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The Old Man and the Sea

by Ernest Hemingway

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What is the relationship between the old man and the sea?

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The relationship between the old man and the sea is, from the perspective of the old man, respectful and loving. The old man also perceives the sea as something that is wild and temperamental.

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Toward the beginning of the book, Hemingway writes that the old man "thought of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her." Later in the story, we learn that the old man loves the sea because it is wild, beautiful, and, at times, peaceful. The Spanish word la is feminine and, as such, denotes the sea as feminine. This also tells us something about how the old man perceives the sea. He perceives the sea as a man might traditionally perceive a woman: as a source of tenderness, beauty, and love.

Hemingway also writes that the old man thought of the sea as "something that gave or withheld great favours" and as something which, if responsible for "wild or wicked things ... could not help them." From this, we can infer that the old man thinks of the sea as temperamental, sometimes being generous and at other times not.

We can also infer that the sea, from the old man's perspective, has a dark side, capable of wickedness and cruelty. The fact that the old man does not blame the sea for this wickedness but recognizes that it cannot help but be wicked emphasizes his understanding of and love for the sea.

Above all else, the old man's love for the sea is rooted in his appreciation of its beauty, which the old man remarks upon throughout the story. He describes, for example, the "iridescent bubbles" produced by the sea as "beautiful," and often, he seems transfixed by the interplay of light and dark upon and beneath the surface of the water. About a third of the way through the book, for example, he describes the "prisms in the water" made by the light from above and also "the myriad flecks of the plankton" just beneath the surface.

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Santiago loves the sea, but he also recognizes its unpredictability.

While other fishermen consider the sea masculine and perceive it as a contestant or a rival, Santiago has always thought of the sea as feminine because "she" withholds her favors, and if she does "strange and wild things," it is because she cannot control herself. Also, like a woman, the moon affects her, and she acts differently and sometimes very oddly.

She is kind and beautiful. But she can be so cruel, and it comes so suddenly, and such birds that fly, dipping and hunting, with their small sad voices that are made too delicately for the sea. (Day 1, p. 29)

It is, perhaps, because the sea is so unpredictable that Santiago perceives "her" as la mar. Each day that he goes out in his boat, he is uncertain how the sea will be, for even if she is calm, changes could come in a short time, and there could be huge waves to deal with. Each day is a challenge, and Santiago does not know what he will catch, but he comes to the sea, hoping she will favor him.

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The old man is from the group of fishermen that refer to the sea as “la mar” in Spanish, which is a feminine label. The old man does not see the sea as a rival or an enemy but as a woman that provides what he needs in the right circumstances.

The old man thinks of the sea as a woman that provides his livelihood but also withholds it in different situations. He believes that the sea could not help the accidents that occur in the water because the sea is affected by the moon, which determines how it behaves.

But the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favours, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman, he thought.

The old man is confident in his skills in the water and is not afraid to venture far out into the sea. He is alone when he catches the great fish and manages to fight off several sharks. The old man’s experience and skill allow him to be comfortable with the sea.

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The Old Man, Santiago, knows the sea better than he knew anyone else because he worked and lived by the sea his whole life. When it came to the sea, he was a professional. He likens the sea to a female whose moods can change from one minute to the next. He knows that the sea will only give him what he wants after he is patient and proves himself, just like the relationships between men and women. He has a love/hate relationship with the sea because like women, he knows that a man can't live with them and can't live without them. The sea is also something for him to conquer; it is something bigger and more complex than himself, but he knows how to survive while in it. He knows what to do and when to do it depending on the mood of the sea and so he can come off as the conqueror. He loves her one minute and is angry at her the next. He even calls her a few choice words to describe his anger. In the end, he has a deep respect for the sea's strength and capabilities as an element and structure in nature.

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