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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
THE THIRD DAY
At last the pressure on the line slackens. Not much. Barely enough to tell. He pulls. Instantly the line goes taut again... and then slackens again. Santiago can actually pull line in, rather than grudgingly give it out.
The fish is no longer moving farther out to sea. It's circling the boat. A very wide circle, but still a circle, and that's what the last two days have been leading up to. It's a welcome change, but it doesn't signal the end of the battle or even an easier part of the battle.
Obviously the idea is to keep putting tension to the breaking point on the line in order to make the circles shorter and shorter, finally bringing the fish up to the boat.
It happens, but at a cost. The circles are shorter and the slant indicates the fish has risen. The cost is the black spots now dancing in front of Santiago's eyes. Most of us would find that frightening; Santiago doesn't, but he is afraid of something else: the dizziness and the feeling of nearly passing out. It's happened twice.
As he did earlier, Santiago reaches out and up to heaven with a promised gift of Our Fathers and Hail Marys-a hundred of them now, instead of ten. In return he asks for endurance and he asks for it on credit, so to speak. He can't pray the Our Fathers and Hail Marys right now, so he asks heaven to "consider them said," even though he can't do it until later.
This section invites you again to consider the role or function of prayer in a person's life. So far, Santiago has used it as barter. That makes him rather typical, perhaps. Do you see prayer as serving any other, perhaps higher, purpose?
Now the fish threatens to jump again. It's hitting the wire leader with its spear, probably in reaction to the pain, and the pain may drive him to jump. As much as he wanted this before, Santiago doesn't want it now and instructs the fish to stay in the water. The circling resumes, but Santiago is feeling faint again, and he can't afford this. A few handfuls of sea water rubbed on his head and neck seem to bring him around.
"It was on the third turn that he saw the fish first." There's another low-key introduction to a dramatic scene. Santiago can't believe how long it takes for the dark shadow to pass under the boat; it keeps coming and coming and coming-all of it fish. Even the old man, who had a reasonably good idea of the fish's size before, says aloud, "No... he can't be that big." He begins to sweat heavily now-not from the hot sun but from a wave of nervousness at fully seeing what he is up against.
Again and again the circles are too short for Santiago to use his harpoon. On one circle he's able to turn the fish on its side a little and for a moment it looks as though this might be the moment, but the fish rights itself and begins still another circle.
Another faint spell, more weakness, and always, always the constant need to keep tension on the line. Santiago commands his hands and his legs-and his mind, his consciousness-to hold out. "Last for me. You never went. This time I'll pull him over." Yes, this time. This time. The fish comes alongside the boat and Santiago gives the pull everything he has in his tired old body, pulls the fish part way over on its side... but the fish rights itself again and swims away.
"Fish, you are going to have to die anyway. Do you have to kill me too?" That's a possibility, you know. The fish, almost certainly, is going to die. It's weak, badly wounded, badly in need of food. But that doesn't mean Santiago is going to make it. At this point he's a rather likely candidate for heart attack, stroke, being pulled over the side and drowning, or lapsing into unconsciousness to die of dehydration and exposure.
He's not thinking particularly clearly, either. Within a few seconds he tells himself he can keep this up forever and that he doesn't really care who gets killed in the battle. Fortunately, he knows his thinking is muddled and speaks to his head again, as he has before, encouraging it to clear up.
Another turn. The fish comes alongside the boat. Again Santiago reaches for strength he is not certain will be there, because he feels himself lapsing into a faint.
The strength is there, nonetheless. But it doesn't bring the fish to its side. The fish swims off. It really is getting doubtful now that Santiago can make this catch happen, and even he realizes it. "'I do not know,' he says, 'But I will try it once more.'"
Another failure. The marlin swims off again, its huge tail waving in the air almost as a taunt. Santiago's situation, the danger of losing both the fish and his life, has passed from serious to critical and beyond. His hands are "mushy," the muscles responding only slowly and incompletely to command, and he can see well only "in flashes." But he decides he can try it one more time.
And one more time the marlin swims away. He feels himself losing consciousness. The fish approaches, "...long, deep, wide, silver and barred with purple and interminable in the water." Where do we get it-that final reserve of strength in times of crisis, strength we had no knowledge of or even hope for? How often people say, "I don't know how I did it," meaning the statement quite literally.
Santiago drops the line, grabs the harpoon, raises it high in the air (how is he doing this?), and drives it down into the fish. And further in and further in, all of his now nearly senseless weight pushing the harpoon deeper and deeper into the body of his brother.
"Then the fish came alive, with his death in him...." What an incredibly simple, perfect description Hemingway gives us here of the death throes of the marlin. The fish too is summoning strength it didn't know it had, but unlike Santiago, the fish will not benefit from it.
There is a moment of farewell, with the fish almost suspended in air beside and above the skiff, the result of its last dying surge. Imagine the almost deafening roar and the onslaught of spraying water as the lifeless body crashes back into the ocean.
It's over. But only for the fish. There's no great cry of victory from the old man; he doesn't even feel his victory. Instead he feels faint and sick, and he can't see. Numbly, mechanically, he ties the harpoon line around the bitt in the bow of his skiff. And lays his head on his hands. Picture it. It's as close as Santiago can come to a gesture of triumph.