Illustration of a marlin in the water

The Old Man and the Sea

by Ernest Hemingway

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Important Quotations

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Last Updated on April 4, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1125

1) “Anyone can be a fisherman in May.” Page 18
Santiago is a fisherman. He is poor but doesn’t complain about it. He is stoic about his position but is hardworking and has pride. This pride will later contribute to his battle with the fish, but this early quote illustrates a lot about Santiago, as well as about Hemingway’s code hero. Although he is poor, Santiago will not borrow, for it leads to begging, yet he accepts food the boy Manolin brings him and says he will thank the bar owner who supplied the food. At this point, Santiago has not caught anything in eighty-four days, and Manolin’s parents have made him find work on another boat. Santiago believes eighty-five to be a lucky number and asks Manolin to find a lottery ticket with eighty-five on it.

In other words, Santiago is complex, believing in hard work as well as luck. When he states, “Anyone can be a fisherman in May,” he is showing his appreciation of both hard work and the reward and majesty of fishing. Although fish are easier to catch in temperate weather, in September, when fishing is less pleasant, the fish themselves are of higher quality and must be fought for. Here, Santiago is showing disdain for the easy way as well as describing why he continues on, despite his string of bad luck and poverty. Like the traditional code hero, he keeps to his principles, even in times of hardship.

2) “I would like to take the great DiMaggio fishing.” Page 22
Joe DiMaggio is one of the most famous American baseball players ever. He played for the Yankees and is idolized by Santiago. Santiago and Manolin talk at length about American baseball, and because of DiMaggio’s bone spurs, Santiago relates to him and feels DiMaggio “makes the difference.” He also states that DiMaggio’s father was a fisherman, and maybe the baseball player “would understand.” In other words, DiMaggio would understand not only the way of life, but the meaning and principles behind it.

DiMaggio also represents the code hero. He was injured, yet kept striving to win while maintaining his courage, and overcomes adversity to win. Santiago holds himself up to DiMaggio’s standards, at first simply wanting to go fishing with him because he feels DiMaggio is a kindred soul. But later, during Santiago’s ordeal with the marlin, he uses DiMaggio as motivation to keep going, to “be worthy of the great DiMaggio.”

3) “He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy.” Page 25
This passage occurs before Santiago leaves to catch fish. Santiago sleeps and dreams of Africa when he was a boy and of the lions playing on the beaches “so white they hurt your eyes.” The dream is interesting not only in the content, but also by what Hemingway says he doesn’t dream about anymore: storms, his wife, fish, and Manolin. These are all more “realistic,” the important parts and worries of his life. Santiago’s wife is gone, and her picture makes him sad, so his dreams are not of past happiness or greatness. So, what do playful lions mean?

There are many interpretations of Santiago’s lions. Obviously, lions are associated with courage, and just as Santiago relates to the great Joe DiMaggio, he relates to the strength and courage of the lions. However, these lions are playing like young cats, so the image is not only from his boyhood, but it encompasses the freedom of youth, when he was still wide-eyed and amazed at life’s challenges. The lions and the blindingly white beach represent how the reality of violence can be tamed and become playful, but only in the ideal of Santiago’s dreams.

4) “Fish, I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.” Page 54
Santiago fights hard for the massive fish he has caught. Since he had not caught a fish in a long time, he went out further than he usually did, and after having hooked the marlin, it pulled him out even farther. The fish fights hard for its life, and as it swims, Santiago hangs on to the line out of fear that the fish will escape, even though the force of the line cuts his hands and cramps his back. On the second day of the contest between man and fish, Santiago utters these words, showing that he values the fish’s strength and courage, but now it is a contest to the death, and he will win.

This quotation defines not only Santiago’s philosophy, but also Hemingway’s view of life. Life is harsh and violent, but there is beauty to it, and even love between competitors. Like the lions and Joe DiMaggio, Santiago appreciates and relates to the marlin and its will to live. While at first he reminds himself of the money such a fish will bring, it also becomes a contest of wills, and Santiago knows he must destroy this strong creature.

5) “But a man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” Page 103
Santiago finally kills the marlin but has to lash the fish to the boat to bring it back to shore. This attracts sharks. One shark takes a forty-pound bite out of the marlin before Santiago is able to kill it. He realizes the blood will attract other sharks, and there is nothing he can do, since he no longer has his harpoon to fight off other sharks. He thinks that he is sorry he ever hooked the fish in the first place but then states that he may be down, but he is not out. He tells himself to keep sailing for home and deal with the sharks the best he can.

Being destroyed is not the same as being defeated, and this is an important distinction to a man of Santiago’s pride and strength. For instance, Santiago destroys the marlin by finally killing it, but its spirit is not defeated. By stating that a man cannot be defeated, Santiago is stating that man, or at least Hemingway’s code hero definition of man, will not be defeated, no matter how hopeless the circumstances. Santiago sees the inevitability of the sharks and, as a man who won’t be defeated, makes a crude weapon and uses the image of Joe DiMaggio, who also wouldn’t be defeated, to inspire hope within himself.

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Essential Quotes