Why is Manolin, the boy, necessary in The Old Man and the Sea?

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Strictly speaking, the boy Manolin is not necessary to the story as far as the plot is concerned; the important events of the story occur at sea, with only the old man Santiago and the fish. However, Manolin serves an important role in humanizing both Santiago -- who is largely...

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Strictly speaking, the boy Manolin is not necessary to the story as far as the plot is concerned; the important events of the story occur at sea, with only the old man Santiago and the fish. However, Manolin serves an important role in humanizing both Santiago -- who is largely detached from others -- and the villiage, which is scornful of Santiago. Manolin's devotion to Santiago shows the hero-worship of the young to the old, even in their dotage, and his willingness to stand up for a friend against opposition, even when that opposition is his own parents.

"The hell with luck," the boy said. "I'll bring the luck with me."

"What will your family say?"

"I do not care. I caught two yesterday. But we will fish together now for I still have much to learn."
(Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, Google Books)

Manolin shows both concern for Santiago, and for himself; he knows that when the older generation dies without imparting its knowledge to the younger generation, something vital is lost from culture and humanity. Instead, he chooses to follow Santiago's example and become self-sufficient, not caring about what others say and instead helping those whose pride rejects pity. Manolin is the younger version of Santiago, the newer version, and he will accept Santiago's lessons and, later, teach them to the next generation.

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In The Old Man and the Sea, the character of Manolin provides an opportunity for dialogue and an opportunity for characterization of Santiago to be revealed. 

Most notably, conversation between the two reveals that Santiago is considered unlucky by the villagers, but is reverred as a great fisherman by the boy.  We learn that Santiago has gone many days without a fish--so many that Manolin is no longer allowed to go fishing with him.  But we also learn that the boy would rather go with Santiago, and that Santiago will not give up and stop going.  We also learn that Santiago is undernourished, and possibly in danger of starving, at least eventually.

Through Manolin the reader learns that Santiago is a great fisherman, and though the boy's opinion is unsubstantiated when the words are first spoken, they provide foreshadowing when the boy turns out to be correct. 

In addition to dialogue and characterization, Manolin's taking care of Santiago also creates pathos for the old man.  The reader sees Santiago through the boy's eyes, and thus feels sympathetic toward him.  The reader feels the same sympathy that Manolin does. 

Often, scenes that feature a particular witness create more emotion than scenes that occur in relative isolation.  When Manolin reacts as he does to Santiago's final victory/failure, the reader's emotional reaction is heightened by Manolin's reaction.      

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