right hand is gashed across the palm. His fingers cramp. He waits for the sun to warm him.
The next morning, Santiago sees his marlin for the first time. It leaps in the air, and Santiago knows the...
(The entire section is 957 words.)
Initially appearing in a special November 1951 issue of Life Magazine, The Old Man and the Sea was published in book form in 1952. It encompasses the exploits of its title character—the old, impoverished, but admirable Cuban fisherman Santiago—over the course of three days. While Santiago is not the novel’s narrator, the tale is related from his perspective and through his consciousness.
At the novel’s start, we are told that Santiago’s luck had gone bad, that he had not caught a marlin or any other fish for eighty-four days. So poorly had he fared that his young protege, the boy Manolin, had been forced to leave his mentor to work on another boat. Nevertheless, Manolin’s affection for the old man was so strong that he would beg or even steal to provide him with good bait, the boy relishing the old man’s stories of past adventures and his knowledge of American baseball and its primary hero, the great Joe DiMaggio. Long a widower, the old man no longer dreamed of his wife but of lions roaming on a beach.
On the eighty-fifth day, the old man went out into the Caribbean waters around Cuba alone, and in short order he caught a large marlin. The old man waited for the fish to surface before tiring, but this did not happen. When night fell, his small boat was pulled far out to sea by the fish. On the next morning, the old man saw the marlin jump and realized that landing such an enormous fish would mean a protracted struggle. The old man buoyed himself by eating bait and remembering his youth when he wrestled with “giant” men in the taverns of Havana. But with another day’s passage the old man’s energies were virtually exhausted, his hands deeply cut from holding the rope attached to the marlin. With his remaining strength, Santiago was about to bring the marlin in, but he found that it was too large to fit in his boat and he was forced to tie his catch to the boat’s side. It was then that the...
(The entire section is 507 words.)
The Truly Big Fish
Day 1 Summary
Santiago is an old man, worn and weathered by the sun and by life, but his eyes are still hopeful and spirited. He is a fisherman who has gone eighty-four days without catching a fish; he is seen as the worst kind of unlucky. After forty days, the young boy who was fishing with the old man was forced to go to another boat. Now Santiago fishes alone. Each day as the old man’s skiff arrives, the boy feels sad for him and helps him carry his gear from the dejected-looking boat: “The old man had taught the boy to fish and the boy loved him.”
Today the boy is hopeful that he can fish with Santiago again, but Santiago knows the boy’s father will not allow it. As they walk, the boy reminds the old man about the time he...
(The entire section is 944 words.)
Day 2 Summary
The moon is still shining as Santiago dresses and walks to the boy’s house to wake him. After the boy carries the gear, which he has helped do since he was five, they have coffee. Santiago is confident this will be the day he will catch a fish. While the boy, Manolin, gets the sardines and baits, Santiago enjoys his coffee, the only sustenance he will have for the day. Other than a bottle of water, the old man brings no food with him on his boat. Eating bores him; water is all he needs.
Manolin returns and Santiago is ready to fish. As he rows he hears others silently rowing as well. He hears the hissing of the flying fish, his “principle friends in the ocean.” He feels sorry for...
(The entire section is 1171 words.)
Day 3 Summary
As the sun rises, Santiago wishes the fish would surface, but he is still moving and strong. Perhaps he should put some pressure on the line so the fish will jump and fill his air sacks so he cannot go deep to die. Though he loves the fish as his brother, he vows to kill him. A small bird comes to visit. Then the fish jerks the old man to the bottom of the boat again; only because he is braced does the old man keep from losing the line. He is tired and sore, but he is still strong. Both man and fish are feeling the strain, and the rope has cut Santiago’s hand. It is only a surface wound but he trails his hand in the water to stay the flow of blood. The fish has slowed his pace. Santiago stands to stretch and brace himself once...
(The entire section is 884 words.)
Day 4 Summary
As the sun rises for the third time, Santiago begins to coil the rope as the marlin circles. The fish slowly makes large circles and is making steady progress upward. The sweat pours from the old man, and he is determined that he will not “fail myself and die on a fish like this.” He promises a hundred more Hail Marys and a hundred Our Fathers but he cannot say them now. He is not as strong as he would like to be; he is tired and a bit faint, but he knows the fish is tiring, too.
The marlin’s circle brings him near the boat, and Santiago cannot believe it is so big. The fish is now circling only thirty yards away. The old man knows he will be able to harpoon his brother the marlin soon, and he reminds himself to...
(The entire section is 1154 words.)
Day 5 Summary
As he had come each morning since Santiago left, the boy comes to the old man’s home this morning. The weather is not good for fishing, so Manolin is free to spend his time with his mentor and friend. Santiago is sleeping, but the boy sees his mangled hands and cries as he goes to get him some coffee. As he passes the skiff, he sees a group of fishermen gathered around the carcass. One man is actually in the water measuring it: eighteen feet. They ask Manolin how Santiago is, and the boy says he is sleeping and must not be disturbed. The owner of the Terrace prepares some hot coffee for Manolin to take to the old man, and he praises Santiago’s amazing fish and congratulates the boy on his two fish caught yesterday. Manolin is...
(The entire section is 403 words.)