The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea Summary and Analysis of pages 19-37

Summary

When Manolin returns, he wakes Santiago. The two eat the food the boy has brought. During the course of the meal, the boy realizes the squalor in which the old man lives and reminds himself to bring the old man a shirt, shoes, a jacket, and a blanket for the coming winter. The two talk baseball again, focusing as usual on Joe DiMaggio. Speaking about great baseball stars, the boy calls the old man the greatest fisherman. Santiago accepts the compliment but denies the truth of Manolin's statement, remarking that he knew better fisherman than himself. The boy then leaves to be woken in the morning by the old man. Santiago sleeps.

Santiago dreams of Africa, where he traveled as a shipmate in his youth. "He lived along that coast now every night and in his dreams he head the surf roar and saw the native boats come riding through it... He dreamed of places now and lions on the beach" (24). The old man wakes and retrieves the boy from his house. The two take the old man's supplies from his shack to his boat and enjoy coffee at an early morning place that serves fishermen. The boy leaves to fetch the sardines for the old man. When he returns, he wishes the old man luck, and Santiago goes out to sea.

Santiago leaves shore early in the morning, before sunrise. "He knew he was going far out and he left the smell of the land behind and rowed out into the clean early morning smell of the ocean" (28). Soon, Santiago rows over a sudden drop of seven hundred fathoms where shrimp, bait fish, and squid congregate. Moving along, Santiago spots flying fish and birds, expressing great sympathy for the latter. He wonders, "Why did they make birds so delicate and fine as those sea swallows when the ocean can be so cruel? She is kind and very beautiful. But she can be so cruel..." (29).

We are told that while other fishermen, those who used buoys and motorboats, thought of the sea as a masculine competitor or enemy, Santiago "always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favors, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them" (30). Santiago keeps pressing out, past the great well where he has been recently unsuccessful. He travels out where schools of bonito and albacore are, hoping there might be a big fish with them.

Before light, Santiago casts his bait fish out but does not let them drift with the current. He wants to know exactly where his hooks are. Santiago says of this, "I keep them with precision. Only I have no luck anymore. But who knows? Maybe today. Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready" (32).

Santiago sees a man-of-war bird overhead and notices that the bird has spied something in the water. The old man follows near the bird, and drops his own lines into the area, hoping to capture the fish the bird has seen. There is a large school of dolphin traveling fast, too fast for either the bird or Santiago to capture. Santiago moves on, hoping to catch a stray or perhaps even discover a marlin tracking the school.

A Portuguese man-of-war approaches the boat. The old man recalls being stung by the man-of-war before and happily recalls watching their destruction. As he says, "The iridescent bubbles were beautiful. But they were the falsest things in the sea and the old man loved to see the big sea turtles eating them" (36). Having worked on a turtle boat for years, Santiago expresses his empathy for turtles. He says "most people are heartless about turtles because a turtle's heart will beat for hours after he has been cut up and butchered... I have such a heart too and my hands and feet are like theirs" (37).

Analysis

There is an interesting irony in the inversion of roles between the paternal tutor Santiago and the pupil Manolin. While Santiago took care of Manolin on the water by teaching him how to fish, Manolin takes care of Santiago on land by, for example, making sure the old man eats. When Santiago wants to fish without eating, Santiago assumes a parental tone and declares, "You'll not fish without eating while I'm alive." To which Santiago replies half-jokingly, "Then live a long time and take care of yourself" (19). This inversion sets up the ensuing narrative by making the old Santiago a youth again, ready to receive the wisdom of his quest. Santiago's almost childlike dream of playful lions, symbols of male strength and virility, is also a gesture of Santiago's second youth.

Besides this, though, the dream of lions on the coast of Africa draws attention to Santiago's personal history as a Spaniard from the Canary Islands. Santiago is the Spanish name for James, the patron saint of Spain. Like Santiago, St. James was a fisherman before he heeded Christ's call to be a fisher of men, and it was he who first brought Christianity to Spain. This parallel further casts a religious air around Santiago and his ensuing struggle.

The nature of these values is not so clear, especially at this point in the book, but Hemingway does offer some clues. There is, as there always is with Hemingway, a premium placed on masculinity and the obligations of manhood. When Santiago wakes Manolin up to help him off, the tired boy says simply, "Que va....It is what a man must do" (26). The acceptance of obligation, then, appear to be marks of manhood, a concept Hemingway will flesh out through the course of the novella.

Santiago's start into the sea is an excellent demonstration of Hemingway's descriptive art in its successive engagement of various senses. First, there is smell: "The old man knew he was going far out and he left the smell of the land behind and rowed out into the clean early morning smell of the ocean" (28). Next, there is sight: "He saw the phosphorescence of the Gulf weed in the water" (29). And lastly, there is hearing: "...[H]e heard the trembling sound as the flying fish left the water" (30). This use of different sensory imagery helps create a powerful description of the sea. As the novella's title might indicate, the sea is to play a very important role in the narrative, and Hemingway's exquisite introduction of the sea, recalling his descriptions of Santiago at the novella's opening in their sustained beauty, signals that importance.

The gendered view of the sea suggests an alternative conception of unity, unity between the masculine and the feminine. As the descriptions of those who view the sea as a man are cast in a negative light, one might argue that the story is repudiation of a homosocial world of competitive masculinity. Man and man will always yield strife; man and woman, Santiago and the sea, complement each other and create a peaceable unity. The representation of the feminine, though, in so abstract a context problematizes this judgment, especially when the only flesh and blood woman we see in the story, the tourist at the very end, is supposed to upset us.

Santiago's statement that his eyes adjust to the sun during different parts of the day furnishes another example of the importance of sight and visual imagery in the novella. Santiago says, "All my life the early sun has hurt my eyes, he thought. Yet they are still good. In the evening I can look straight into it without getting the blackness. It has more force in the evening too. But in the morning it is just painful" (33). Given the likening of natural time cycles to human age, e.g. September as the autumn of life, it is plausible to read this passage as a statement of the edifying power of age. While it is difficult to find one's way in the morning of youth, this task becomes easier when done by those who have lived through the day into the evening of life.