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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
THE FIRST NIGHT (continued)
We might think of a prosecutor who personally may feel that the defendant is innocent and may hope the jury returns a "Not Guilty" verdict. Yet a prosecutor's job is to do everything possible to convince the jury of the defendant's guilt.
Or a salesperson desperately needing to make a sale might encounter a potential buyer who can probably be persuaded to sign a contract-but who obviously doesn't need the item and can't really afford it. You've probably experienced ambivalence many times. You'd like to invite a friend to go with you somewhere, but you find out that your friend really should spend the time studying for an important test or completing a nearly due school project. How have you handled ambivalent situations?
The tendency to feel pity for a caught and killed animal is certainly magnified if the animal is one of a mated pair and the mate is there on the scene. Santiago thinks of such a situation, a time when he hooked the female of a pair of marlins, and the male stayed with her to the bitter end, even jumping high out of the water to catch a final glimpse of his mate.
Obviously it's the similarity to human beings-the loyalty and love for one's mate-which creates the poignancy in this situation, and again it brings up the question of whether animals feel emotions similar to human emotions. The instance Santiago remembers was "the saddest thing I ever saw with them." Hemingway jolts us again with a sentence full of apparent opposites: "The boy was sad too and we begged her pardon and butchered her promptly."
Ambivalence again. "I really am sorry I have to do this, but..." Perhaps you've felt it when you were in competition with a friend, knowing the victory meant as much to him or her as it did to you. How often we've heard-and perhaps felt-the saying, "It's a shame somebody has to lose."
A strange sentence comes here: "When once, through my treachery, it had been necessary to him to make a choice, the old man thought."
He's feeling sorry for the fish again, but there's more to it this time. He's putting a minor guilt trip on himself with the idea of treachery, which is a very strong word. Treachery includes the notion of violating a trust.
Santiago is saying that he violated a trust of sorts by going far out into waters where fishermen never go and where, presumably, the fish felt safe from the possibility of a hook being attached to an inviting meal. But Santiago did go there and the hooked bait was there, and the fish had to choose whether or not to take it.
It's as though the fish versus fisherman contest is a rather formal game or perhaps even a war but with certain definite, gentlemanly rules; and he's broken one of them. He has "treacherously" gone into territory which is supposed to be off limits, somewhat like an army sneaking into an officially declared neutral zone and laying land mines.
Has he been treacherous? Or is this beginning to be silly sentimentality? That's your decision. But in either case we learn something about Santiago here. He certainly doesn't feel that "a fish is a fish is a fish," wherever and however you come by it. Not this fish, anyway. This fish is a worthy, noble opponent.
Since he has all these feelings and is aware of them, Santiago comes to a logical conclusion: perhaps he should not have been a fisherman at all. But notice how little time he spends on it. Almost none. Perhaps the thought frightens him or it's too big for him. We find that all through the story Santiago dabbles in philosophy for a moment or two and then backs away from it. He retreats to a that's-just-how-it-is position. So here, almost instantly, he decides that there's no use thinking about having been something different. Being a fisherman "was the thing that I was born for."
Immediately after that he reminds himself to eat the tuna he caught earlier. Within three sentences, Hemingway has taken Santiago from speculating about destiny to reminding himself about breakfast. But that's Santiago. That's how he looks at the world. It's a world filled with things that are what they are.
Now a fish strikes one of his other baits. He knows he can't land it, and it's fast taking out line he will need. So he cuts the line, forfeiting what the fish has already taken and cuts two others, again forfeiting not only line but bait and hooks and leaders. He ties them all together. Now there are six reserve coils of line.
It sounds rather routine until you realize that he's doing all this in pitch dark with one hand, while his other hand is desperately holding on to a fish so monstrous it keeps towing the skiff farther and farther out to sea.
He gets a minor injury in doing so, too. The fish makes an unexplained surge. Santiago is pulled down, hits his face, and is cut below an eye. It isn't a serious injury, but you might try to identify with this small scene. Blood is running down his face and drying before it even reaches his chin. Most of us wouldn't think much of that either; but most of us would have clean, fresh water to wash the blood away with, a germicide and painkiller to swab on the cut, and time to attend to all this. Santiago has none of these. He can only let the blood dry and keep holding onto his line. And yet he has "all that a man can ask." What is this "all"? Clear space around his boat (he's brought other lines in now), "a big reserve of line," and the feeling that the fish can't pull the skiff forever.
That's not much by most standards. But it's all that a man could ask by Santiago's. We might ask: What would it take for him to be upset, to feel cheated or unequipped?
Santiago's first night on the sea ends with his speaking aloud to the fish, softly. Somehow that "softly" intensifies what he says: "Fish, I'll stay with you until I am dead."
It's worth pondering what makes this line so strong. After all, we've heard dozens of people, both in fiction and in real life, say: "I'll __ if it kills me." We've probably said it many times ourselves. But we know that nobody, including ourselves, really means it literally.
But we know that Santiago means it literally. Why?