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THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA - CHAPTER NOTES / BOOK REVIEW
SECTION 6 - The Old Man Towed by the Fish
Santiago is worried. If the giant fish decides to dive down or if it dies, the old man is not sure what he is going to do, but still feels confident he will find the right answer. He thinks for certain that the fish cannot tow the boat for much longer, but four hours later, the fish is still swimming steadily out to sea, pulling the skiff. Santiago muses on the fact that he has not yet seen this giant creature that is controlling him and taking him far away from his home. The old man hopes that he can see the lights of Havana to guide him back.
Santiago’s optimism and confidence keep him going in face of extreme stress. His arms are aching from holding the line, which also cuts into his back and shoulders, but he refuses to loosen his hold. When the fish slows down a bit, the old man is sure it will finally surface before sunset. Relaxing for a brief moment, he wonders what the day’s results were in baseball. Catching himself off guard, he chastises himself for daydreaming and promises himself to remain fully alert, avoiding any stupid moves. He forces himself to eat some raw tuna in order to retain his strength. For the second time that day, Santiago wishes that the boy were with him - to see what is happening and to help him. No man should be alone in his old age, he thinks, but for him it is unavoidable.
By nightfall, nothing has changed, for the boat is still being towed. Santiago wonders if the fish has any plans or if it is desperate, just like himself. As he thinks about it, the old man starts pitying his great fish, which shows such determination. Santiago, however, is equally determined; he will master the fish and sell its meat in the market for a good price. Santiago’s mind then goes back to a time when he had seen a pair of marlin. The male fish always let the female fish feed first, a fact which helped Santiago to catch her. When he pulled the female marlin into the boat with the help of Manolin, the male fish had stayed by the side of the boat, swimming alongside for a long time. It was one of the saddest things that Santiago can remember.
For a third time, Santiago thinks about the boy and wishes that Manolin were with him to help with the heavy line that he has steadied across his shoulders. He thinks about the great fish and feels inexplicably joined to the creature at the other end of his line, even though he has never seen it. He thinks about the loneliness of both of them, victim and victimizer, with neither having help from another being. He feels so united with the fish, which must be suffering the same kind of pain as he is suffering, that he wonders if he should have become a fisherman at all. It is the first time that Santiago has expressed any doubt in the novel; obviously, his optimistic thinking is momentarily impaired by pain and fatigue. He quickly recovers, however, and says that he was born to be a fisherman, and it is his duty to strive to be the best.
In this section, Hemingway begins to significantly develop the plot, quickening the pace of the rising action. Santiago’s luck has changed, and he has caught his big fish. The challenge now becomes to tire the fish, pull him in for the kill, and return him to shore.
Always in tune with the natural world, Santiago admires the giant fish from the very beginning, immediately establishing a bond of respect. Even though he has never seen his giant catch, he appreciates its strength, power, and determination. He also pities the plight of the fish, which he sees as similar to his own; both of them are alone, in pain, and facing the possibility of approaching death. He believes they are worthy antagonists. In this portrayal, Hemingway indicates his fundamental belief in the partnership between man and nature. He also portrays his old man as having grace under pressure, as he exhibits exemplary strength, patience, determination, and clear thinking in handling his giant adversary.
It is important to notice that the old man is very aware of his loneliness and isolation. Several times during the long day he wishes Manolin were with him - to see this wonderful sight and to help him with the difficult task at hand. But it was not a matter of choice for Santiago; he was forced to fish by himself. At the same time, he realizes that his predicament has been caused by his own choices. He decided to go far out to sea to find a big fish. Now he must deal gracefully with the results of that choice.