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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
THE SECOND DAY (continued)
For now, though, it's unjust in Santiago's mind; nevertheless, it's what a man, a real man, does. Santiago again brings in the idea of "what a man must do," re-forming it slightly into a challenge. He's going to show the fish "what a man can do and what a man endures."
Do you think it's possible-really possible-for this one aging, unaided man to bring in and kill a fish longer than the boat he's fishing from? He does call himself "a strange old man." But strangeness in the customary sense of the word doesn't multiply a person's powers.
There's a variety of opinion on this point. Many critics think that Hemingway has given Santiago superhuman powers, such as epic heroes often have, and that there's no way a real old man could do what Santiago does.
A second possibility is to see Santiago as a real person whose power has simply been exaggerated a bit here and there for the sake of the story.
And finally, you can see Santiago as completely realistic. Everything he does really could have happened exactly as it's related. He's experienced, skilled, and determined-highly but not superhumanly so, and these qualities make the events happen. Whichever one comes closest to your own opinion, its worth considering whether or not it would spoil the story (for you or in general) if it could be shown that Santiago could not have performed as he does. The superhuman powers of comic book heroes certainly don't spoil the story for people who read the books. These powers are precisely the essence of the story.
Is that what we have here? Even if Hemingway gives Santiago a little (or a lot) more to work with than the average Cuban fisherman has, he's going to have to use it, which won't be easy. Santiago will have to prove his "strangeness"- show that he can bring the fish in.
It's the act of proving that occupies our attention here for a moment because Hemingway makes some statements about proving worthiness that critics generally have found very significant.
"I told the boy I was a strange old man," he said. "Now is when I must prove it." The thousand times that he had proved it meant nothing. Now he was proving it again. Each time was a new time and he never thought about the past when he was doing it. That's awfully strong language. A thousand times that he had proved it meant nothing? We usually give credit, don't we, for a person's past accomplishments. We give credit and we give respect to the person, even if that person is no longer able to do those same things which made him or her stand out as worthy.
Think, for example, of aging athletes or entertainers (including, obviously, "the great DiMaggio") who are continually honored throughout their retirement for their past deeds. An acclaimed actor or actress, now no longer able to work, still receives roars of applause in a cameo appearance, even if he or she must speak the brief lines haltingly from cue cards.
NOTE: BEING AND DOING
The idea that past accomplishments mean nothing is positively depressing to most people. But Santiago (and Hemingway too?) isn't the first person to think like this. It's a view of life which puts all the value-literally all the value-on the concrete.
It's not what you are that counts, it's what you do. In fact, we don't even know what you are until we see you in action. Then we know. If you're doing heroic things, we can tell you're a hero.
For the moment; just for now, no longer. Tomorrow you might act like a bum, and then that's what you'd be-for that time period. Abstractions are nothing; only the concrete matters.
You need to make a decision about this view. Does it go too contrary to your experience? We do, after all, categorize people. "So and So is basically this kind of person, even though now and then he or she acts in a different manner." That's how we normally think, isn't it?
If we are only what we do at the moment, that's not a very hopeful view of old age, is it? Most of us spend our final years unable to do the things we did best, and sometimes unable to do anything other than the very simplest tasks. That would make growing old and infirm a matter of growing increasingly worthless.
Hemingway, remember, was growing older and more infirm. He avoided becoming more so by means of a shotgun.
The afternoon of the second day continues almost peacefully. The sea is gentle, the fish simply continues swimming, now at a higher level, and the left hand has completely uncramped. Santiago hurts, of course, and is very tired. That's taken for granted by now.
He wonders how baseball has turned out, the major league (Gran Ligas) scores, being particularly interested, of course, in the outcome of the Yankees-Tigers juego, or game.
It's impossible for Santiago to think of the Yankees without thinking of "the great DiMaggio," and he soaks up a bit of inspiration from his hero worship of the Yankee star. He reminds himself to be "worthy" of the great DiMaggio, "...who does all things perfectly even with the pain of a bone spur in his heel."
That's hero worship all right and somewhat strange coming from an old man. Hero worship is normally supposed to be a characteristic of much younger people.
Whether or not Santiago has superhuman qualities himself, that's certainly the way he looks at his hero. Quite matter-of-factly Santiago says DiMaggio "does all things perfectly." The theme here is performance despite adversity or injury, a theme which Santiago himself is living out.
Another spark of inspiration comes from remembering a time in his youth when he engaged in an arm-wrestling match, one that really was of nearly epic proportions for arm-wrestling.
It went on for a day. The opponent was a great black man, "the strongest man on the docks," and the contest took place at a tavern in Casablanca.
Visualize the scene along with Hemingway's description: the tavern, lit by kerosene lamps; two forearms rigid and straight in the air; the hands gripped tightly, so tightly that blood begins to come out from under the fingernails; the onlookers placing bets; the referees changing, toward the end every four hours so they can get some sleep; friends of the opponent lighting cigarettes for him and giving him rum, after which he would try for the kill.
Once the opponent almost does it, too. He has the youthful Santiago's arm three inches off balance, but Santiago struggles to right it, does, and then knows he's going to win. If he can regain three full inches, he knows he's better, stronger. At day light, twenty-four hours after the beginning of the match, he unleashes his great effort and brings the opponent's arm down to the table.
El Campeon (The Champion). He was called that for a long time afterwards, and now, alone in his boat against another great opponent, he recalls those glory days.
Have you ever done something like that to get "psyched up" for a great challenge? Some psychologists, especially promoters of "positive mental attitude," highly recommend recalling a past success, even if it's in an entirely different area from the challenge you're now facing. That's precisely what Santiago is doing right now, and it's interesting to see him doing it long before the days of paperback pop psychology.
Just before dark, Santiago catches a dolphin, dorado or golden in color, and dubs it "across the shining golden head until it shivered and was still."
The slant of the line hasn't changed, so the fish is still swimming at the same depth, but when Santiago washes his hand in the ocean, he can tell from the push of the water against his hand that their pace is definitely slower. The fish is tiring.