On page 75 of The Old Man and the Sea, what is the meaning of Santiago's words, "I'm glad we do not have to kill the stars"?

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Santiago’s words “I’m glad we do not have to kill the stars” pertain to the complex relationship between man and nature.

Just before he utters the quote, Santiago kills a marlin. As he struggles with the marlin, Santiago feels opposing emotions of pain and victory. He feels the fish’s pain as he is about to conquer the marlin. At the same time, he is determined to come out the victor in the struggle. The marlin’s eventual death breathes life into Santiago’s deflating confidence. Capturing the marlin boosts his determination to succeed.

After reflecting on the cruelty of hunting, he looks at the stars and feels grateful that hunting does not extend to the celestial bodies. The stars represent an escape from the cruel animal nature of man. The quote pertains to Santiago’s need to transcend the primitive animal instincts of predator and prey, and symbolizes his desire to be one with nature, without the need to hunt or kill for survival.

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It is probably better to examine this quote by also including a bit of the quote that comes before it and after it. Just before the quote in question, Santiago sees the star Rigel and knows that all of his "distant friends" would then be out.

He then says the quote in question and follows it up with some thoughts about the natural order of the world as it relates to predator and prey relationships. He then admits that he doesn't understand it all and reiterates the fact that he is glad to not kill the sun, moon, or stars.

I do not understand these things, he thought. But it is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers.

Santiago has great respect for the natural world because he understands that he will live and die by that natural world. Despite this seemingly kill-or-be-killed attitude, Santiago considers the fish, the stars, etc. his friends. It is not a physically easy or emotionally easy thing for him to take the life of something in nature. He knows that he must do it, but he doesn't necessarily take pleasure in it. Santiago also understands his limitations within that natural world. He knows that his struggle with the fish is just about at the outer edges of his capability, and he accepts that limitation. It shows his humility and his knowledge about his place in the world. That's why he's glad he doesn't have to kill the stars. He knows that it is beyond his personal ability, and Santiago is okay with that.

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In a deeply metaphysical passage, alone on the sea under the stars, Santiago contemplates his existential condition. As he lies against the worn wood of his bow, the old fisherman looks upward to "his distant friends" as has many a man who has lived on the sea. Just as the stars have guided and sustained him, so does he hope that the great fish will sustain him. This sustenance that the fish will provide is the reason that Santiago has to kill him, even though he is "his friend." Looking at Rigel, the sixth brightest star in the night sky, part of the eight-star constellation named Orion, Santiago thinks,

"I'm glad we do not have to try to kill the stars. Imagine if each day a man must try to kill the moon, he thought. The moon runs away. But imagine if each day a man must try to kill the sun? We were born lucky, he thought."

Thus, there are two considerations to Santiago's thought that he is relieved not to be obliged to attempt to kill the stars: 

  1. The task of trying to kill the stars is, of course, insurmountable. At least, the killing of even a great fish is possible for Santiago.
  2. The stars, which direct him on the sea in the night, as well as providing him a certain delight as he contemplates them as part of the vast universe, are entities that he has grown to love in a consciousness that is not limited to his mind.
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