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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES

THE THIRD DAY (continued)

He cannot rest. There's too much work, "slave work," as he calls it, the details of lashing the body to the gunwales of the skiff since, rather obviously, it cannot be brought aboard.

Even in death the fish resists, and Santiago has to pull the skiff up to it. Finally he is able to touch his now dead brother, an act he finds meaningful. Although one-sided, it's a physical communion Santiago feels a need for.

One final spurt of sympathy darts up within the old man when he sees the marlin's eye: "...as detached as the mirrors in a periscope or as a saint in a procession." That's another line Hemingway may have spent hours laboring over.

NOTE: A VIEW OF SAINTLINESS

While we're here, let's take a moment for the second part of that comparison, the saint's eye. Is it simply a great comparison or is Hemingway giving us a sly, indirect barb at sainthood? After all, he does simply say "saint" rather than "the statue of a saint."

So, having invited you to consider prayer, this strange "little" story invites you to consider sainthood, and whether or not saints are as detached from real life as the marlin's eye.


The fish being dead, Santiago retires temporarily from viewing it mystically and sees it in terms of profit: fifteen hundred pounds, maybe more; perhaps two thirds of that salable meat; thirty cents a pound... it's too much to figure in his current disoriented state. But he knows it's a tremendous sum.

If the fish runs only the minimum fifteen hundred pounds, two thirds of that at thirty cents per pound amounts to three hundred dollars. Unimpressive by today's standards; an absolute fortune for one single catch, to Santiago.

The journey back, southwest toward Havana, begins. Recall how often you've said, "I can't believe this really happened," whether about a misfortune or a great stroke of luck, or just something particularly dramatic. Santiago has that same feeling, and he remembers the moment when the fish was hanging in the air beside the boat. There was "some great strangeness" about it.

At least one commentator has cited this passage as support for the idea that the entire experience has had a mystical dimension and isn't perhaps real. This idea itself may seem strange to you, but not if you reject the story as realistic and accept it purely as a fable.

On the way back, Santiago has to keep looking at the fish to make sure it's really there, that the past two and a half days have really happened.

"It was an hour before the first shark hit him." Here's another masterpiece of a low-key, almost understated introduction to a calamity. It's even grammatically indirect: the "shark hit" comes in a subordinate clause that follows the main clause.

One word contains the foreshadowing that almost tells the rest of the story: "first." It was an hour before the first shark hit him. If sharks can ever be good guys, this one comes close. Hemingway describes it in terms of nobility that fall only slightly short of terms he used for the great marlin. This is a mako shark and, if not exactly good, it is at least honest. The attack is straight and direct; it's described almost in terms of inevitability, as though this is what the mako was born to do.

With one vicious rip, the mako strips forty pounds of the very best meat from the marlin. Santiago is ready with his harpoon and drives it into the shark's brain. He does it "without hope but with resolution and complete malignancy."

"Without hope." Santiago knows what's coming. He knows how this story is going to end. And so do we. "But with resolution." Resolution to do what? The words are probably coming back to you already. He will do "what a man must do," and he will not do it half-heartedly.

"And complete malignancy." For the first time in the story, Santiago hates. As noble in its design as the mako shark is, Santiago does not apologize for killing it. He enjoys the killing.

"It was too good to last." Is it that way with monumental good fortune? How many parallels can you think of from the lives of entertainers, for example, who rise to stardom only to have it collapse? Perhaps there's an event from your own life which parallels Santiago's reversal of fortune.

NOTE: A CONSIDERATION OF "DEFEAT" AND "DESTRUCTION"

Concentrate for a moment on your concepts of "defeat" and "destruction." What's the difference? Is one preferable to the other? In some instances, are they identical?

Hemingway, through Santiago, dangles these ideas before his readers. "'But man is not made for defeat,' he said. 'A man can be destroyed but not defeated.'"

Do you agree? One way of testing the idea is to reverse the terms and make it: "A man can be defeated but not destroyed." Which makes more sense to you?

Whatever sense you make of it, you can tell this theme is at the very heart of The Old Man and the Sea. Try to firm up your understanding and position and be ready to test it out at the end of the story.

Now Santiago regrets having killed the fish. At first this might seem merely more of the same thing we've been hearing: it's a shame life is like this, since the fish is so noble. But this is a different regret. Now he's truly sorry this whole thing happened at all.

Why? For an answer, you might think in terms of the meaning of the fish's death. What gave it meaning before-meaning which is possibly being stripped away along with the actual flesh of the marlin?

Santiago lashes his knife to one of the oars because he's lost his harpoon and its rope in killing the mako shark. Now at least he's armed, even though it may be a futile weapon in terms of making it safely back to the Havana harbor with the rest of the marlin intact. But because a fresh breeze has come up and the sailing goes well, "some of his hope" returns and it launches him into a meditation on sin.

The initial springboard is his reflection that it is a sin not to hope. Let's spend some time on this idea.

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