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We know he's an old Cuban fisherman. What else do we know about him? A great deal of the meaning of the story depends on your view of him as an element of the story. On one side is the view that he is simply an old Cuban fisherman, no more, no less. In that case we have an interesting fishing story, no more, no less.
On the other side is the view that Santiago is Everyman, a universal hero. In that case we have an allegory, a fable, a literary work that consciously attempts to teach us about ourselves and about life.
Outwardly simple, Santiago is really a deeply drawn mixture of many things, some of them contradictory. Perhaps that makes him more authentic.
Sometimes he's a philosopher; at other times he dismisses deep thinking as futile, at least for himself. He entertains almost mystical thoughts about the great marlin being a brother and, in fact, more noble than mankind-and at nearly the same time thinks of how much the fish would bring at market.
He's almost obsessed at one point with sin but reflects that sin should be left to those who are paid to think about it. On the one hand, he's humble and unpretentious; it doesn't bother him at all that his shirt has been patched and repatched. He's content with little-sometimes no-food. Yet he quietly dares to dream the big dream: to go far out beyond the usual fishing waters in search of a fish beyond all usual fish.
What carries him out and keeps him there is his resolution, a word he himself likes. Call it determination or perseverance or even stubbornness. No matter-he certainly has huge reserves of it. When he has begun something, he will hang with it "...until I am dead."
He both rages at misfortune and accepts it. In fact, his most usual posture is that of the Stoic who accepts what happens simply because it happens. "Pain does not matter to a man," he says.
He's full of wistful wishes and regrets and likewise full of statements that wistful wishes are silly. You'll get to know Santiago very well. He's in every scene in the book except two at the very end, both less than half a page. It's seldom that you get to live with a character so completely throughout a story.
It's not likely you'll forget him, either.
"The boy." He has worked with Santiago as an apprentice since he was five. His age at the time of the story is never given, but we can guess that he's in his early to mid teens.
Above all else, Manolin is loyal. Given his long relationship with Santiago, that's to be expected. But more important, he's also exceptionally sensitive: sensitive to Santiago's feelings and sensitive to the pathos, the tragedy of the situation. Perhaps more than either he or the old man knows, he is Santiago's support. The old man needs him.