Illustration of a marlin in the water

The Old Man and the Sea

by Ernest Hemingway

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What is the meaning of the passage that begins, "He lay in the stern and steered and watched for the glow to come in the sky," and ends, "He tried to settle more comfortably to steer and from his pain he knew he was not dead" in The Old Man and the Sea?

In The Old Man and the Sea, this passage shows the eponymous old man at sea, feeling as if he is already dead and battling with his own mind. The meaning of the passage mostly links to the themes of loneliness and perseverance.

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In this passage, the old man conducts a dialogue with himself, which indicates how lonely he has become. He has nobody else to speak with, and his loneliness is emphasized by the fact that he is, at this moment, surrounded by only the vast expanse of the sea. Toward the end of the passage, the old man wishes that he could see "the glow from the lights." Here, he is referring to the lights of the city. The lights symbolize civilization and companionship but also hope. At this point in the story, the old man is hopeless and is surrounded both literally (because it is night-time) and metaphorically by darkness. At the beginning of the passage, he similarly wishes for "the glow to come in the sky." Although he is referring specifically to the rising sun in this instance, the idea is the same. The old man is surrounded by darkness and by despair.

Throughout the passage, the old man battles against the aforementioned hopelessness, and in so doing he demonstrates a quite remarkable capacity for perseverance. Indeed, he tells himself to "keep awake and steer," and he reassures himself that, despite the evidence to the contrary, he "may have much luck yet." Throughout this passage of the story, the old man's perseverance is also symbolized by his "two bad hands." His hands are bleeding and raw because he has been trying for so long to catch the huge fish.

At the end of the passage, the old man also demonstrates his remarkable perseverance when he leans back into the boat and seems to embrace the pain as a signal that he is not dead. The implication is that the old man has an inner drive to keep going. This inner drive is stronger and more resilient than the pain he feels, and it is stronger too than the despair. It is also the characteristic which Hemingway celebrates more than any other throughout the story.

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