the old man and the sea
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Santiago is the protagonist of the novella. He is an old fisherman in Cuba who, at the beginning of the book, has not caught anything for eighty-four days. The novella follows Santiago's quest for the great catch that will save his career. Santiago endures a great struggle with a uncommonly large and noble marlin only to lose the fish to rapacious sharks on his way back to land. Despite this loss, Santiago ends the novel with his spirit undefeated. Depending on your reading of the novel, Santiago represents Hemingway himself, searching for his next great book; an Everyman, heroic in the face of human tragedy; or the Oedipal male unconscious trying to slay his father, the marlin, in order to sexually possess his mother, the sea.
Manolin is Santiago's only friend and companion. Santiago taught Manolin to fish, and the boy used to go out to sea with the old man until his parents objected to Santiago's bad luck. Manolin still helps Santiago pull in his boat in the evenings and provides the old man with food and bait when he needs it. Manolin is the reader's surrogate in the novel, appreciating Santiago's heroic spirit and skill despite his outward lack of success.
Although he does not speak and we do not have access to his thoughts, the marlin is certainly an important character in the novella. The marlin is the fish Santiago spends the majority of the novel tracking, killing, and attempting to bring to shore. The marlin is larger and more spirited than any Santiago has ever seen. Santiago idealizes the marlin, ascribing to it traits of great nobility, a fish to which he must prove his own nobility if he is to be worthy to catch it. Again, depending on your reading, the marlin can represent the great book Hemingway is trying to write, the threatened father of Santiago's Oedipus, or merely the dramatic foil to Santiago's heroism.
As its title suggests, the sea is a central character in the novella. Most of the story takes place on the sea, and Santiago is constantly identified with it and its creatures; his sea-colored eyes reflect both the sea's tranquillity and power, and its inhabitants are his brothers. Santiago refers to the sea as a woman, and the sea seems to represent the feminine complement to Santiago's masculinity. The sea might also be seen as the unconscious from which creative ideas are drawn.
Santiago - The old man of the novella’s title, Santiago is a Cuban fisherman who has had an extended run of bad luck. Despite his expertise, he has been unable to catch a fish for eighty-four days. He is humble, yet exhibits a justified pride in his abilities. His knowledge of the sea and its creatures, and of his craft, is unparalleled and helps him preserve a sense of hope regardless of circumstance. Throughout his life, Santiago has been presented with contests to test his strength and endurance. The marlin with which he struggles for three days represents his greatest challenge. Paradoxically, although Santiago ultimately loses the fish, the marlin is also his greatest victory.
The marlin - Santiago hooks the marlin, which we learn at the end of the novella measures eighteen feet, on the first afternoon of his fishing expedition. Because of the marlin’s great size, Santiago is unable to pull the fish in, and the two become engaged in a kind of tug-of-war that often seems more like an alliance than a struggle. The fishing line serves as a symbol of the fraternal connection Santiago feels with the fish. When the captured marlin is later destroyed by sharks, Santiago feels destroyed as well. Like Santiago, the marlin is implicitly compared to Christ.
Manolin - A boy presumably in his adolescence, Manolin is Santiago’s apprentice and devoted attendant. The old man first took him out on a boat when he was merely five years old. Due to Santiago’s recent bad luck, Manolin’s parents have forced the boy to go out on a different fishing boat. Manolin, however, still cares deeply for the old man, to whom he continues to look as a mentor. His love for Santiago is unmistakable as the two discuss baseball and as the young boy recruits help from villagers to improve the old man’s impoverished conditions.
Joe DiMaggio - Although DiMaggio never appears in the novel, he plays a significant role nonetheless. Santiago worships him as a model of strength and commitment, and his thoughts turn toward DiMaggio whenever he needs to reassure himself of his own strength. Despite a painful bone spur that might have crippled another player, DiMaggio went on to secure a triumphant career. He was a center fielder for the New York Yankees from 1936 to 1951, and is often considered the best all-around player ever at that position.
Perico - Perico, the reader assumes, owns the bodega in Santiago’s village. He never appears in the novel, but he serves an important role in the fisherman’s life by providing him with newspapers that report the baseball scores. This act establishes him as a kind man who helps the aging Santiago.
Martin - Like Perico, Martin, a café owner in Santiago’s village, does not appear in the story. The reader learns of him through Manolin, who often goes to Martin for Santiago’s supper. As the old man says, Martin is a man of frequent kindness who deserves to be repaid.