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...
(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...
(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 sharks began to appear. First, a large Mako shark ripped a huge chunk of flesh from the catch. The old man fought the shark off, but the smell of blood in the water drew others. By nightfall of the second day, the sharks had ripped the marlin to pieces. All the old man could do was steer his boat toward the lights of Havana.
Upon reaching the shore, the old man carried his gear, falling several times from exhaustion. At the pier, his fellow fishermen marveled at the skeleton of a fish...
(The entire section is 507 words.)
The Old Man and the Sea is one of the most popular and moving works of the twentieth century. When The Old Man and the Sea first appeared in the September 1, 1952, issue of Life magazine, millions of people stood in line at newsstands to purchase a copy; 5,300,000 copies were sold in two days. The excitement generated by the novella, rare for such a serious piece of literature, can be traced to its unforgettable portrait of the old fisherman, Santiago, and its vivid presentation of the novella's other principal presence: the sea.
The Old Man and the Sea probes basic questions of life and death, and explores humankind's relationship with nature. Free of the sentimentality that often characterizes stories dealing with nature and animals, the story still carries emotional impact. Above all, it is an action story, with the great noble marlin, the malignant savage sharks, and the wise, skillful, and patient old man holding center stage.
(The entire section is 156 words.)
The Old Man and the Sea tells the story of Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman, who alone in his small boat faces the most difficult fight of his life against an enormous marlin. At the beginning of the short novel, Santiago has lost his fisherman’s luck; he has gone eighty-four days without catching a marketable fish. Even his closest friend, a village boy he taught to fish, has left him to work on another boat. The local fishermen make fun of Santiago or feel sorry for him, but he himself remains hopeful and undefeated. Every day he rises early, prepares his skiff, and rows far out into the Gulf Stream in search of marlin.
Though ordered by his parents to work on a luckier boat, the boy still loves Santiago, and he visits the old man’s simple shack when he can. Once married, Santiago now lives alone in increasing poverty. He has little to eat, and frequently must rely on the boy or others in the village to bring him food and clothing. As they share their meals, Santiago and the boy discuss baseball and the important players of the period, especially “the great DiMaggio.” The old man tells of his early life working on ships that sailed to Africa. When he sleeps, Santiago dreams of being young again and seeing “lions on the beaches in the evening.”
(The entire section is 230 words.)
The Truly Big Fish
Early one morning the old man rises, shares coffee with the boy, and sets out for the far reaches of the fishing grounds. He passes all the other fishermen, who stop to work “the great well,” the point where the ocean drops off suddenly to seven hundred fathoms. He watches for flying fish or other signs of bait that might signal the presence of larger fish. Soon he catches a small albacore and, using it for bait, quickly hooks something very large. Though he pulls as hard as he can on the line, Santiago cannot move the great weight on the other end. The big fish refuses to surface and begins to swim out to sea, towing the skiff behind it.
Eat it so that the point of the hook goes into your heart and kills you, he thought. Come up easy and let me put the harpoon into you. All right. Are you ready? Have you been long enough at table?
“Now!” he said aloud and struck hard with both hands, gained a yard of line and then struck again and again, swinging with each arm alternately on the cord with all the strength of his arms and the pivoted weight of his body.
Nothing happened. The fish just moved away slowly and the old man could not raise him an inch. His line was strong and made for heavy fish and he held it against his back until it was so taut that beads of water were jumping from it. Then it began to make a slow hissing sound in the water and he still held it, bracing himself against the thwart...
(The entire section is 611 words.)
Destroyed But Not Defeated
Now many miles out to sea, the old man lashes the great fish to the side of his skiff and sets his small sail for home. After about an hour of smooth sailing, however, his luck runs out. A shark, following the trail of blood left by the huge fish, bites into the body, taking a large piece of flesh. Santiago manages to kill the “dentuso” with his harpoon, but he realizes that more sharks will follow. He begins to wonder whether he committed a sin in killing the great marlin, but before he has time to decide, the sharks close in. Fighting a hopeless battle, the old man kills several of the large “galanos” before he loses first his harpoon and then his knife. By the time the skiff reaches the village, little remains of the great fish but the head and skeleton.
Convinced that he “went out too far” and bears responsibility for the loss of the fish, the exhausted Santiago returns to his shack and falls asleep. The fishermen in the village marvel at the mutilated fish; at eighteen feet, it is the largest marlin they have ever seen. The boy brings the old man food and fresh clothes and watches over him as he sleeps.
(The entire section is 209 words.)
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 went eighty-seven days without a fish and then caught a fish every day for weeks. Santiago remembers and tells the boy he knows it was not the boy’s choice to leave the unlucky boat. The boy offers to buy a beer for Santiago, so they stop at the Terrace. The younger fishermen make fun of the old man; the older ones look at him sadly. Those who already made their catches for the day have butchered their marlins and prepared them for the market in Havana; those who caught sharks have taken them to the nearby shark factory.
It is pleasant on the Terrace. Though he cannot fish with Santiago, the boy wants to help and offers to get the sardines for tomorrow’s fishing. Santiago says the boy has done enough. They grow nostalgic, remembering when the boy was five and was nearly killed when Santiago brought in a big fish too soon. The boy begs to get four fresh sardines; Santiago compromises and says he may get one. The boy insists and they settle on two, paid for by the boy. Santiago wonders when he learned to be humble but knows it is part of who he now is, and he is not ashamed to accept such help.
