Summary of The Novel The Old Man And The Sea

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Santiago’s Eighty-four Fishless Days

      Santiago was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream. He had not been able to catch any fish for eighty-four days then. A young boy named Manolin had accompanied him for the first forty days but at his inability to catch any fish the boy’s parents had considered him salao, the worst form of unlucky and had taken the boy away to another skiff where they caught many fish within the first week. The boy loved Santiago and, therefore, did not desert him. Rather he took care of the Old Man’s needs. He helped him to carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail, furled around the mast, which furled resembled a flag of permanent defeat as it was patched with flour sacks.

      The Old Man loved the boy as his own son and the boy loved him too. Santiago was an old man, with deep wrinkles and scars but he was still confident of his skill and had not lost his hope of catching fish. He had in the Gourse of life gained true humility and had not lost pride in feeling it. He regarded himself to be a “strange old man” and he was confident of the many tricks that he knew about fishing. And, he therefore, had never lost hope and believed that he was still strong enough to catch the biggest of fishes even though he was old. He and the boy Manolin discuss many things as the boy brings some food for the Old Man and they talk about baseball, a game the old man loved and the baseball player DiMaggio a sportsman whom he admired. DiMaggio was great because he played well even though he had a bone spur in his heel. Santiago is hopeful that the next day, the eighty-fifth day, would prove lucky and he would catch a big fish and goes to sleep. In his sleep he dreams of the lions playing on the beaches of Africa as he had seen them when he was a young man.

The Eighty Fifth Day

      The next day, the Old Man woke up early. Manolin helped him in carrying his fishing. They had coffee together at an early morning place that served fishermen. Manolin wished him good luck as he rowed away from the shore. The Old Man knew he was going far out. As he rowed out he felt the morning coming and all the other boats spread away in their individual pursuit of fish.

      Santiago heard the sound of the flying fish. He was fond of them as they were his principal friends. He sympathizes and feels for the birds because they had a hard life. He thought of the sea as a beautiful woman who can be kind as well as cruel. He always thought of the ocean as feminine whereas the younger men referred to the ocean as el mar, i.e the masculine. But for Santiago, she was a beautiful woman. After rowing far out steadily, he dropped out his hooks covered with baits of tuna, sardines etc. but at different depths and began to row slowly. Keeping his various lines at their proper fathoms with precision unlike other fishermen who let them drift with the current. In his fishing technique he was meticulous because “Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky” but the Old Man would rather be exact so that when luck favored him he would be ready.

Santiago Hooks a Huge Marlin

      As noon approached, the Old Man saw a man of war bird circling in the sky and he realized instantly that there was something there. He rowed towards it and saw flying fish jumping out. He knew dolphins must be nearby but the shoal of dolphins moved away. However, he considers himself thinking that the big fish he was looking for must be somewhere nearby. Soon he looks a tuna which was excellent bait. He ultimately looks a marlin and remains silent allowing it to get looked properly. However, when he attempted to pull it in, he couldn’t and instead the fish began pulling him.

      The marlin did not surface and kept pulling the boat towards the north west and Santiago held the line, allowing the fish to pull on. He knew that the strain of pulling the boat would tire the fish and then it would surface and he would be able to pull it in easily. He held the line against his back and rested against the bow of the boat. He was thirsty from his struggle and drank some water. Night was coming but the fish had not tired.

The First Night of His Struggle

      With the night coming on, the stars came out. But the fish continued pulling without changing his course and dragging him far off course and out into the sea. He could no longer see the glow of Havana. But with stoic calm he prepared himself for the long night and struggled ahead, spreading a sack on his shoulders. He knew he had to struggle with the strange fish for the night and to keep his strength he ate part of the tuna fish that he had caught during the day.

      Santiago then reflects on the marlin he had hooked and the other marlins that he had caught previously. He thinks that of all the big marlins that he had caught this one was unique. He pitied him because he was going to catch him but respected him too for showing no panic. The marlin had made a choice to avoid all traps and Santiago had made a choice too, to go far out and catch fish. Now they were joined together since noon and there was no one to help either one of them.

Santiago Determined to Catch the Marlin

      Sometime before daylight something took one of the other baits. But he couldn’t afford to let anything else come in the way of the line that had hooked the marlin so he cut it off and not only that but all his other lines. He missed the boy and wished he were with him. As the fish towed him he allowed it too and he was confident that the fish could not keep pulling the boat indefinitely. It would tire at one point of time or the other. He says, “Fish, I’ll stay with you until I am dead.” The fish pulled the skiff steadily in the northwestern direction. He never slackened, nor changed his course. Towards dawn he noticed a slight change in the start of the line. He braved himself and wished that he would come out so that he could see what he looked like and wished that he would jump so that his air sacs would fill and he couldn’t go down to die where the Old Man couldn’t pull him up. He tried to raise the tension, the strain on the line to stop the fish but was not successful. The sun rose higher and there was no change in the situation. But Santiago tells the fish, “that though he loved and respected the fish he was going to kill him dead before the end of the day. A small bird came and perched on the line and the Old Man turned to talk to him. As he was talking, the fish suddenly gave a jerk that pulled the Old Man down on to the bow. The bird flew away and Santiago realized that his right hand was hurt and bleeding. He knew that something had hurt the fish that made him lurch.

