The Old Man and the Sea Summary and Analysis
While he easily killed the first shark, Santiago has no such luck with the second one, which shakes the skiff as it devours the marlin from beneath. Santiago apologizes to the fish for the mutilation it has suffered by the sharks. He admits, "I shouldn't have gone out so far, fish... Neither for you nor for me. I am sorry, fish" (110). Tired and losing hope, Santiago sits and waits for the next attacker, a single shovel-nosed shark. The old man succeeds in killing the fish but breaks his knife blade in the process.
More sharks appear at sunset and Santiago only has a club with which to beat them away. He does not kill the sharks, but damages them enough to prevent their return. Santiago then looks forward to nightfall as he will be able to see the lights of Havana, guiding him back to land. He regrets not having cleaved off the marlin's sword to use as a weapon when he had the knife and apologizes again to the fish. At around ten o'clock, he sees the light of Havana and steers toward it.
In the night, the sharks return. "By midnight he fought and this time he knew the fight was useless. They came in a pack and he could only see the lines in the water their fins made and their phosphorescence as they threw themselves on the fish" (118). He clubs desperately at the fish, but the club is soon taken away by a shark. Santiago grabs the tiller and attacks the sharks until the tiller breaks. "That was the last shark of the pack that came. There was nothing more for them to eat" (119).
Santiago "sailed lightly now and he had no thoughts nor any feelings of any kind" (119). He concentrates purely on steering homewards and ignores the sharks that come to gnaw on the marlin's bones. He tastes blood in his mouth and spits it into the water, cursing the sharks. When he arrives at the harbor, everyone is asleep.
Santiago steps out of the boat, carrying the mast back to his shack. "He started to climb again and at the top he fell and lay for some time with the mast across his shoulder. He tried to get up. But it was too difficult and he sat there with the mast on his shoulder and looked at the road" (121). When he finally rises, he has to sit five times before reaching home. Arriving at his shack, Santiago collapses on his bed and falls asleep.
Manolin arrives at the shack while Santiago is still asleep. The boy leaves quickly to get some coffee for Santiago, crying on his way to the Terrace. Manolin sees fisherman gathered around the skiff, measuring the marlin at eighteen feet long. When Manolin returns to the shack, Santiago is awake. The two speak for a while, and Manolin says, "Now we will fish together again," To which Santiago replies, "No. I am not lucky. I am not lucky anymore" (125). Manolin objects, "The hell with luck....I'll bring the luck with me" (125). Santiago acquiesces and Manolin leaves to fetch food and a shirt.
That afternoon there are tourists on the Terrace. A female tourist sees the skeleton of the marlin moving in the tide. Not recognizing the skeleton, she asks the waiter what it is. He responds in broken English "eshark," thinking she wants to know what happened. She comments to her partner that she didn't know sharks had such beautiful tails. Meanwhile, back in Santiago's shack, the old man "was still sleeping on his face and the boy was sitting by him watching him. The old man was dreaming about lions" (127).
Throughout this final section, Santiago repeatedly apologizes to the marlin in a way that provides another way to read Santiago's sin. He says, "Half fish... Fish that you were. I am sorry that I went out so far. I ruined us both" (115). Santiago's transgression is no longer his killing of the fish, but going out too far in the ocean, "beyond all people in the world" (50). While the former sin helped account for the inescapable misery of the human condition, the latter focuses instead on avoidable misery brought about by intentional action. Santiago chose to go out so far; he did not need to do so, but in doing so he must surrender his prize, the marlin, to the jealous sea.
This understanding of Santiago's sin is strange because it seems to separate man from nature in a way which contradicts the rest of the novella. Going out too far is an affront against nature similar to the hubristic folly of Greek tragedy; he has courted disaster through his own pride. Nowhere previously in the novel was this apparent, though. The sea seemed to welcome him, providing him company and food for his expedition. There was no resistance from nature to his activities, except perhaps the sharks, but these were never made to be nature's avengers. This reading of Santiago's sin thus seems very problematic.
After Santiago sees the two sand sharks approaching, he says "Ay," a word which Hemingway describes as "just a noise such as a man might make, involuntarily, feeling the nail go through his hands and into the woods" (107). This is an explicit identification of Santiago with Christ. Later, Santiago carries the mast back to his shack, much as Christ carried the cross on his shoulders, falling several times (as Christ did on the Stations of the Cross) only to collapse on his bed to sleep "face down on the newspapers with his arms out straight and the palms of his hands up," recalling the crucifixion (122).
Santiago's discussion of luck after the second shovel-nosed shark attack is interesting dramatically, as it at once foreshadows Santiago's misfortune and offers the slightest illusion of hope for the reader as the novella approaches its end. He wonders to himself, "Maybe I'll have the luck to bring the forward half in. I should have some luck. No... You violated your luck when you went too far outside" (116). This clearly foreshadows the loss of the entire marlin. Later, though, Santiago remarks that "Luck is a thing that comes in many forms and who can recognize her?" (117). This statement certainly suggests that luck may be with Santiago even if it is not apparent to him or to the reader. Of course, there is no luck for Santiago, but suggesting there might be makes Santiago's eventual misfortune more powerful.
That Santiago completes the novel undefeated and still in possession of his dignity is demonstrated by his conversation with Manolin. His first words to the boy are "They beat me. They truly beat me," referring to the sharks (124). Immediately, though, he moves to mundane matters such as what to do with the head of the marlin and what Manolin has caught in his absence. When Santiago refuses to fish with Manolin because of his own lack of luck, the boy says he will bring the luck. Soon, Santiago is talking about how to make a new killing lance in preparation of their next voyage. Finally, in the last sentence of the novel, we are told that "the old man was dreaming of lions," the same symbols of strength and youth which he enjoyed before his voyage (127). True to Hemingway's formula for heroism, Santiago, for all this trials and tribulations, remains the same unsuccessful but undefeated soul as before.
The female tourist at the end of the book represents the feminine incapacity to appreciate Santiago's masculine quest. For her, the marlin skeleton, a phallic symbol, is just "garbage waiting to go out with the tide" (127). She does not speak the waiter and Santiago's language, and so is ignorant of the old man's great deeds. Her misunderstanding is simple enough, but the fact that she is the only actual female character in the novel and that this episode appears on the last page gives it added significance.
The Old Man and the Sea Essays and Related Content
- The Old Man and the Sea: Major Themes
- The Old Man and the Sea: Essays
- The Old Man and the Sea: Questions
- The Old Man and the Sea: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Ernest Hemingway: Biography
- The Old Man and the Sea Summary
- About The Old Man and the Sea
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of pages 1-18
- Summary and Analysis of pages 19-37
- Summary and Analysis of pages 38-54
- Summary and Analysis of pages 55-72
- Summary and Analysis of pages 73-90
- Summary and Analysis of pages 91-108
- Summary and Analysis of pages 109-127
- The Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Library
- Gregorio Fuentes: The Inspiration for the Character of Santiago
- Related Links on The Old Man and the Sea
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