The boy says tomorrow he will pretend to see something on the distant horizon so his captain will go far out to sea and they will be able to help Santiago if he needs it. Santiago believes he is strong enough to handle a big fish alone and says he knows many tricks if he needs to use them. They make their way with some of the gear and the mast to the old man’s home, a simple shack made of palm, sparsely furnished. On one wall are pictures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Virgin of Cobre. These belonged to his wife; he has put the picture of his wife away because it makes him too sad. There is...
(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 birds who are always looking but rarely finding; he believes the ocean is too strong for such delicate creatures. The Spanish name for the ocean is la mar, which is what the old man calls her as a term of endearment. Those who see fishing as just a business call it el mar, the masculine name. Others speak unkindly of her, but Santiago does not. He sees the ocean as a woman, good-natured but often capricious.
He has rowed quickly, and he stops where the albacore and bonita school. He hopes for a big marlin among them. His baits are out, one at forty, one at seventy-five, and one at one hundred, and the last at one hundred twenty-five fathoms. The baits are on the hooks and the sardines are covering any exposed steel; everything on the hook is tempting, and each line rests on a stick so he will see it dip when a fish pulls on the bait. He has more than three hundred fathoms of line coiled in his skiff.
As the sun rises, Santiago rows steadily to keep the baits in straight lines, unlike those of other fishermen. He has had no luck, but he thinks he would rather be exact than lucky: “then when luck comes you are ready.” He continues rowing and sees only a few other boats, much closer to shore. A man-of-war bird is circling nearby, and Santiago rows in that direction. Flying fish leap and they are too quick for the bird; a great school of dolphins is chasing the flying fish. Santiago baits a small hook with a sardine in hopes of catching something smaller; he hopes his big fish is somewhere near him. Below him in the water he sees plankton, which is a sure sign of fish; he also sees stinging jellyfish, something he hates. Turtles eat the bad jellyfish, and Santiago loves...
(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 again.
The old man knows he must eat the tuna to maintain his strength, though he does not like raw fish. He maneuvers to cut the fish into strips, though his left hand is cramped. He tells himself he must eat, and it is not as bad as he had feared. He knows he must eat it all to keep his strength, though his hand is still cramped. He hopes the sun and the tuna will give it the strength to uncurl on its own; if it does not, he will make it work to kill the great fish. He wishes again that the boy were here.
There is a slight change in the angle of the line, and the old man knows the fish is coming to the surface. If he does that, he knows he can kill it:
He came out unendingly and water poured from his sides. He was bright in the sun and his head and back were dark purple and in the sun the stripes on his side showed wide and a light lavender. His sword was as long as a baseball bat and tapered like a rapier and he rose full length from the water.
Santiago sees that the fish is two feet longer than his boat is, and he reminds himself he must not let the fish know he has the greater strength and power. The fish is a worthy opponent but he must never know it. Although he has seen other large fish and has caught two over a thousand pounds, this is the biggest he has ever seen or heard of—and he had never brought in a large one by himself. His hand is still cramped but he is able to bring in some line, and now he waits and wishes the boy were here. Santiago promises to say Hail Marys and make a pilgrimage to the Virgin of Cobre if he catches the fish. Then he prays.
This is going to be a long ordeal, and Santiago knows he must catch...
(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 be “calm and strong.” He is finally able to get the fish on its side for a brief moment, but it is not enough. Again he asks the fish not to kill him, even though the fish must die. On the next pass, the marlin again rolls to his side and again recovers to circle again. Santiago knows this fish is his brother and theirs is a noble battle:
He took all his pain and what was left of his strength and his long gone pride and he put it against the fish’s agony.
The great marlin finally comes to rest by the side of the boat, and Santiago impales it with his harpoon. The fish displays one last surge of life, leaping into the air, but when he comes to a stop he floats, belly up. Santiago is exhausted and faint and in pain, but he has won this battle. Now the “slave work” begins, as the fish must be lashed to the boat for transport back home, which is no easy feat because the fish is longer than the boat. The old man wishes the boy were here. Santiago wants to take a moment to touch him, not just because this fish will make him rich but because he feels as if they are somehow one. Santiago knows DiMaggio would be proud of him; he has no bone spurs but his back and hands are not good.
The fish has been lashed to the skiff, and the old man hoists the sail to head home. He is hungry, so he shakes some shrimp off some Gulf weed and eats them for nourishment. On the journey back Santiago wonders if this was all real, then he sees the fish and feels his sore back and hands and he knows this was no dream. An hour later the first shark arrives.
It is a Mako shark, which will not easily be stopped. Santiago prepares the harpoon, though the rope is...
(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 angry at the praise for his fish. The owner of the Terrace sends his regrets to the old man.
Manolin keeps vigil near the old man, leaving only to find wood to build a small fire to reheat the coffee. Santiago’s first words are “They beat me.” The boy reminds him that the fish did not defeat him, even if the sharks did. Santiago decides the head is to be cut up and used as baits, and the boy wants to keep the sword. Manolin tells the old man that the coast guard and others had looked for him. Manolin says he will now be fishing with him again. He has luck and will bring it with him, and he still has much to learn. They will bring a sharpened lance with them from now on, but Santiago must heal his hands. Santiago says he also has a strange cough. The boy says he must heal that as well, for Santiago can teach him everything. As he goes to get some clothes, some food, a newspaper, and some salve for the old man’s hands, Manolin is still crying.
Later that afternoon, tourists at the Terrace see a great skeleton with a glorious tail floating in the debris near the rocks. They ask the waiter what it is, and he tries to explain what happened and tells them sharks. They misunderstand and say they did not know sharks were so beautiful. Meanwhile, the old man sleeps on his face as the young boy sits next to him. Santiago is dreaming of lions.
(The entire section is 403 words.)