Compare the old man and the fish in The Old Man and the Sea.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The fish is both a competitor and a companion for the old man, Santiago. The old man, a skilled and knowledgeable fisherman, has been competing all of his life. As a young man, he competed in a twenty-four-hour arm-wrestling match against the “strongest man on the docks.” Blood dripping down...

See
This Answer Now

Start your subscription to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your Subscription

The fish is both a competitor and a companion for the old man, Santiago. The old man, a skilled and knowledgeable fisherman, has been competing all of his life. As a young man, he competed in a twenty-four-hour arm-wrestling match against the “strongest man on the docks.” Blood dripping down both of their arms, the men were evenly matched until the very end, when Santiago exerted a final effort that defeated his competitor. Similarly, when he hooks the fish, he quickly realizes that this fish is like no other fish he has seen; it too is a worthy competitor that will take all of his effort, experience, strength, and knowledge in order to defeat. Even without seeing the fish, he imagines the powerful fins, the tail, and even the huge, all-seeing eyes. Interestingly, the old man’s shoulders and eyes are also described as still powerful and not weakened by age. The toll of killing this fish is brutal: during the three days spent battling this fish, the old man has had little food, water, and sleep, his hands cramp severely, the fishing line cuts into his flesh, and his back is sore from having to lean into the line and hold it in place. In addition, old age bears down on him, making this “competition” even more difficult.

But the old man does not give up the fight; he endures the pain and exerts full effort just like he did when he was a young man. The difference now is that, as an old man, his thoughts are not just focused on defeating the other. The old man’s thoughts turn to loneliness: “No one should be alone in his old age.” There is no crowd now to cheer him on and call him “El Campeón” (The Champion) as they did back in his younger days. He used to have a companion who fished with him, a boy named Manolin, but the boy’s parents made Manolin join another boat because they considered the old man to be “salao” (unlucky) since he had gone eighty-four days without catching a fish. And so, alone in his boat, the old man starts to think about the fish, not just as a competitor, but also as a steady and true companion. He is in awe of the fish and imagines the terrible strain and stress it is under, which parallels his own suffering. As the fish slows and weakens, he feels his own body slow and weaken.

The fish and the old man are not only described as completely exhausted; they are also both described as “strange.” There is something in them that is different from all the others, something in both of them that makes them go out “too far,” past normal limits. Although the old man is often pitied and even ridiculed by the other fishermen, this fish makes him feel as if they are deeply connected; he considers the fish to be his brother. Even after the old man kills the fish and has strapped its massive body to the side of the boat, he still thinks of the fish as very much alive. He prepares them to sail home. They will continue to fight, but this time they will not be fighting each other; rather, they will be fighting side by side as they prepare to face the sharks, which are heading their way.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Santiago is an old, experienced fisherman, who is on a mission to find redemption and end his unfortunate eighty-four-day streak of bad luck. The marlin is a beautiful, majestic creature that fights to free itself for three days after Santiago hooks him. Both Santiago and the marlin are inherently connected to the sea. Santiago has made his living on the open waters, which is the marlin's natural habitat. Both Santiago and the marlin are powerful, stubborn beings, who continuously fight for three days straight. Both beings also endure pain during their struggle. Santiago suffers lacerations on his hands while the marlin endures the pain from Santiago's fishing hook and harpoon. Santiago and the marlin also are depicted as noble, worthy beings, who eventually die as a result of their struggle. The marlin dies after Santiago throws a harpoon into its heart and the old man ends up dying from exhaustion.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The fish is stubborn too.  Both want to win.  Although the fish is not really personified, we can imagine him as a survivor.  After all, he is fighting for his life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Santiago is an experienced fisherman.  He's lived a long time by his wits and his skill--just like that giant marlin.  The fish acts on nothing but survival instinct, and that's exactly what Santiago seems to be doing.  They are connected in a way few of us can probably understand.  They're connected to the ocean and to each other, which is why Santiago speaks of the fish as his brother. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Hi there-  If you are writing on this topic, you might find it helpful to visit our instructional page, "How to Write a Compare-and-Contrast Essay." 

Thank you for using eNotes! 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Santiago comes to feel his deepest love for the creature that he himself hunts and kills. Both Santiago and the old man are a worthy opponents. They are both great fighters. They both share lives that can be a fateful mix of both incredible beauty and deadly violence. However, Santiago's fight is more for his pride and his profession. The fish just simply wants to survive. During his long ordeal, Santiago comes to pity the marlin and then to respect and to love him. In the end he senses that there can be no victory for either in the equal struggle between them, that the conditions which have brought them together have made them one. And so, though he kills the great fish, the old man has come to love him as his equal and his brother.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team