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THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA - PLOT SYNOPSIS / ANALYSIS
SECTION 5 - The Hooking of the Fish
Santiago spies a man-of-war bird, signifying that there are fish nearby. The old man watches carefully as the bird dips into the water, catches a small fish, and rises again. He rows to the spot where the bird has been and sees a big school of dolphins. The bird returns and tries repeatedly to catch a dolphin, but the fish is simply too big for the bird. The old man empathizes with the unsuccessful attempts of the man-of-war. Santiago, however, feels encouraged by the presence of the dolphins, for large fish often swim close to them. The optimistic fisherman feels certain that his big fish is somewhere nearby.
The ever-observant Santiago surveys his environment. He sees the purpleness in the sea caused by the floating plankton, a type of algae on which fish feed. He spies the far-away coastline, appearing as a thin green line beneath cloud-covered hills. He notices a Portuguese man-of-war and curses it profusely because it is immensely poisonous. He also sees the miraculous turtles, which feed on these creatures, immune to their poison; he calls the turtles "stupid," for their hearts beat for hours after they are cut up and butchered. Despite his feelings for them, he gathers some of the turtles’ white eggs to eat, since he has brought no food along; he hopes the eggs will give him strength to catch the really big fish.
Santiago spies the man-of-war again, trying to capture a tuna that has jumped into the air before diving back down into the sea. The old man thinks that the bird is a great help, guiding him to areas where the fish are gathered. Suddenly, a line under Santiago’s foot goes taut. He brings up the line and sees that he has caught an albacore, weighing nearly ten pounds. His luck has changed! Santiago thinks that the fish will make excellent bait for the larger fish.
The old man realizes that he has the habit of talking aloud when he is alone on the sea. If the rich travel by themselves, they have their radios to talk to them or bring them news about baseball, but since he is a poor fisherman, Santiago must keep himself good company. At least he does not have to worry about disturbing another fisherman or wondering if someone thinks he is crazy for talking to himself. When the boy was with him, he was comforted by his presence, but they rarely spoke, only when necessary; it is an unwritten law of the sea that a fisherman talks little while working.
By mid-afternoon, Santiago has traveled so far out to sea that the land is no longer visible. With the hot sun beating down on him, the old man sweats profusely and grows tired, almost lethargic. When he sees one of his lines dip sharply, he is again alert and tugs at the line, to find there is no weight on it. He imagines that at about hundred fathom deep, a marlin is probably eating the sardines attached to the hook. He thinks that the fish may be quite large since he is so far out to sea; he beseeches it to eat the hook as well as the sardines. When Santiago gives a hard pull on the line, however, the fish does not respond at all.
Santiago now starts talking aloud to the fish, begging it to inhale the lovely sardines along with the hook. When the fish pulls at the line again, he prays to God for help. Then for a heart-sinking moment, Santiago thinks he has lost the fish; instead, he soon feels something very heavy pulling at the line. He realizes that he has caught a big fish and adds some coil to his line. After letting the fish eat a little more, Santiago pulls hard on the line, but he cannot gain even a yard on it. Instead, the fish starts swimming and pulling the boat, towards the northwest.
Santiago wishes the boy were with him to keep him company and to help with the fish. It is very tiring to hold on to the line with all his might, but he is thankful that the fish is travelling forward, not diving down into the deep.
Though he is confident of his talent, Santiago does not let it make him careless. He is ever aware of his lines and the signs of life around him. He is alert and moving the moment that he feels a tug on his line. He is not impatient, but allows his catch to feed on the bait for awhile, making sure it has swallowed the hook. When he finally catches the big fish and is towed by it, he does not lament about the dangers involved, but counts his blessings. He has found his big fish, and it is not going down into the depths.
Hemingway further develops Santiago as a character in this section of the novel. He is an excellent navigator, reading all the signs in the sea and paying attention to the weather. He also knows the ways of the water. When he sees a man-of-war bird, he correctly deduces that there must be fish nearby. With the presence of dolphins, he believes they are indicators of larger fish. He also reads the plankton as a sign that there are more fish in the area. His thinking is logical, and his insight keen.
It is an unwritten rule of sea that a fisherman should not talk unnecessarily while working, disturbing the concentration of a fellow fisherman. When Manolin fishes with him, he observes this rule meticulously. Now that he is by himself, however, he speaks out loud, not fearing he will be judged as crazy and not worrying about disturbing others. It is obvious that Santiago takes every aspect of his fishing very seriously; it is not a sport for him, but his means of livelihood.
Although not excessively religious, Santiago does show his faith in God. He prays to his Master for help in hooking the giant fish and gives thanks when it does not dive down into the deep.