Illustration of a marlin in the water

The Old Man and the Sea

by Ernest Hemingway

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Discussion Topic

The old man's struggle with and ultimate loss of the great marlin in The Old Man and the Sea

Summary:

The old man's struggle with the great marlin in The Old Man and the Sea symbolizes the universal human condition of striving against formidable challenges. His ultimate loss of the marlin to sharks represents the inevitable defeat and destruction that can follow even the most valiant efforts, highlighting themes of perseverance, dignity, and the transient nature of success.

Expert Answers

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How does the old man kill the great marlin in The Old Man and the Sea?

The old man, Santiago, has not caught a fish in 84 days, a long time.

He goes out to sea in his boat and drops his baited hooks in the water. A giant marlin nibbles at the sardines arranged around a hook until the hook catches in his mouth. At this point, Santiago has him, and he waits for the fish to tire so he can kill it. The marlin rears out of the water, and Santiago sees it is so big it is two feet longer than his boat. Santiago feels he must not let the marlin know it is stronger then he is. Although very tired, Santiago eats smaller fish and waits for the marlin to weaken.

On the fourth day, the marlin wearies, and Santiago can use his harpoon to kill the giant fish.

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How does the old man lose the fish in The Old Man and the Sea?

The old man, Santiago, is an extremely experienced fisherman. As such, he is very critical of himself on a number of occasions for having traveled out too far into the water. He feels sure that this is the primary reason that he loses the enormous fish he has managed to secure.

The reason he loses his fish is that a shark manages to approach the boat and take a bite out of the fish. The old man is able to kill the shark, but not before it has taken what the old man estimates to be forty pounds of the prize. The unfortunate fact for the old man is that after the first shark has managed to take a bite out of the fish, its blood enters the water. After this, the scent of blood is picked up by all the other sharks for miles around.

The old man may be able to defend his fish against one shark, but he cannot defend it against a whole pack of sharks, all of them tearing the fish apart. Santiago does his best to beat them off, but he is old and his equipment lacking, and he knows he is too far from the shore to be able to simply make it back there with his fish. As a result, the fish becomes food for sharks, and he returns home with a picked-bare carcass.

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