Santiago makes his living by fishing, catching the great fish swimming in the sea. He loves the challenge of locating them, takes pride in having the strength and skill to be able to land them, enjoys the mental contest of wits involved in judging when to keep the line taut and when to allow the fish to have extra line so it can swim and get tired. Santiago is proud of the livelihood he has made for himself.
At the same time, Santiago identifies with the strong and free spirit of the fish he catches. He admires the beauty of color and body form as they swim with great power and efficiency through the water and thrills to see the strength when they jump out of the water. He loves the fish, even as he strives to catch it.
Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than you, brother.
Santiago's internal conflict is the struggle regarding how he feels about catching the great and beautiful and powerful fish, the largest and most impressive catch of his long fishing career. Is it his masterpiece of fishing, or his tragedy?