Manolin says, “it is what a man must do” in "Old Man and the Sea". What is he talking about?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Manolin is talking about the need for a man to wake up early to make a living.  He is a youth on the brink of becoming a man, and he is referring to what it takes to take on the responsibilities of a man.

Manolin helps Santiago prepare to go out in his boat, and shares some coffee with him in the morning.  He used to go fishing with the old man, but his father has forbidden him to because Santiago has hit a run of bad luck, having not caught anything in eighty-four days.  The evening before, Manolin had come to Santiago and announced that since his family had made some money, he could go out with the old man once more, but Santiago declines.  Manolin will help him get ready in the morning anyway, and when the boy goes to bed that night, Santiago tells him he will come by to wake him.  Manolin says "you're my alarm clock", and Santiago responds, "Age is my alarm clock".  He wonders "why old men wake so early"; perhaps it is "to have one longer day".  Manolin says in reply, "I don't know...all I know is that young boys sleep late and hard".

In the morning the old man goes to rouse the boy.  Manolin is still sleepy, and Santiago apologizes for waking him so early.  Manolin says that it's all right, because "it is what a man must do".  Manolin is not a boy any longer.  He is ready to begin taking on the responsibilities of a man.

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The Old Man and the Sea

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