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FREE STUDY GUIDE FOR THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA
SECTION 9 - The Man and The Fish
Santiago feels a renewed confidence and hope in himself even though he realizes he will probably have to wait through another night to master the fish. As sunset approaches, he catches a dolphin, which he eats to maintain his strength. He declares that it tastes terrible raw and again wishes he had some salt or lemon; he reproaches himself for not having created some salt out of the salt water that surrounds the boat. He then lashes his two oars together across the stern of the boat, hoping to slow the fish during the might. He is very careful, however, not to disturb the fish; if he startles it and causes it to dive, it will be suicidal for the old man. After eating, Santiago asks the fish how it is feeling and again sympathizes with it for not having eaten in two days. He also informs it that he himself feels good, for he has eaten and his hands are better. Santiago is, however, concerned about the clouds in the sky, thinking there may be bad weather ahead.
In spite of Santiagoís claims that he is feeling good, his back is numb with pain, and he is afraid that he may fall unconscious from fatigue. He tries to reassure himself that even though there are some minor inconveniences, he is ready to kill the fish. He idly wonders how many people will feed on his giant creature. Again showing a fierce loyalty to the fish, he says that no one is worthy of eating it, for the fish has great dignity, bearing the punishment of a hook, hunger, and an unknown danger.
The old man decides to rest for about two hours during the night by easing the strain of the line on his back. Still holding the line in his hands, he rigs it up in such a way that even if he relaxes in his sleep, it will not run away with the fish. In spite of his efforts, Santiago sleeps fitfully, dreaming of a school of porpoise that jump into the air and fall back into the ocean. He dreams of the village, where he slept in his bed, feeling old and cramped. Finally, he dreams of the lions and feels happy.
Suddenly, the fish starts jumping. Santiago tries to break the line, but it rushes out. The fish jumps again and again, dragging the boat violently. Though the old fisherman is bailing the line out, the boat goes fast. In a fleeting moment, he wishes that the boy were there to help him with the rope, which has cut his face. The only good thing is that the fish has filled its air sacks that will buoy it up; it will be unable to dive deep for awhile. The old man wonders if it was hunger or desperation or some fear that has made the fish jump.
When the fish quits jumping, Santiago cleans his face and hands in the water and watches the dawn coming up. Although both his face and hands are hurting, he tells himself that pain does not matter to a man. Feeling weak, he eats one of the flying fish that he found whole inside the dolphin. He then notices that the fish is finally swimming along with the current, indicating that it has tired. Santiago settles down to wait for the great fish to start circling and then show up above the surface.
Santiago always looks at the bright side of things. He tries to minimize the task he has at hand by saying that no one has asked him to kill the stars or the sun or the moon, only a fish; and he feels confident he can handle the task, for he is challenged by Fate and the giant creature that pulls him. It is the old manís bad luck that has forced him to go far out into the sea alone. It is Fate that has placed the giant fish in his path. Now it is up to Santiago to master Fate and kill the fish.
Santiago continues to show that he is a master fisherman, always thinking and practical. He ties his oars together and puts them across the stern to slow the boat a bit during the night. When he decides he must sleep for awhile, he carefully rigs the line so that the fish cannot suddenly cause it to break or slacken without waking him. When he feels hungry and weak, he catches a dolphin and eats it to maintain his strength. When the giant fish starts to jump, he does not panic, but gives him the slack that he needs. Santiago also notices all the natural signs around him - that the fish is swimming in the current and that the weather will be turning bad.
Santiago has total identification with nature - bird, fish, and beast. He realizes that no man is ever alone, even on the high seas. Because he has an awareness of the workings of nature, he is comfortable with and optimistic about his place in it. His hope and vision link him not only to nature but also to the entire cosmos. As such, he ceases being an ordinary fisherman and achieves the grandeur of a universal hero. In fact, Santiago in Spanish means Saint James, referring to the fisherman apostle of Jesus Christ. The old man proves he is worthy of his name.