Santiago and His Cramped Left Hand

      Santiago immersed his hand in the salt water, washing it and letting it heal. He thought of keeping his hand in the water a bit longer so that it would heal fully to fight the fish. With his one good hand, he ate some tuna to give himself strength. He chewed it well thinking that it would be nice with lime and or salt. His left hand was cramped and was like an animal’s paw and useless. He rubbed his hand and tried to uncramp it but he couldn’t. Finally, he let it be. Though he wished for the boy who would have rubbed the hand. Then he felt alone. However, he saw a flock of wild ducks flying and realized that no man was ever alone at sea.

The First Sight of the Marlin

      Then he suddenly saw the line changed its start and moved upwards. The fish was coming up. As the Old Man watched the ocean bulged ahead of him and he came out unendingly. It was two feet longer than the Old Man’s skiff and was a beautiful fish, majestic in appearance with a sword as long as a baseball bat. The fish came up but it had not panicked. Santiago tried to control the fish and the speed of the line. His left hand was still cramped and was fast to the biggest fish he had ever seen and ever heard of and he was against it alone.

Still Battling

      The fish had slowed again and he wondered what had made him jump. May be to show how big he was and what he was fighting against. The Old Man wished he could show the fish what sort of man he was. But then he wished he was the fish with everything he had as against what he had his will and intelligence. The Old Man’s hand uncramped soon and though he was not religious promised to say ten Hail Mary’s and ten Our Father’s if God let him catch the fish and he also promised to make a pilgrimage to the Virgin de Cobra. Then he began to pray in a mechanical manner but he was tired and forgot. In the end he added “Blessed Virgin, pray for the death of this fish.” Wonderful though he was. The sun was hot then and he decided to rebait the lines and catch something to eat, because the fish may take another night and then he would need to eat again. But no matter what he resolved to kill the fish. He says, “I’ll kill him though. In all his greatness and his glory” and shows him what a man can do and what a man endures.

Late Afternoon

      Santiago was suffering. But he did not complain rather he settled in to take his suffering. He knew there was nothing to do but endure it. The boat was still being towed steadily but the direction had changed slightly. He was very tired and so he thought of baseball and DiMaggio. He took courage from the example of DiMaggio who inspite of a bone, sour in his heel did everything perfectly. He thought how man was nothing compared to the birds and beasts and what would happen if sharks came. As the sun set, he thought of the hand wrestling match with a great Negro to give himself more confidence. They had been locked in battle with their elbows on a chalk line on a table for a day and night in much the same way as the Old Man and the fish are locked together. The Old Man had held on and at last summoning all his efforts and some more he had beaten the Negro. He had become “The Champion” and later had come to realize that he could beat anyone if he really wanted to. This was what he intended to do with the marlin.

The Second Night

      As night came on, Santiago caught a dolphin. The fish hadn’t changed at all and he decided to catch the two oars together across the stern and that will slow him in the night. Then he decided to do so a little later, as it would be better to gut the dolphin to save the blood in the meat. He would then eat it tomorrow. He asked the fish how it felt, he himself did not feel good. The pain on his back due to the cord had passed’ Pain had become a dullness. But he had eaten so he was in a better position than the fish. Then he began to pity the fish but his determination to kill him never laxed. He would feed many people but no one was worthy of eating his flesh. He rested for two hours and resisted making the line fast. Then he worried that he would become light-hearted since he had not slept and decided to eat some of the dolphins and found a way to sleep too. When he slept he dreamt of a vast school of porpoises and of his village and bed and then he dreamt of the lions and he was happy.

The Fish Begins His Fight

      The noon had come and he was still sleeping but suddenly the line, burst out burning through his fingers and he woke with a start. He couldn’t help it. He was being dragged rapidly. He fell on the killed dolphin and couldn’t move either. He, therefore, couldn’t see the fish jump. And he wished for the boy. The line was still rushing out at great speed but soon slowed. Santiago then sat up and thought that the fish had jumped he won’t be able to go deep to die from where he wouldn’t be able to pull his tip. Maybe the fish jumped out of fear or desperation. It was strange but now he knew he would soon begin to circle and then their fight would really begin. He ate the flying fish for nourishment.

The Morning of the Third Day

      The sun rose for the third time since he had been at sea. The fish was circling and Santiago began to pull in the line but it went out again. He hoped that the fish would shorten his circle. Two hours later he was still circling but in a shorter circle but he had also risen a bit. The Old Man was tired to the extent of seeing black spots in front of his eyes. And he prayed to God to help him endure. Suddenly the fish started beating and thrashing and later to circle. The Old Man felt faint and put some water on his head. He thought of resting for the moment and harpooned him as he came in. He was more tired than he had ever been in his life.

