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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES

THE SECOND DAY (continued)

If it's difficult or even impossible to figure out what Santiago means by their being more noble, you can still compare it to your own feelings or reactions if you've ever been confronted by wildlife of any kind that gave you a feeling of awe, even if it was only secondhand. (Have you ever, for example, seen the mounted head of a moose and felt, for a fleeting second, "There was a creature better and purer in some ways than the person who shot it"?)

The left hand is still badly cramped: "tight as the gripped claws of an eagle." That's tight. Hemingway gives us an image that we can appreciate even if we've never seen or felt the gripped claws of an eagle.

But he's certain it won't last forever. What else can he do but hope it won't last forever? He even comes up with reasons, treating the hand once again as separate from himself, as a member of the team, so to speak, out on the ocean on a mission to bring in this incredible fish. He brings up team loyalty: the left hand will uncramp "to help my right hand." He brings up team pride: it's "unworthy" for the hand to be cramped and virtually useless.

Santiago even wishes he were the fish "with everything he has against only my will and my intelligence." "Only" his will and his intelligence? The statement seems like a crass putdown of what makes human beings human and thus, according to the general sentiment of the centuries, better than animals.

Here you have to decide whether Santiago is talking philosophy again or practicality. In a raw, physical battle, are intelligence and will really useful, formidable weapons against unbending instinct and superior size and strength?


NOTE: FEELING THE CHARACTER'S SITUATION

It's seldom that you have a chance to really get into a fictional character's physical situation. You can improvise here. It might be called an offbeat way to appreciate a character and a book; it might also be worthwhile and memorable.

Try pulling or pushing against something utterly immovable, a wall, a huge rock, anything. Keep it up. Keep it up for however long you want the experiment to last. But make it enough to acquire the feeling of nonstop, tensed muscle strain. Are five minutes enough? Would you go ten? Or would two be more than enough?

Santiago has been doing this for twenty-four hours now. And he still has many more hours to go.

There's soon a note of good news for him. Noon of the second day on the sea, his left hand uncramps. "Bad news for you, fish," he tosses out at his opponent across and beneath the sea. This is still another side of his multisided attitude toward the fish. This sounds like a real opponent talking to another, rather than a humble contestant speaking to a more noble foe, which is what he was doing a great deal of not so long ago.

"There are no atheists in the foxholes," William Thomas Cummings said, suggesting that even the most hardened non-believer would turn to God or the possibility at least of a God if he were entrenched in a battle under enemy fire.

A more recent, equally dry or sly statement of the same idea is the cartoon picturing a notice on the wall of a classroom; the notice informs that in the event of a nuclear attack, the Supreme Court ruling prohibiting prayer in public classrooms will be temporarily suspended. Santiago is not religious. Not in the conventional sense, at least, although he does have a picture of Mary on one wall of his shack. He decides, "just in case," to say ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys "that I should catch this fish." And he promises to make a pilgrimage to a shrine, the Virgin of Cobre, if heaven does come through and deliver the fish to him, or at least helps him bring it in.

NOTE: HEMINGWAY'S CATHOLICISM

The Hail Marys and the pilgrimage to a shrine are, of course, specifically Catholic, which is not surprising considering Santiago is Cuban. And this is one instance in the story where Santiago really is a mirror of Hemingway, who was a nominal or "technical" Catholic. He was baptized in a Catholic ceremony in Italy, after sustaining such severe wounds in World War I (see "The Author and His Times") that it seemed both to him and to others that he might not survive. He remained Catholic, although not exactly fervently so, throughout his life and was buried with a Catholic ceremony in Ketchum, Idaho.

Santiago isn't literally a soldier entrenched in a foxhole, but he is in a war of sorts, a battle which could conceivably kill him. (At this point, it's said possible that the fish could outlast him, tow him farther out to sea, and leave him to die of starvation or dehydration.) And he's at least battling for economic survival-the eighty-four days without a fish. So he prays. And promises a religious act.

Your reaction to this section will depend on your own religious views. Whatever they are, it's worth thinking about. What is prayer, in your opinion? Does it do something? Does the effectiveness of a prayer depend on the person who prays?

The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said that prayer doesn't "change" God, but it does change the person who prays. That's not Santiago's outlook. Frankly, he seems to be bargaining, doesn't he? I'll do something for you with the hope that, in return, you'll do something for me. A case of spiritual or theological tit for tat.

If you're quite religious, this scene might come across as a bad satire on prayer and relationship with God in general. If you're not particularly religious, you might still identify with Santiago, the "technical" believer who reaches out to the Higher Power when pushed to his greatest moment of need. Have you ever said a "just in case" or an "I know you haven't heard from me in a while, but..." prayer when you were in some relatively desperate situation? If so, why?

Amazing, isn't it, how this "simple," unsophisticated old fisherman can be a catalyst in clarifying our views on rather deep topics? He says his prayers and he feels better. If nothing else, he's covered all bases, and it's back to the practical and the immediate. Santiago decides to bait the small line still out over the stern of his skiff and try to catch another small fish for food, in case his huge marlin "decides" to stay out another night. Bringing in the monster will require energy and strength which he simply won't have without nourishment.

"I'll kill him, though... in all his greatness and his glory." We're accustomed to statements like that by now, these strange mixtures of contrasting elements. It's simply another tribute to the fish combined with another vow to kill.

"Although it is unjust." Here comes Santiago the philosopher again, having just recently emerged from Santiago the nominal, more-or-less believer. What's unjust about it? If animals are meant for the service of people, then doesn't this killing of the marlin fit right into the scheme of things? Or does a great marlin have rights too?

Or does it matter? Santiago, after all, came out on the sea precisely to do this. It's been his plan, his goal, since the previous day. Maybe we have a suggestion here that life is necessarily, inevitably violent. Noble creatures get killed unfairly, unjustly, but that's just the way it is on the sea and on the sea of life. There's nothing to suggest that, even given an opportunity, Santiago would reverse his unjust action and free the marlin. At least not at this point in the story. But be looking for signs that Santiago may change this opinion.

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