Study Guide

The Old Man and the Sea Perseverance

By Ernest Hemingway

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Day Two
The old man, or Santiago

This will kill him, the old man thought. He can’t do this forever. But four hours later the fish was still swimming steadily out to sea, towing the skiff, and the old man was still braced solidly with the line across his back. (2.80)

The fish possesses a determination equal in magnitude to Santiago’s.

He had pushed his straw hat hard down on his head before he hooked the fish and it was cutting his forehead. He was thirsty too and he got down on his knees and, being careful not to jerk on the line, moved as far into the bow as he could get and reached the water bottle with one hand. He opened it and drank a little. Then he rested against the bow. He rested sitting on the un-stepped mast and sail and tried not to think but only to endure. (2.82)

The old man is best able to endure when he can distract himself from thinking about his plight or pain.

I could just drift, he thought, and sleep and put a bight of line around my toe to wake me. But today is eighty-five days and I should fish the day well.

Just then, watching his lines, he saw one of the projecting green sticks dip sharply. (2.54, 2.55)

The old man’s determination is immediately rewarded. Hemingway portrays a cause and effect here.

What I will do if he decides to go down, I don’t know. What I’ll do if he sounds and dies I don’t know. But I’ll do something. There are plenty of things I can do. (2.78)

The old man’s determination is enabled by the variety of skills he possesses.

Nothing happened. The fish just moved away slowly and the old man could not raise him an inch. His line was strong and made for heavy fish and he held it against his hack until it was so taut that beads of water were jumping from it. Then it began to make a slow hissing sound in the water and he still held it, bracing himself against the thwart and leaning back against the pull. The boat began to move slowly off toward the north-west. (2.75)

The fish possesses a determination equal in magnitude to Santiago’s.

"Fish," he said softly, aloud, "I’ll stay with you until I am dead." He’ll stay with me too, I suppose, the old man thought and he waited for it to be light. (2.105, 2.106)

The old man recognizes that the fish possesses an endurance to match his own.

Day Three
The old man, or Santiago

"If you’re not tired, fish," he said aloud, "you must be very strange."

He felt very tired now and he knew the night would come soon and he tried to think of other things. (3.83, 3.84)

The old man uses "strange" as a word to connect himself with the fish. They are strange in their unique ability to endure beyond reasonable limits.

It was cold now in the time before daylight and he pushed against the wood to be warm. I can do it as long as he can, he thought. And in the first light the line extended out and down into the water. The boat moved steadily and when the first edge of the sun rose it was on the old man’s right shoulder. (3.1)

The old man’s own determination is driven by what he sees in the fish.

"It’s steady," the old man told him. "It’s too steady. You shouldn’t be that tired after a windless night. What are birds coming to?" (3.14)

The old man implicitly compares himself to the birds, believing that feeling tired is something to be ashamed of.

I must save all my strength now. Christ, I did not know he was so big."

"I’ll kill him though," he said. "In all his greatness and his glory."

Although it is unjust, he thought. But I will show him what a man can do and what a man endures. (3.73-3.75)

The old man separates man from beast by man’s ability to endure.

But he seems calm, he thought, and following his plan. But what is his plan, he thought. And what is mine? Mine I must improvise to his because of his great size. If he will jump I can kill him. But he stays down forever. Then I will stay down with him forever. (3.47)

The old man’s determination takes on new levels as the tale progresses.

This is the second day now that I do not know the result of the juegos, he thought. But I must have confidence and I must be worthy of the great DiMaggio who does all things perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in his heel. What is a bone spur? he asked himself. Un espuela de hueso. We do not have them. Can it be as painful as the spur of a fighting cock in one’s heel? I do not think I could endure that or the loss of the eye and of both eyes and continue to fight as the fighting cocks do. Man is not much beside the great birds and beasts. Still I would rather be that beast down there in the darkness of the sea. (3.85)

The old man believes that beasts are superior to man in their ability to endure. This is the opposite of what he previously thought.

"I told the boy I was a strange old man," he said.

"Now is when I must prove it."

The thousand times that he had proved it meant nothing. Now he was proving it again. Each time was a new time and he never thought about the past when he was doing it. I wish he’d sleep and I could sleep and dream about the lions, he thought. Why are the lions the main thing that is left? (3.3.76-3.78)

The old man sees his own determination to prove himself reflected in the lions.

"I don’t think I can eat an entire one," he said and drew his knife across one of the strips. He could feel the steady hard pull of the line and his left hand was cramped. It drew up tight on the heavy cord and he looked at it in disgust.

"What kind of a hand is that," he said. "Cramp then if you want. Make yourself into a claw. It will do you no good." (3.31, 3.32)

The old man is mentally determined, but disappointed in the lack of endurance he sees in his body.

Do you believe the great DiMaggio would stay with a fish as long as I will stay with this one? he thought. I am sure he would and more since he is young and strong. Also his father was a fisherman. But would the bone spur hurt him too much?

"I do not know," he said aloud. "I never had a bone spur." (3.87, 3.88)

The old man compares his own endurance to DiMaggio’s, just as he compares himself to the fish. Both are idols he looks up to.

The old man, or Santiago

The old man is superior to others not because of his strength, but because of his willingness to endure pain and his determination to win.

Although the black man is a better athlete than the old man, the old man is more determined and therefore wins.

The old man uses his own determination to test the limits of that of the fish.

The old man’s determination pays off; while he cannot beat the fish in strength, he slowly wears him down instead.

That the old man speaks to himself illustrates the intensity of the situation; he has to verbally convince himself to endure.

Because the old man addresses his body, we see a difference in psychological determination, which is undying, and physical determination, which has its limits.

Because the old man speaks alternatively to himself and to the fish, it is at times unclear to which he is speaking. This suggests there is not a lot of difference between the old man and the fish,

Even after the fish is dead, the old man’s is determined to finish the job without rest.

Despite overwhelming odds against him, the old man never gives up until the very end.

The old man recognizes that, although practically there is nothing he can do, he will still fight for the sake of enduring.

Although he "knows the fight is useless," the old man continues to battle the sharks anyway. This suggests he is fighting for some other motivation than "winning."

When Santiago’s strength fails him, he simply waits patiently for it to return.

The boy, or Manolin

The boy is brought to tears by his admiration for the old man’s determination.

Because the story ends with the lions, and not with the fish, we see that Santiago’s determination is yet unbeaten.

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