Manolin's Role in The Old Man And The Sea

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      Manolin and the Old Man, Santiago share a tutor-tyro relationship. The Old Man had taken the boy when he was a five years old and began to teach him fishing by taking him out along on his fishing trips. The relationship they share is special. As a tutor the Old Man loves and regards the boy almost as his own son and teach him well. On the other hand, Manolin as the disciple takes care of the well being of his teacher. In other respects, Manolin is the younger kid-brother to the Old Man who instructs him into the ways of the world and other things. This aspect in fact, can be seen in Hemingway’s own life. In his biography written by his brother Leicester, he has stated that Hemingway loved being in the company of a younger man, a “Kid brother” whom he could instruct in the various outdoor games and sports that he indulged in. Manolin is such a ‘kid brother’ whereas shades of Hemingway can be seen in the Old Man.

Manolin Care for Santiago’s Needs

      Manolin had come under Santiago’s tutelage at the age of five. Now he was in his adolescence. All these years he had been accompanying the Old Man and learning the skills and technique of fishing from him. But the Old Man had now gone eighty-four days without catching a fish and Manolin’s father, after forty days had declared the Old Man salao, the worst form of unlucky and had forced the young boy to go on another boat which had caught three good fish the first week. Santiago wishes the boy but he doesn’t stand in the way, if it is for the boy’s welfare. In this way he is a true tutor. Manolin does not sever ties either. He knows that he has to obey his father because he is a boy but he cannot forget his love, respect and concern for the Old Man. In the beginning, thus, we are shown how Manolin takes care of all the Old Man’s needs. As the Old Man comes in from fishing, he helps him to carry his equipments his lines, harpoon, gaff and sail furled around the mast. He was sad, that the Old Man had yet come in again with an empty skiff. For a fisherman not to catch any fish for so long can mean terrible consequences. The boy then buys the Old Man a drink of beer at the restaurant “The Terrace”. Later on he brings food and drink for him. He knows the Old Man doesn’t even have bait for the next day and offers to get sardines for him. Later, he makes plans to provide water for the Old Man to wash, towel and a shirt, jacket and some sort of shoes and a blanket of the Old Man as the winter was setting in. As he himself puts it “If I cannot fish with you, I would like to serve in some way” the boy serves the Old Man in every way and takes care of all the Old Man’s practical needs.

Friends and Companions

      Apart from providing all the apparent needs and those not so apparent the boy also provides companionship to the Old Man. He is his student but he is also more of a friend and companion too. This is important because of Santiago’s advancing years and because there is nobody else in his life. His wife had died long ago and he had even taken away any things that reminded him of her as it made him feel lonely. Manolin takes to the Old Man and more importantly allows him to talk to his heart's content about all the subjects he loved talking about. In the shack, the boy encourages Santiago to talk about baseball, the baseball star DiMaggio and Africa and the lions. Maybe he subconsciously understands that these things give pleasure to the Old Man and he somehow draws strength and resolution and the will to go on from them. He is also in this regard more of a spiritual son to the Old Man. The boy never loses his faith in the Old Man. His father doubted but he never does and he actually helps in keeping up the Old Man’s illusions too. This can be seen in the section where they talk about food and the Old Man says that he has a pot of yellow rice and fish and still has the cast net. The boy knows that he doesn’t them anything but in order to keep up the old Man’s sense of dignity, he agrees. But later he brings actual solid food-rice and black beans and fried bananas and some stew for the Old Man and emphatically states that, “You’ll not fish without eating while I’m alive” He also reminds him to keep the blanket around him as he would catch cold.” Keep warm Old Man’ the boy said, “Remember we are in September.” The boy thus takes care of the Old Man and also provides companionship. This can be deduced from their dinner conversation on baseball and its great stars.

Love, Respect and Faith

      The relationship between the boy and Santiago is a solid and sincere without sentimentality. It is based on mutual faith. The boy has an unfaltering faith in the Old Man though he has not been able to catch any fish for so long. The Old Man also unflinchingly places complete trust in the boy. They understand each other thoroughly. The boy also keeps the Old Man’s strength as well as spirits up. He tells him, “And the best fisherman is you”. Further, he says, “There are many great fishermen and some great ones. But there is only you.” And when the Old Man humbly accepts the statement saying he hopes no great fish would come along and proves the boy wrong he tells the Old Man, “There is no such fish if you are still strong as you say.” And in this way he prepares the Old Man mentally and psychologically for the long ordeal ahead of the Old Man. The relationship is based on mutual give and take. As the Old Man teaches, so the boy serves. As the Old Man loves, regards and understands so does the boy. The Old Man also usually wakes up the boy in the early morning. He is a light sleeper being old and wakes early and the boy also prefers being woken by Santiago than the other fishermen because he makes him feel inferior. But with Santiago, he feels no sense of loss of pride. Towards the end of the novel the Old Man comes in with the Skeleton of the huge marlin that he had caught. After his three-day battle he is injured and severely exhausted and the Old Man goes to sleep. Upon seeing him the boy who had been looking in at the Old Man’s shack every morning expecting him to be at home and watching his injured calloused hands, he weeps openly. He is weeping still when the men tell him the size of the marlin and later as he gets some coffee for the Old Man from “The Terrace.” His knowledge and understanding of what the Old Man must have gone through make him weep and his sympathy and deep concern are clearly discernable in the manner that he runs around arranging everything and cautioning the fishermen that no one was to disturb Santiago. Later when the Old Man wakes, and the Old Man cries that they had beaten him, the boy consoles him saying, no he wasn’t beaten and never by the fish. Later he tells him that now he would accompany Santiago no matter what his father would say. The Old Man is pleased and ask for details that the boy promises to arrange. But the Old Man has been injured. During the night he had spat something strange and felt something broken in his chest. And the boy consoles him to get everything well and they would be fishing together from now on and he would bring luck with him. Then he goes off to bring something to eat, a clean shirt, something for his hands and the paper for the Old Man. He knows that the Old Man’s injuries are extreme but he keeps up the Old Mans hopes and tries to please him and help him get better. Manolin cries for the Old Man’s wounds, the struggle and fight he went through, his enormous loss in losing his hard won prize and his death which seems inevitable now. But he also weeps for the Old Man’s strength and courage and the manner in which he had proved his greatness.

