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The opening of the novel sets the scene. Santiago is an old fisherman long past his prime. Although he lacks success in the water, he has an indomitable spirit. He has a single friend, a boy named Manolin, who helped him during the first forty days of his dryspell. After forty days, though, Manolin's parents decide the old man was unlucky and ordered their son to join another boat. Despite this, the boy helps the old man to bring in his empty boat every day.