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Free Study Guide-The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
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SECTION 10 - The Third Day


When the sun rises on Santiago’s third day, the fish starts circling, initially swimming far from the boat. The old man uses his legs and shoulders as pivots to turn the boat with the fish. Two hours later, he is sweating profusely and tired to the bone, but the fish is still circling; at least the circles have become much tighter.

In his total fatigue, Santiago starts seeing black spots before his eyes, which he blames on his stressful situation. When he begins to feel faint and dizzy, he worries that he may die before the magnificent fish. He prays to God to help him endure and not give up, promising to say one hundred Our Fathers and one hundred Hail Marys. When the fish jumps, Santiago begs it not to do so; he is worried that the hook will come loose and free the fish. When he feels faint again, he splashes seawater on his head and says he is fit as a fiddle. Although he would love to take a rest, he must use his whole body to recover the line that the fish has taken. As he pulls it in, the fish begins to circle nearer the boat. Santiago prepares to harpoon it. When it comes close enough the first time, the old man is too tired to kill it.

When the weather starts deteriorating, Santiago decides to try and steer the boat and the fish south and west. As he turns, he gets a close view of the fish and is astonished at the largeness of its size and the beauty of its color, fins, and eyes. He prays again, begging for the fish to come closer still. He rigs the harpoon and is ready to aim at the heart of the giant fish. Although Santiago feels faint and sick, he manages to hold on to the fish. He also cajoles his hands, legs, and head to help him pull the fish closer. In his exhaustion, however, he does not seem to care who kills whom, and invites the calm, noble fish to come and get him, ending the fight.

On the seventh turn, the fish passes close beside the boat. The old man drops the line, holding it with his foot. With both his hands, he lifts the harpoon as high as he can and drives with all his might into the heart of the fish. The fish rises high in the air and crashes into the water, sending spray over the old man and the entire skiff. When the fish turns over, the old man can see the harpoon projecting from its shoulders, and it is obvious that he has made a good strike. Great amounts of blood ooze into the sea, as the great fish dies.

Now that the first fight is over, the old man battles with himself to keep his head clear. He repeatedly tells himself that though he is sick, tired, and old, there is still a lot of work to be accomplished. He must prepare the nooses and ropes to fasten the fish to the boat in order to take it home with him. As he ties up the dead fish around noontime, he cannot believe he has mastered such a big one. He tries to hurry in his tasks, for with some luck, he may reach home by late right. He looks forward to showing off the fish to Manolin and wonders how much money he will make from selling its meat. He estimates he can dress out two thirds of the fifteen-hundred-pound weight, at thirty cents a pound. Feeling proud of his accomplishment, Santiago imagines that DiMaggio would even congratulate him.

Before sailing towards home, the old man baits his hooks in order to catch some small fish to eat. He catches a dozen small shrimps, pinches their heads, and eats them shell and all. They are both tasty and nourishing. He takes a small drink of water, carefully conserving what is remaining in his bottle. As he sets off, he wonders whether the huge fish is a dream, but with one look at it, he knows the reality of his whole adventure.


The old man is locked up in a battle of power and wits with the fish, just as he had been with the Negro. The full extent of his strength and durability is completely tested. He emerges the champion one more time, and his trophy is the dead fish. Although he is proud of his own efforts, the old man does not gloat about his victory. Instead, he begins his meticulous preparation to ready himself for the trip home.

Although the language throughout the entire novel has been crisp and descriptive, in this adventurous section it grows even more swift, controlled, vivid, and exact. With great mastery, Hemingway tells of Santiago’s dramatic battle in a manner that is realistic, fresh, and poetic all at once.

It is important to notice that when Santiago goes to kill the giant fish, he aims for the heart and not the head. It is Hemingway’s way of stating that man’s feelings (heart) are more important than his thoughts (head). Later in the novel, Santiago’s practicality and logical efforts may be overcome by the sharks, but the deadly creatures cannot take away his noble nature; the old man battles his adversary until the very end, never giving up.

It is important to realize that as the novel has progressed to this point, Santiago’s journey has had two opposing directions: one outward and into the sea to search for the giant fish and one inward into himself to find the strength to battle his great adversary. Now that the battle is won, Santiago must change his physical direction and return to the shore, but he must still travel inward to find the strength to get home. Unfortunately, the homeward journey will not end in an outward victory.

In retrospect, the outward journey is clearly divisible into three stages: the time when Santiago is unable to see his adversary, but follows it with blind admiration and respect; the continuation of his chase, after the colossal fish has made its majestic appearance; and the final circling action of the fish, followed by Santiago’s successful kill. During this outward journey, the old man has called on God to give him strength beyond his physical nature, to become more than human in mastering the fish. But like Christ, who was also more than human, he must suffer shame and humiliation, which he will encounter on the homeward journey.

In his story of the old man, Hemingway proves that life is a solitary struggle, a desperate battle beyond reason. Most of the time, life is the attempt of the individual to save himself and his prize from the destructive powers of the world.


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Free Study Guide-The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway


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