Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1111
Essential Passage 1
He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week. It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.
Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman, has gone for almost three months without catching a single big fish. Manolin, a young boy once apprenticed to Santiago, is moved against his will by his parents to another fisherman with better luck. At the end of forty days, Manolin’s parents have decided that Santiago's luck is so bad he might be under some type of curse. Manolin, however, is devoted to the old man, always coming back at the end of the day to help Santiago stow his gear. Santiago’s skiff (a small boat powered by either oars or sails) is old and sea-ravaged as well. The sail, much patched with whatever material Santiago can find, is symbolic of defeat, but Santiago refuses to concede.
Essential Passage 2
Now is no time to think of baseball, he thought. Now is the time to think of only one thing. That which I was born for. There might be a big one around that school, he thought. I picked up only a straggler from the albacore that were feeding. But they are working far out and fast. Everything that shows on the surface today travels very fast and to the north-east. Can that be the time of day? Or is it some sign of weather that I do not know?
It is early in the morning on the first day of Santiago’s quest for a big fish. He has spotted a bird flying over a school of tuna. Santiago hopes that this is a sign that a bigger catch is near, one that would follow the school of small fish to feed. His mind wanders, wondering about the outcome of his favorite pastime, baseball, that he follows in the newspapers and on the radio. He wishes that he had brought a small radio with him, but he decides that it would prove to be a distraction. His primary mission is to catch a big fish, the first after eighty-four days. This is his destiny, to catch a fish big enough to help him regain his pride and his standing among the fishing community of Cuba. He sees the birds; he sees the smaller fish. They are traveling swiftly toward the northeast, away from the islands. Santiago wonders if this is their daily cycle or a sign of impending bad weather. He can no longer see the shoreline of Cuba. His quest is taking him far from home and safety.
Essential Passage 3
He started to climb again and at the top he fell and lay for some time with the mast across his shoulder. He tried to get up. But it was too difficult and he sat there with the mast on his shoulder and looked at the road. A cat passed on the far side going about its business and the old man watched it. Then he just watched the road.
After three days, Santiago returns home with nothing left but the skeleton of the giant marlin, the largest fish he has ever caught. Beset by one shark after another, Santiago’s prize was slowly devoured, despite his best efforts to drive off the predators. Sailing into the harbour in the darkness of night, he takes down his mast and sail, ties them up, and places them across his shoulders to carry home. As he looks back at his boat in the light from the street lamps, all he sees is the tail, the spine, and the dark mass of the marlin's head with its long spear. Climbing the hill to his hut, he carries his mast, falling at the top. He rests, then picks it up again to continue on. Only a cat sees his progress; otherwise, he carries his burden alone. He at last reaches his shack, sets his mast upright against the wall, and falls into bed, exhausted after his three-day battle.
Analysis of Essential Passages
Fishing is Santiago's livelihood, but it is also an extension of himself. With each fish caught, his personal honor and self-worth are validated. Yet it has been almost three months since Santiago has had any success in fishing. This could simply mean a run of bad luck (which he has overcome before), or it could mean that his significance in life is coming to an end.
For three days, Santiago fights to bring home a prized marlin, a fish that has surpassed all others he has caught. Desperate to prove his worth and fulfill his destiny, Santiago faces a great destructive force, the Devourer, symbolized by the sharks who attack and destroy the marlin that he is carrying home. Having caught the fish only partly fulfills his calling, “that day for which [he] was born.” He feels that he must also bring it home safely, to sell it at the market, to present it in the presence of all the other fishermen. He senses, as does the reader, that the end is fast approaching for him, that by this (perhaps) final catch, his life will be judged.
Santiago can be interpreted throughout the novel as a Christ-figure, someone who stakes his life for a higher purpose. After he arrives home, his fish devoured, Santiago carries his mast on his shoulders, stumbling and falling as did Christ with His cross on the Via Dolorosa. Santiago has ostensibly failed. His life is meaningless.