Harpooning the Marlin

      When the Old Man saw the fish for the first time he was shocked by the huge size of the fish. The Old Man was sweating but he tried to stay calm and strong. The Old Man speaks to the fish saying, “Fish, you are going to die anyway. Do you have to kill me too”? He had now reached a stage when he did not care who killed whom and called on the fish to come and kill him. But he was determined and he tried again and again succeeding only on the seventh try after he had summoned all that he had left of his strength and his pride and drove his harpoon into the heart of the fish. The fish rose out of the water all the way and fell back dead. He had now killed the fish which was his brother and had now to prepare for the homeward journey. The fish was huge and would weigh over fifteen hundred pounds and bring in quite a lot of money. DiMaggio would be proud of him. He then lashed the fish to his boat because there was no way he could bring him on the skiff. He began to sail homeward.

On the Way Home

      He did not need a compass but he needed food. There was nothing to eat so, he caught some shrimps and pinching their heads off and ate them. They tasted good and were nourishing. He looked at the fish and felt that it was true and not a dream. The Old Man wondered who was bringing whom in. If the fish had been on the skiff there would have been no question but they were lashed alongside and he thinks, “let him bring me in if it pleases him.” He was better only through trickery.

The First Shark Attack

      An hour later, the first shark attacked him. It was a Mako shark drawn by the smell of the marlin’s blood. The Old Man saw him coming with his jaw open and he went it with his harpoon. He killed it but not before he had taken away a huge chunk of the fish’s flesh. He also lost his harpoon. He knew more sharks would come but he strengthened his resolve saying “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” Then he prepared a weapon by lashing his knife to the butt of one of the oars. He thought of sin, the marlin and many other things and sailed again.

The Second Shark Attack

      He had sailed for two hours, resting in the stern and sometimes chewing a bit of the meat from the marlin, trying to rest and to be strong. Then he saw the first of the two sharks. ‘Ay’ he said. An involuntary noise a person made when one felt in nail go through his hands and into the wood. These sharks were gallons and they were closing in. He readied himself with his tiller. He hit the scavenger's sharks as one came with his mouth open. He hit him in his brain and he died swallowing what he had eaten. Then he began hitting the other shark and hit him again and again, on the center of his head. He also died. But they took a quarter of the fish and the best of his meat. He was now sorry that he had gone out so far. He shouldn’t have. “Neither for you nor for me”. He sailed more lightly now but he also knew that the marlin now made a trail for all sharks as wide as a highway through the sea.

The Third Shark Attack

      A single shovel nose attacked and the Old Man lost his knife while killing him. He was now weaponless and he decides to use his two oars tiller and a short club as weapons. He was too old to club sharks to death and too tired but he resolved to try as long as he had his oar, tiller and club.

The Fourth Shark Attack

      Towards sunset two gallons attacked and the Old Man struck them again and again with his club. He killed them but now half the marlin was gone and the sun had also gone down. He hoped to see the lights of Havana soon. He again told the fish how sorry he was for ruining both of them. He wondered if he would have the luck to bring the forward portion in and if he could buy luck if they sold it anywhere.

The Last Fight

      Towards ten o’clock, he saw the reflected glare of the lights of the city. He was stiff and sore and he hoped he wouldn’t have to fight again. But towards midnight the shark came in a pack. He fought but he knew it was hopeless. He clubbed desperately at what he could only feel and hear. He beat and chopped with the tiller, but the sharks were tearing at the meat relentlessly. One came against the head and the Old Man knew it was over. But he hit it with the tiller which broke and the shark died. There were no more sharks as there nothing left of the marlin. He knew he was beaten and lay down. But it was nothing that had beaten him. He had only gone too far out.

He Reaches the Harbour and Goes Home

      The Old Man reached the harbor, but everybody was asleep and there was no one to help him. He secured his boat to a rock and began to climb towards his shack with the mast on his shoulder. He looked back and saw the long white skeleton. He had to rest five times before he reached his hut. Once there, he leaned the mast on the wall and drinking a little water, lay on the bed. He went to sleep face down with his arms straight out and the palms of his hands facing upwards.

The Boy’s and the Fishermen’s Reaction

      The next day, there was a strong breeze and nobody went out fishing. The boy had slept late then came to the Old Man’s shack as he had every morning. When he saw the Old Man and his injured hands he started crying and went to get some coffee for him. On the way he saw fishermen measuring the skeleton, and one told him it had been eighteen feet long. The proprietor of the Terrace also expressed his awe and admiration, also sympathizing at the loss. The boy was crying all the time and requested that no one should bother Santiago.

Plans for a Future Together

      Manolin waited for the Old Man to wake up. When he did, he gave him the coffee and talked. The Old Man said he was beaten and the boy says no, not by the fish. He says that they have to plan for the future, now he was ready to go with him, no matter what his father said because he had so much to learn. Pedrico would get the fish’s head, the spear would be the boy’s. They had to get a good tilling lance but the Old Man had felt something break inside him and spat something. The boy waited till he got better. A party of tourists at the Terrace see the skeleton and misunderstands it to be a shark. They are ignorant and shall never understand Santiago’s feat. In the shack Santiago slept on and the boy watched over him and wept. But the Old Man was sleeping peacefully. He dreamt of the lions.

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