As The Old Man and the Sea opens, the old man seems to be caught in a pattern of bad luck. Through no apparent fault of his own, he has been unable to catch any fish for a long time. This unhappy circumstance is impacting not just the old man, but has also forced changes in the life of the boy who had been his pupil and helper.
In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy's parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week.
However, Santiago doesn't truly consider that he is a victim of bad luck. He understands that sometimes there are fish to be caught and sometimes there are not. There is something of luck involved, but there is also knowledge and skill and experience involved.
Santiago understood the ways of the fish and the ocean. He could plan alternatives, he could make adjustments that could bring about a change of luck.
I worked the deep wells for a week and did nothing...Today I'll work out where the schools of bonita and ablacore are and maybe there will be a big one with them.
When the marlin begins to eat the sardines from Santiago's line, Santiago can recognize that this was a very large fish from the movements and the tugs on the line. He felt what the fish was doing without seeing it, and knew that this possible great catch was not yet a sure thing. He waited as the fish nibbled, swam away, and returned, hoping that he would be lucky and the fish would swallow the bait.
Then he will turn and swallow it, he thought. He did not say that because he knew that if you said a good thing it might not happen.
Even after catching the fish and loosing some of it to the shark, Santiago continued to think and plan, refusing to call the attacks by the shark bad luck that he could not control. "...man is not made for defeat...A man can be destroyed but not defeated."
And in the end, Santiago is not defeated. He and Manolin lay plans for their next fishing trip, accounting for the new equipment they will need to obtain and the healing that Santiago needs to do before they depart. Luck is irrelevant in the face of their belief in each other. "The hell with luck," the boy said. "I'll bring the luck with me...we will fish together now for I still have much to learn."