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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES

THE SECOND DAY (continued)

It's not easy to identify with Santiago's position unless you've really had a cramp like that yourself, but it's worthwhile to attempt putting yourself in his position.

To begin with, the cramp hurts. Imagine a great ache all through your hand. Add to that something like paralysis. You command the hand to move, but nothing happens, and the attempt only brings pain.

Before, he had clear water around the skiff and six reserve coils of line. Not much, but it was "all a man could ask," as he viewed it. Now he has less than that, and the loss is not mere mechanical equipment. It's part of himself, part of his ability to move, act, and control the situation.

People who lose the use of one or both arms and/or legs are confronted with the question, "Who really am I if I can't walk and handle things and do all I used to do? Am I still me?" In that situation, for a person to survive, the answer must be yes. Thus, Santiago practically separates himself from his hand and in fact talks to it. He puts it down, speaks to it as though it were a perverse member of a team which has suddenly turned traitor.

But he softens very shortly. The hand is no longer a perverse traitor but a teammate again who has been injured and needs some special treatment. The special treatment is eating the raw tuna. That wouldn't be modern medicine's first choice of treatment for a severe cramp, but it's all Santiago has and knows, so he eats the tuna.


What does raw tuna taste like? You'll have to taste real raw tuna to find out, but Hemingway gives us a hint: "It was not unpleasant." Hemingway is speaking for Santiago here, and Santiago tends to downplay misfortune and unpleasantness. Perhaps a truer description follows: "with a little lime or with lemon or with salt" the tuna "would not be bad."

Finally, the hand becomes almost a child to whom you might say, "Now just rest and don't worry; you're going to get better; we're doing everything we can for you."

"Be patient, hand," Santiago says. "I do this for you." The medical care, in this case, is a matter of eating the raw tuna even though it's considerably less than a gourmet delight and Santiago isn't particularly hungry to begin with.

Again, as Santiago eats, comes this bizarre contrast. He wishes he could feed the fish because it's his brother-and reminds himself that he must keep strong so he can kill the brother.

At this point you've seen and heard enough to begin making a considered judgment. What's going on here-sentimentalism on the part of a simplistic old man, or profound philosophy in an unusual environment? It's worth reacting to, since considerations like this are obviously at the core of Hemingway's book.

Slowly Santiago is able to unknot his left hand just a little. Then, suddenly, he has to do something drastic. Because something drastic is happening. Something drastic and wonderful and awesome.

He slaps his hand "hard and fast against his thigh." That's a drastic way to attempt uncramping a hand. But he has to; he needs both hands now. The great fish is coming up. Santiago can feel it in the pull of the line and he can see it in the slant of the line against the water.

NOTE: A FURTHER CONSIDERATION OF STYLE

How would you write this scene? That's probably an unfair question if you've never been on the sea and fished for marlin. Still, it's worth considering or comparing your expectations with what Hemingway does.

"The line rose slowly and steadily and then the surface of the ocean bulged ahead of the boat and the fish came out. He came out unendingly and water poured from his sides." If you haven't already, read those two sentences again slowly. Where is the obvious power and drama in them?

Well, it certainly isn't in Hemingway's exotic choice of verbs for the fish's entrance. The core of the entrance itself is "...the fish came out." We've been imagining this fish for so long; does that make the utterly simple "came out" effective? We can certainly ask what other, perhaps equally simple, words contribute to the power of the passage.

The following sentences in this entrance scene are equally worth savoring. Note the colors and shapes and motions which are described with beautiful, accurate simplicity.

Santiago has had a notion, a very good notion, of what he was up against before, just from the feel of the weight on his line, and from the rather unusual fact that the fish has been towing the skiff steadily farther out to sea.

The fish is monstrous. "Two feet longer than the skiff." Santiago knows that if the fish "put in everything now," it might well be all over for Santiago. So he decides to try to make the fish "think" that it is up against something more than one single, very old man.

And actually, the sheer physical proportions and powers are a ridiculous mismatch. We know that. Santiago knows that. Santiago can't let the fish know that.

Thankfully, he can perhaps fool the fish. "But, thank God, they are not as intelligent as we who kill them; although they are more noble and more able."

Not as intelligent. That's easily enough understood. People can think, reason, decide; animals can't, in spite of Santiago's occasional reference to a battle plan that the fish might have.

More able. Does that mean more powerful? If so, that likewise is easily understood. The great fish on the end of Santiago's line is certainly able to exert greater physical force than Santiago or any other fisherman. Still, his statement leaves us with a lingering question, "Able to do what?"

Most intriguing of all is the "more noble." "Noble," after all, means superior or distinguished in merit or worth. Is this huge fish, who can't think or reason or plan or decide how to raise its offspring, really more noble than the human being trying to catch and kill it? It's not the catching and killing that make the difference; fish do that too. Santiago's not championing an anti-violence cause here. So where is the superiority suggested by "noble?"

This statement won't be the first time Santiago compares human beings to beasts of the land and sea and sky. The human beings don't come out on top in the worthiness ratings, as Santiago sees it.

What does he see in them that commands such respect? A certain purity or untaintedness? Since animals can't think or decide, they can't knowingly commit a wrong deed. Thus they move about in some sinless realm, untouched by willful evil. Unlike people, they are incapable of deviousness and deliberate harm. That would make their nobility a moral consideration.

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