The Old Man And The Sea: Chapter 1 - Summary & Analysis

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      The Old Man and The Sea, Hemingway’s last novel and masterpiece is an extremely short novel, more a novella. It is not divided in any way, either in chapter or book form, being one continuous narration as it is. For the convenience of the student, the summary and the critical comments following it shall be discussed in four stages-introductory, the Old Man’s struggle with the marlin; his struggle with the sharks and finally the conclusion.

Section I


The Old Cuban Fisherman, Santiago

      Santiago, was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the gulf stream. He had gone eighty-four days without catching any fish. During the first forty days he had been accompanied by a young boy named Manolin. But, after staying so many days without catching any fish, the boy’s parents had taken him away and put him in another boat which caught good fish within the first week. They had called him salao, the worst kind of unlucky. The boy was sad at this and though he went with the other boat continued to serve the Old Man, helping him to carry the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was patched with flour sacks and when furled looked like the flag of permanent defeat. The boy also looked after his other needs. He occasionally buys him beer, gets sardines for the Old Man to use as bait. He also brings the Old Man food to eat.

The Old Man and His Shark

      The Old Man was a very old man. Everything about him was old. The shack that he lived in was a small hut made of the tough bud shields of the royal palm. It contained nothing but a bed, a chair and table and a small space to cook. On the brown wall there was a picture of the sacred Heart of Jesus and another of the Virgin of Cobre. There were relics of his wife. There had also been a photograph of his wife but he had taken it down because it made him feel lonely.

The Boy and the Old Man

      During the night the boy and Santiago chat. When the boy asked what he had to eat, the old Man said that he had a pot of yellow rice and fish. He then asked if he could take the cast net and he said he could. The boy knew that these things were all fictional. The Old Man had neither the food nor the cast net but they went through this fiction every night.

The Eighty-fifth Number

      The next day would be the Old Man’s eighty-fifth days after eighty, four fishless days. He says that eighty-fifth was a lucky number. He even suggests that they should buy lottery with the number eighty-five. The Old Man had earlier gone eighty-seven days without catching any fish and now he assures the boy that it cannot happen twice and wants to buy a lottery but they don’t have the money. The boy says he could easily borrow but the Old Man stops him, because once you borrow then you beg. Later, Manolin brings him beer and food for supper.

Baseball, DiMaggio and the African Lions

      The Old Man loved baseball and Manolin encouraged himself to talk about it. The Old Man says that DiMaggio, of the Yankees in the American League was a great player. He could hit the longest ball. DiMaggio’s father had been a fisherman and therefore, the Old Man wants to take DiMaggio to fishing and feels that he would understand. Then he tells him how as a boy he had seen lions playing on the beaches of Africa. But the boy wants to talk baseball and asks the Old Man about McGraw. And the Old Man says that he was rough and speaks harshly and his mind was on horses apart from baseball. But the boy tells him that his father considered McGraw the greatest. He thinks that Santiago is the best fisherman. He says “There are many good fishermen and some great ones. But there is only you.” This makes the Old Man happy and he says” I hope no fish will come along so great that he will prove us wrong” and the boy answers, “There is no such fish if you are still strong as you say.” The Old Man is doubtful about his strength but he knows many tricks and he had resolution.”

Dreams of Africa

      After the boy leaves, the Old Man goes to sleep in the dark and soon is dreaming about Africa. He had visited Africa as a boy and he dreamed of the long golden white beaches. So white that they hurt your eyes and the high capes and the great brown mountains. He no longer dreamed of stores, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor
fights, nor contest of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places now and of the hons on the beach. He never dreamed of the boy.

Waring the boy and Rowing Out

      Early the next day, before dawn, he woke and went to wake the boy too. The boy was sleepy but it was what man must do. They came back to the Old Man's shack and the boy helped to carry his fishing equipment to his boat. Manolin also brought the Old Man baits and sardines. He also brought him coffee which the Old Man drank slowly because he knew he would not have anything all day. He was bored of eating and did not carry anything but water. The boy then wished him ‘good luck’ and the Old Man rowed out into the sea. There were other boats too but it was still dark and they couldn’t see each other.

Critical Analysis

Santiago the Old Man

      The introductory section of the novel introduces us to Santiago, the Old Man and the protagonist of the novel and Manolin, a young boy and the only other speaking character in the novel. The Old Man is a thin, giant man with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck. He had brown blotches of skin cancer of his cheeks and had deep scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated. His scars were not fresh, they were as old as erosions in a fishless desert.

Attachment with the Boy

      The boy Manolin had learned fishing from the Old Man. There is a deep attachment between the two that Hemingway strongly emphasizes. The boy on orders from his parents had gone to another boat after Santiago’s failure to catch fish yet he loved the Old Man and came to help the Old Man and looked after his needs. For Manolin, Santiago is the best fisherman and he helps him to carry his equipment to and from the boat to his shack. He brings food for the Old Man, lovingly covers him with a blanket. He also arranges for the Old Man’s bait and sardines. He brings him bear and coffee. He loves the Old Man and allows him to talk about his favorite subject, baseball and DiMaggio, the baseball player whom the Old Man admires.

Significance of Baseball and the Lions of Africa

      Santiago loves to talk about baseball. Reading and talking about baseball is his hobby. He also fondly remembers the experiences of his boyhood when as a boy he saw the beautiful beaches of Africa and the lions playing on the beach. DiMaggio and the lions have a symbolic role in the text. DiMaggio, the man who can hit the longest ball and whose father was a fisherman is compared with the Old Man and the boy and the lions are the symbol of youth and strength. Later in the book, the Old Man remembers these symbols whenever he has to call on his waning strength.

The Pathos Already Apparent

      Right from the beginning in this introductory section a note of pathos, a hint of tragedy is introduced. Santiago, has gone eighty-four days without catching any fish. He has been declared salao, the worst form of unlucky by Manolin’s parents, who have also forced Manolin to go on another boat. We wonder what and how the Old Man has done for his survival. The boy himself expresses his sadness upon seeing the Old Man’s skiff return empty to the shore. The pathos is emphasized in the description of the Old Man’s sail which was so heavily patched that when furled it looked like a flag of permanent defeat. However, he is described as having cheerful and undefeated eyes. His plight saddens other fishermen too, but the old mail’s life is not going to be a tragic defeat. It is hinted that his greatness was in the past but it has not seen his last days yet. His belief that better things would come is portrayed in his conviction that the eighty-fifth day would be a lucky day.

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