Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1154
As the sun rises for the third time, Santiago begins to coil the rope as the marlin circles. The fish slowly makes large circles and is making steady progress upward. The sweat pours from the old man, and he is determined that he will not “fail myself and die on a fish like this.” He promises a hundred more Hail Marys and a hundred Our Fathers but he cannot say them now. He is not as strong as he would like to be; he is tired and a bit faint, but he knows the fish is tiring, too.
The marlin’s circle brings him near the boat, and Santiago cannot believe it is so big. The fish is now circling only thirty yards away. The old man knows he will be able to harpoon his brother the marlin soon, and he reminds himself to be “calm and strong.” He is finally able to get the fish on its side for a brief moment, but it is not enough. Again he asks the fish not to kill him, even though the fish must die. On the next pass, the marlin again rolls to his side and again recovers to circle again. Santiago knows this fish is his brother and theirs is a noble battle:
He took all his pain and what was left of his strength and his long gone pride and he put it against the fish’s agony.
The great marlin finally comes to rest by the side of the boat, and Santiago impales it with his harpoon. The fish displays one last surge of life, leaping into the air, but when he comes to a stop he floats, belly up. Santiago is exhausted and faint and in pain, but he has won this battle. Now the “slave work” begins, as the fish must be lashed to the boat for transport back home, which is no easy feat because the fish is longer than the boat. The old man wishes the boy were here. Santiago wants to take a moment to touch him, not just because this fish will make him rich but because he feels as if they are somehow one. Santiago knows DiMaggio would be proud of him; he has no bone spurs but his back and hands are not good.
The fish has been lashed to the skiff, and the old man hoists the sail to head home. He is hungry, so he shakes some shrimp off some Gulf weed and eats them for nourishment. On the journey back Santiago wonders if this was all real, then he sees the fish and feels his sore back and hands and he knows this was no dream. An hour later the first shark arrives.
It is a Mako shark, which will not easily be stopped. Santiago prepares the harpoon, though the rope is short because he had to us it to secure the fish. The shark bites the meat just above the marlin’s tail, and the old man harpoons him precisely where he knows the brain is. Santiago throws the harpoon with “complete malignancy,” and the shark sinks to the ocean floor, taking the rope and the harpoon with him. However, the old man knows his bleeding fish will now attract others. The Mako’s bite took forty pounds from the great fish, and Santiago is saddened by the gash in his brother the marlin. Now he wishes it had all been a dream and that he had not caught the majestic fish.
To prepare himself for the next attack, Santiago holds the sail steady with his foot, keeps the tiller under his arm, and lashes his knife to an oar. He wonders if it is a sin to kill such a fish, but he loved him before and he loves him after, so there is no sin, he concludes. Just as fishing keeps him alive, it also nearly kills him. But he has no regrets for killing the shark. He tastes the meat from the marlin, finds it delicious, and knows it will bring a high price at the market—but he must first get it there.
He has two hours of smooth sailing, then two more sharks appear. They are Galanos, and they are ugly in every way. The first Galano attacks the marlin from underneath, shaking the boat as he bites off his portion. The second one is on the surface and Santiago manages to kill him. When the other surfaces again, Santiago drives his makeshift spear into the shark’s brain but it does not die easily. Nearly a quarter of the fifteen hundred pounds of the fish has been eaten, but the invaders are gone. The old fisherman soaks his hands and tries to strengthen his knife-sword. He wishes for a stone to sharpen the blade. He thinks of nothing until the next shark, a shovel-head, arrives as “a pig to a trough.” Santiago stabs, but the blade breaks as he kills the shark.
Armed now with the only tools he has left—two oars, a short club, and the tiller—Santiago waits. The sharks come, of course, and he does his best to protect the marlin. He clubs them and some die, but more follow. By the time it is dark, there is only some front meat left on the fish, and Santiago hopes he can bring that home. He fears he tried to buy luck and paid too high a price, both with his body and with his fish. He sees the distant lights of Havana and hopes he will not have to fight again. But he does.
They come and Santiago fights back, clubbing anything he can sense in the water below. He clubs the last shark with the tiller and it splinters, but the shark dies. No more sharks come because there is nothing more to eat.
Santiago fits the splintered tiller as best he can and steers for home, resting his weary body and ignoring the last sharks who snap at the carcass for crumbs. Santiago is surprised at how smoothly and quickly he is able to sail without the cumbersome fish to weigh him down. His boat will need little repair, and he is aware of the sea full of friends as well as enemies. His only crime, he thinks, was going out too far.
He beaches the boat and drags it up as far as he can before tying it to a rock. As always, he shoulders his mast and sail and walks to his home. Now he realizes his utter exhaustion and must stop. He looks back and sees the nose and magnificent tail fin connected by an eerie white spine. He has to stop five times before finally making it back to his shack. He takes a drink of water, covers himself with his blanket, and falls into bed face down, palms up, on the newspaper-covered bed.
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