Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 944
Santiago is an old man, worn and weathered by the sun and by life, but his eyes are still hopeful and spirited. He is a fisherman who has gone eighty-four days without catching a fish; he is seen as the worst kind of unlucky. After forty days, the young boy who was fishing with the old man was forced to go to another boat. Now Santiago fishes alone. Each day as the old man’s skiff arrives, the boy feels sad for him and helps him carry his gear from the dejected-looking boat: “The old man had taught the boy to fish and the boy loved him.”
Today the boy is hopeful that he can fish with Santiago again, but Santiago knows the boy’s father will not allow it. As they walk, the boy reminds the old man about the time he went eighty-seven days without a fish and then caught a fish every day for weeks. Santiago remembers and tells the boy he knows it was not the boy’s choice to leave the unlucky boat. The boy offers to buy a beer for Santiago, so they stop at the Terrace. The younger fishermen make fun of the old man; the older ones look at him sadly. Those who already made their catches for the day have butchered their marlins and prepared them for the market in Havana; those who caught sharks have taken them to the nearby shark factory.
It is pleasant on the Terrace. Though he cannot fish with Santiago, the boy wants to help and offers to get the sardines for tomorrow’s fishing. Santiago says the boy has done enough. They grow nostalgic, remembering when the boy was five and was nearly killed when Santiago brought in a big fish too soon. The boy begs to get four fresh sardines; Santiago compromises and says he may get one. The boy insists and they settle on two, paid for by the boy. Santiago wonders when he learned to be humble but knows it is part of who he now is, and he is not ashamed to accept such help.
The boy says tomorrow he will pretend to see something on the distant horizon so his captain will go far out to sea and they will be able to help Santiago if he needs it. Santiago believes he is strong enough to handle a big fish alone and says he knows many tricks if he needs to use them. They make their way with some of the gear and the mast to the old man’s home, a simple shack made of palm, sparsely furnished. On one wall are pictures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Virgin of Cobre. These belonged to his wife; he has put the picture of his wife away because it makes him too sad. There is little else in the room.
The boy asks a few usual questions and gets the usual answers. What will the old man eat? A pot of yellow rice and fish. Can he take the cast net for the old man? Of course. It is a charade, for they both know there is no rice and fish, and the cast net was sold long ago. They discuss their favorite pastime—baseball. The Yankees are the old man’s favorite team. They discuss buying a lottery ticket with the number eighty-five because they feel lucky about tomorrow’s fishing. Santiago sits in the sun reading a newspaper that has been given to him while the boy gets the sardines.
When the boy returns, he sees the old man has fallen asleep. He drapes a blanket around his friend’s strong, weathered shoulders. He leaves Santiago sleeping and brings them back some dinner from the Terrace. When Santiago says he has gone without eating before, the boy says, “You’ll not fish without eating while I’m alive.” The old man says he will eat since he has washed, but the boy knows the nearest water is several streets away—another fiction. He is determined to bring fresh water and some other clothes for the old man.
As they eat, they talk baseball. Joe DiMaggio is Santiago’s hero, and he wishes he could take him fishing; the great DiMaggio’s father was a fisherman, so he feels a connection. Santiago recalls his days on a ship near Africa when he saw lions on the beach, but they talk about baseball tonight. Dick Sisler, John J. McGraw, and Leo Durocher are the legends who have spent time in their small fishing town. The boy believes Santiago is a legend among fishermen. Santiago hopes he will not be beaten by a fish, and the boy assures him he will not be as long as the old man is as strong as he says he is. Again Santiago claims he has “tricks” and “resolution.”
They make their plan for the morning; Santiago will wake the boy to begin their day. Once the boy leaves, the old man takes off his pants and rolls them up to use as a pillow. He rolls up in his blanket and sleeps on newspapers covering the springs of his bed. He dreams of Africa—the white sands, the frolicking lions, the smell of tar, and the breeze and smell off the coast:
He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor his wife. He only dreamed of places now, and lions on the beach. They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy.
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