The Old Man and the Sea is a short novel that tells the story of an aging fisherman named Santiago who catches an enormous marlin.
- Santiago takes his boat far out into the Gulf Stream, where hooks a marlin so large that it begins to pull his boat. He struggles with it for two days.
- Santiago harpoons the marlin and secures it to his boat. It will fetch a great price.
- Sharks encircle Santiago’s boat, and his marlin is reduced to bones by the time he returns to the harbor. Santiago’s former apprentice cares for him, and they plan to fish together soon.
Initially appearing in a special November 1951 issue of Life Magazine, The Old Man and the Sea was published in book form in 1952. It encompasses the exploits of its title character—the old, impoverished, but admirable Cuban fisherman Santiago—over the course of three days. While Santiago is not the novel’s narrator, the tale is related from his perspective and through his consciousness.
At the novel’s start, we are told that Santiago’s luck had gone bad, that he had not caught a marlin or any other fish for eighty-four days. So poorly had he fared that his young protege, the boy Manolin, had been forced to leave his mentor to work on another boat. Nevertheless, Manolin’s affection for the old man was so strong that he would beg or even steal to provide him with good bait, the boy relishing the old man’s stories of past adventures and his knowledge of American baseball and its primary hero, the great Joe DiMaggio. Long a widower, the old man no longer dreamed of his wife but of lions roaming on a beach.
On the eighty-fifth day, the old man went out into the Caribbean waters around Cuba alone, and in short order he caught a large marlin. The old man waited for the fish to surface before tiring, but this did not happen. When night fell, his small boat was pulled far out to sea by the fish. On the next morning, the old man saw the marlin jump and realized that landing such an enormous fish would mean a protracted struggle. The old man buoyed himself by eating bait and remembering his youth when he wrestled with “giant” men in the taverns of Havana. But with another day’s passage the old man’s energies were virtually exhausted, his hands deeply cut from holding the rope attached to the marlin. With his remaining strength, Santiago was about to bring the marlin in, but he found that it was too large to fit in his boat and he was forced to tie his catch to the boat’s side. It was then that the sharks began to appear. First, a large Mako shark ripped a huge chunk of flesh from the catch. The old man fought the shark off, but the smell of blood in the water drew others. By nightfall of the second day, the sharks had ripped the marlin to pieces. All the old man could do was steer his boat toward the lights of Havana.
Upon reaching the shore, the old man carried his gear, falling several times from exhaustion. At the pier, his fellow fishermen marveled at the skeleton of a fish larger than any that they had ever seen. The old man was greeted by Manolin, who urged him to rest and to prepare for another day’s fishing when they would again go out together. The novel ends as the old man falls asleep, with the boy at his side, and again dreams of lions on a distant shore.
For eighty-four days, old Santiago has not caught a single fish. At first a young boy, Manolin, shared his bad fortune, but after the fortieth luckless day, the boy’s father tells his son to go in another boat. From that time on, Santiago works alone. Each morning he rows his skiff out into the Gulf Stream, where the big fish are. Each evening he comes home empty-handed.
The boy loves the old fisherman and pities him. When Manolin has no money of his own, he begs or steals to make sure that Santiago has enough to eat and has fresh baits for his lines. The old man accepts his kindness with a humility that is like a quiet kind of pride. Over their evening meals of rice or black beans, they talk about...
(The entire section is 1,825 words.)