Manolin Arouses Reader’s Sympathy

      Manolin’s presence in the text to a large extent is also responsible for the extreme pity and sympathy that is usually aroused for the Old Man. His is, therefore, a dramatic function and very significant. He is the Old Man’s connecting link to the rest of the world. The Old Man communicates with the rest of the world through the boy. The various sad and disheartening and also the pleasant facts relating to the Old Man are revealed through the boy and their conversation, and again also through the Old Man’s memories of the boy during his ordeal. Later, as the boy weeps at the sight of the Old Man, his injured hands and the white skeleton of the marlin, our heart cries with him for the Old Man and his victory in defeat and his loss and his courage and dignity. The boy is also weeping for the inevitable death of the Old Man and their consequent separation leading to an enormous loss for the boy, loss of a companion, tutor and father figure. Santiago bequeaths the marlin’s spear, the most potent weapon to the boy. This spear is the Old Man’s legacy to the boy and symbolizes all the Old Man’s skill, courage, grit, determination and resolve and now it is passing on the boy. The Old Man may die but all that he stands for shall stay alive and this also arouses tender emotions in readers for the young boy.

Manolin Complements Santiago

      Apart from all these earthly roles, Manolin also plays a symbolic role as Santiago undergoes his three-day and three-night struggle first against the marlin and then against the sharks. During his ordeal wherein he makes a superhuman effort and fights without ever thinking of giving up, the Old Man constantly remembers the boy. Thoughts of the boy, expressed in two phrases. “I wish I had the boy” and “I wish the boy was here” pass through the Old Man’s mind repeatedly and quite frequently. Indeed, it is true that the boy’s presence in the Old Man’s skiff would have been a great help. He would have massaged his cramped left hand and loosened it, tied the loose ends of the coils together, given relief to the Old Man, wetted the coils etc. He would also have helped in getting food. But the boy’s presence would have served a greater purpose. He would have provided companionship to the Old Man and given him the opportunity to talk to someone rather than talking to himself. And the Old Man would have demonstrated his powers and his skill to the boy. The boy’s physical presence would have served these purposes. But even in his absence, his very thoughts give the Old Man renewed energy, stamina and the resolution and determination to go on fighting and struggling till he died but won’t give up.

Allegorical Function

      The manner in which the boy’s thoughts rose the Old Man from his exhaustion to a greater will to fight on implies that the young boy saves an allegorical function in the novel. Thus, the Old Man depends on the boy at this greater level too as he invokes his past youth and inner strength by means of thinking about the boy. At any point during his ordeal wherein he feels the need to lend more vigor to his commitment he then thinks of the boy and his thoughts bring out his inner strength, he remembers his youth through him and brings out his youthful stamina and he fights on relentlessly. As the fish tows him through the night he remembers the boy, and again, as he gets tired. When he hooks another fish and he has to hurriedly cut the line taking care of that on which the marlin was hooked, when he has to eat raw fish in order to keep his strength, and when his left hand refuses to uncramp he remembers the boy. Later, when the marlin makes a rush, drawing out the lines at great speed burning Santiago’s hands, he thinks of the boy. If he had been there he would have wetted ‘he coils. Again and again he asserts variations of the phrase. The most significant reference to the boy is when Santiago fuels that Manolin would have compensated for his useless left hand. A hand that has cramped at that moment, and thus betrayed him and had done so throughout his life. This projects us to the allegorical interpretation of Santiago as a Christ-like figure. And pertaining to this interpretation, Manolin is the faithful man of right-hand side of Christ whom the Lord blesses with the words “Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise” (New Testament), during the crucifixion scene, as opposed to the man on His left who is unfaithful.


      Thoughts of Manolin are like magical invocations for the Old Man. He somehow draws new strength and vitality just by thinking about the boy. The boy's thoughts are a great booster and help the Old Man to cross the crisis that he faces. Even at the moment when a note of streaks through the Old Man’s mind, like the time when after killing the marlin and being attacked by the sharks he begins to think about sin, whether it was a sin to kill the marlin, and further reflects how everything kills everything else in some way, and how.....filled him as much as it kept him alive he promptly thinks of Manolin “The boy keeps me alive, he thought” and this stops him from getting too pessimistic. The boy therefore, sustains Santiago both in psychological and spiritual terms. The boy is a variation of the symbol of youth and strength that the lions and DiMaggio symbolizes. And much as he stands for the Old Man’s inner youth the boy also stands for the Old Man’s immortality as he shall now with the marlin’s spear bequeathed to him, he shall carry the legacy of true sportsmanship forward.

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