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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES

NOTE:

Hemingway himself gave this book no chapter divisions or sections.

The flow of time is uninterrupted from the day before the great journey on the sea to the day after. To help you keep track of the events, we have given this section of the guide the following headings: The Day Before, The First Day, The First Night, The Second Day, The Second Night, The Third Day, the Third Night, and The Morning After.

THE DAY BEFORE

OPENING SCENE

Think of a time or a period in your life when you were unlucky-maybe unlucky beyond your worst dreams. Unlucky when you didn't deserve to be. Unlucky in spite of great effort or skill on your part. Perhaps it was a series of tests that got bad grades even though you studied. Or many trips to the plate without a hit even though you tried very hard and you're usually a good hitter.

If you can remember something like that, you have something in common with Hemingway's old man, Santiago. He's a good fisherman, an expert. It's been his life. But, as we find out in the opening paragraph, he's gone a terribly long time without catching anything. Eighty-four days!


These opening paragraphs of the story are like an extract-a highly concentrated flavoring you might use in cooking. In these opening paragraphs, a considerable amount of background and insight about the old man has been put into relatively few words. We find that Santiago has had an apprentice, a boy, whose parents have made him work for a different fisherman, because the old man has-and almost is-bad luck. So we're dealing with simple and perhaps somewhat superstitious people.

The boy hasn't turned his back on Santiago, though. He feels sad for the old man and helps him with the fishing equipment when he comes in after another day of defeat. If it were up to Manolin, he'd still be fishing with Santiago.

Here you might compare yourself with the boy. Suppose you had played several years of a sport under a coach who taught you a great deal-in fact, everything you know about playing. But this season, in spite of talent, the team is losing every game. People are beginning to say there's something drastically wrong. And now in mid-season there's an opening on another team that's winning. The other team invites you to switch. Your parents strongly suggest it.

Would you? When Hemingway tells us that the old man's sail was "patched with flour sacks," we know Santiago is not wealthy. But in the same sentence he introduces us to a major theme of the story: he says the sail looks "like the flag of permanent defeat." This concept of defeat and what it means (how do you tell when someone is truly defeated?) will be important throughout the story. But then, shortly after we see the old and defeated-looking sail, we get a striking contrast: "Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated."

An old saying is, "The eyes are the windows of the soul." Perhaps you've known or met a very old person whose eyes still sparkled, and it told you that the person on the inside was still very much alive and in tune with life. That's what Santiago is like. And it's perhaps not accidental that Santiago's eyes are "the same color as the sea." There certainly would be other more conventional ways of telling us the color of his eyes, assuming that's important at all. If Santiago's eyes and the sea are the same color, what does that say about Santiago's relationship with the sea itself? That there's a kinship, a bond?

There's certainly a bond between Santiago and the boy, Manolin. And Hemingway says it in one sentence: "The old man had taught the boy to fish and the boy loved him."

This quotation is a superb example of the distinctive style Hemingway is famous for. It's distinctive by being stripped down to bare simplicity, and yet it says so much. A different writer (Hemingway fans would say a "lesser" writer) might have spent a paragraph or a page describing Santiago and Manolin's relationship and feeling for each other. Hemingway uses fourteen words.

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