But as he lays down his burden, Santiago is served by his one remaining follower, Manolin. Soon, the other fishermen see and marvel at the remains of the giant marlin, the largest they have ever seen. It was not, after all, the successful return with the marlin that was his mission; it was the struggle itself that proved Santiago's worth. His faithfulness is a moral victory that validates his life.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1021
Essential Passage 1
He always thought of the sea as la mer which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they are always said as though she were a woman. Some of the younger fishermen, those who used buoys as floats for their lines and had motorboats, bought when the shark livers had brought much money, spoke of her as el mar which is masculine. They spoke of her as a contestant or a place or even an enemy. 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.
Santiago leaves in the dark hours of the morning, bidding good-bye and good luck to his fellow fishermen. His hopes are high for a catch that day, but that depends on the sea. Santiago reflects on how people personify the sea. His younger colleagues think of it in terms of a man, one who must be fought for a prize, or something that must be overcome. For Santiago, however, the sea is always a woman, one who gives her “favours” (a sexual metaphor) or withholds them depending on her mood. She is uncontrollable.
Essential Passage 2
He is a great fish and I must convince him, he thought. I must never let him learn his strength nor what he could do if he made his run. If I were him I would put in everything now and go until something broke. But, thank God, they are not as intelligent as we who kill them; although they are more noble and more able.
It is the second of Santiago’s struggles against the great marlin. After hours of fighting against an unseen enemy, the fish has at last risen from deep underwater to display itself, vividly colored in purple and lavender. The marlin’s great sword is as long as a baseball bat (echoing Santiago’s obsession with the sport of baseball). Santiago estimates that the fish is two feet longer than his entire boat. Pulling the line swiftly and steadily, the marlin requires the old man to keep both hands on the line so that it does not break. Santiago for his part must keep pressure on the line in order to tire out the fish. Santiago marvels at the great strength of the marlin, but he knows that he must never let the fish use it: a sudden surge of speed would cause the line to snap. Santiago reflects that even though the fish is not as smart as a human, he is stronger and nobler than any man.
Essential Passage 3
This is the second day now that I do not know the result of the juegos, he thought. But I must have confidence and I must be worthy of the great DiMaggio who does all things perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in his heal. What is a bone spur? He asked himself. Un espuela de huseo. We do not have them. Can it be as painful as the spur of a fighting cock in one’s heel? I do not think I could endure that or the loss of the eye and of both eyes and continue to fight as the fighting cocks do. Man is not much beside the great birds and beasts. Still I would rather be that beast down there in the darkness of the sea.
Santiago, on this second day of his quest, reflects on how much he has missed hearing about the baseball scores (juegos means “games”). His hero, Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees, plays with a bone spur in his heel. The pain that DiMaggio feels is much greater than what Santiago feels in his hands and back as he battles against the great marlin. He thinks about the roosters in cockfighting (a “sport” in which roosters are equipped with sharp metal spurs on their claws and then attack each other to the death) and the pain that these animals experience as they continue to fight, often with their faces mutilated. Santiago holds that animals are much nobler than humans are. He would rather be the marlin on the end of the line than the human holding that line.
Analysis of Essential Passages
Santiago reflects on the nature of the sea, from which he procures his livelihood and his self-worth. His younger colleagues see the waters as “male,” as an opponent that must be bested by strength alone. Yet Santiago knows that man’s strength is minuscule compared to the sea's power. To face the sea as male is to invite sure defeat. If, however, one views the ocean as a woman, then one has a small chance of success. In Santiago’s view, a man must come to the sea on her own terms and gently inspire her to give up her treasures.
The marlin that Santiago catches comes to symbolize the sea as the sea itself symbolizes nature, an incredible force of sheer strength. The great fish is caught but never dominated. Prior to the fish’s surfacing, Santiago can only guess at its size by the power he feels through his fishing line. Once the marlin makes its appearance, Santiago sees that its beauty is equal to its strength. His appreciation for the marlin mirrors his regard for nature itself. From nature to the sea, from the sea to the marlin, from the marlin to all animals, Santiago recognizes the deep nobility of the nonhuman inhabitants of his environment.
In his struggle against nature, Santiago ultimately accepts defeat. When Santiago loses the marlin, he takes up his “cross” in the form of his mast, an act that symbolizes his submission to the natural world. Only through defeat in the face of the overwhelming power of nature does he emerge victorious. Santiago has humbly made peace with the world and his place in it.
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