Study Guide

The Old Man and the Sea Respect and Reputation

By Ernest Hemingway

Respect and Reputation

Day One
The old man, or Santiago

"Que va." the boy said. "There are many good fishermen and some great ones. But there is only you." (1.136)

The boy respects the old man for his fishing abilities, just as they respect the baseball players for their special talents.

No one would steal from the old man but it was better to take the sail and the heavy lines home as the dew was bad for them and, though he was quite sure no local people would steal from him, the old man thought that a gaff and a harpoon were needless temptations to leave in a boat. (1.51)

The old man is greatly respected by those around him, and he is aware of this respect.

"There was nothing ever like them. He hits the longest ball I have ever seen."

"Do you remember when he used to come to the Terrace?" I wanted to take him fishing but I was too timid to ask him. Then I asked you to ask him and you were too timid."

"I know. It was a great mistake. He might have gone with us. Then we would have that for all of our lives." (1.120-1.122)

The old man respects others for their skill.

Day Two
The old man, or Santiago

"So do I," the boy said. "Now I must get your sardines and mine and your fresh baits. He brings our gear himself. He never wants anyone to carry anything."

"We’re different," the old man said. "I let you carry things when you were five years old." (2.12-2.13)

The relationship between the boy and the old man is based on mutual respect.

Then he began to pity the great fish that he had hooked. He is wonderful and strange and who knows how old he is, he thought. Never have I had such a strong fish nor one who acted so strangely. Perhaps he is too wise to jump. He could ruin me by jumping or by a wild rush. But perhaps he has been hooked many times before and he knows that this is how he should make his fight. He cannot know that it is only one man against him, nor that it is an old man. But what a great fish he is and what will he bring in the market if the flesh is good. He took the bait like a male and he pulls like a male and his fight has no panic in it. I wonder if he has any plans or if he is just as desperate as I am? (2.91)

The old man pays respect to the fish in seeing similarities between the fish and himself.

Day Three
The old man, or Santiago

The old man had seen many great fish. He had seen many that weighed more than a thousand pounds and he had caught two of that size in his life, but never alone. Now alone, and out of sight of land, he was fast to the biggest fish that he had ever seen and bigger than he had ever heard of, and his left hand was still as tight as the gripped claws of an eagle. (3.62)

The old man accomplishes his greatest physical feat in his old age; perhaps there is greater value in skill and experience than in the strength of youth.

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 admires DiMaggio with a blind faith; he is sure of the man’s endurance even though he does not know what a "bone spur" is.

"Fish," he said, "I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends." (3.8)

Although he respects the fish, the old man’s determination reflects his belief that his purpose in life is to be a fisherman, and that this comes first.

For a long time after that everyone had called him The Champion and there had been a return match in the spring. But not much money was bet and he had won it quite easily since he had broken the confidence of the n**** from Cienfuegos in the first match. After that he had a few matches and then no more. He decided that he could beat anyone if he wanted to badly enough and he decided that it was bad for his right hand for fishing. He had tried a few practice matches with his left hand. But his left hand had always been a traitor and would not do what he called on it to do and he did not trust it. (3.91)

The old man does not need the respect of others to feel validated.

He is a great fish and I must convince him, he thought. I must never let him learn his strength nor what he could do if he made his run. If I were him I would put in everything now and go until something broke. But, thank God, they are not as intelligent as we who kill them; although they are more noble and more able. (3.61)

It is interesting that the old man identifies a "nobility" in the fish he kills. In what way is the old man not noble?

Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him. How many people will he feed, he thought. But are they worthy to eat him? No, of course not. There is no one worthy of eating him from the manner of his behaviour and his great dignity. I do not understand these things, he thought. But it is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers. (3.108, 3.109)

The old man’s love for the fish is based on respect and admiration, just as the boy feels about him.

The odds would change back and forth all night and they fed the n**** rum and lighted cigarettes for him. Then the n****, after the rum, would try for a tremendous effort and once he had the old man, who was not an old man then but was Santiago El Campeon, nearly three inches off balance. But the old man had raised his hand up to dead even again. He was sure then that he had the n****, who was a fine man and a great athlete, beaten. And at daylight when the bettors were asking that it be called a draw and the referee was shaking his head, he had unleashed his effort and forced the hand of the n**** down and down until it rested on the wood. The match had started on a Sunday morning and ended on a Monday morning. Many of the bettors had asked for a draw because they had to go to work on the docks loading sacks of sugar or at the Havana Coal Company. Otherwise everyone would have wanted it to go to a finish. But he had finished it anyway and before anyone had to go to work. (3.90)

The old man has previously won respect for his physical strength, not his skill or knowledge.

The line rose slowly and steadily and then the surface of the ocean bulged ahead of the boat and the fish came out. He came out unendingly and water poured from his sides. He was bright in the sun and his head and back were dark purple and in the sun the stripes on his sides showed wide and a light lavender. His sword was as long as a baseball bat and tapered like a rapier and he rose his full length from the water and then re-entered it, smoothly, like a diver and the old man saw the great scythe-blade of his tail go under and the line commenced to race out. (3.59)

By comparing the fish’s "sword" to a baseball bat, we are reminded that the old man admires the fish the same way he admires DiMaggio.

Day Four
The old man, or Santiago

But you enjoyed killing the dentuso, he thought. He lives on the live fish as you do. He is not a scavenger nor just a moving appetite as some sharks are. He is beautiful and noble and knows no fear of anything. (4.106)

The old man sees a lack of nobility in himself because he takes pleasure in destroying the beautiful creatures of the sea.

He could not talk to the fish anymore because the fish had been ruined too badly. Then something came into his head.

"Half fish," he said. "Fish that you were. I am sorry that I went too far out. I ruined us both. But we have killed many sharks, you and I, and ruined many others. How many did you ever kill, old fish? You do not have that spear on your head for nothing."

He liked to think of the fish and what he could do to a shark if he were swimming free. (4.147-4.149)

The old man finds kinship with the fish against a common enemy.

He saw him first as a dark shadow that took so long to pass under the boat that he could not believe its length.

"No," he said. "He can’t be that big."

But he was that big and at the end of this circle he came to the surface only thirty yards away and the man saw his tail out of water. It was higher than a big scythe blade and a very pale lavender above the dark blue water. It raked back and as the fish swam just below the surface the old man could see his huge bulk and the purple stripes that banded him. His dorsal fin was down and his huge pectorals were spread wide. (4.40-4.42)

The old man respects the fish for his physical size.

"They must have taken a quarter of him and of the best meat," he said aloud. "I wish it were a dream and that I had never hooked him. I’m sorry about it, fish. It makes everything wrong." He stopped and he did not want to look at the fish now. Drained of blood and awash he looked the colour of the silver backing of a minor and his stripes still showed.

"I shouldn’t have gone out so far, fish," he said. "Neither for you nor for me. I’m sorry, fish." (4.120, 4.121)

The old man does not regret killing the fish but rather the disgraceful end that the dead fish meets.

He could see the fish and he had only to look at his hands and feel his back against the stern to know that this had truly happened and was not a dream. At one time when he was feeling so badly toward the end, he had thought perhaps it was a dream. Then when he had seen the fish come out of the water and hang motionless in the sky before he fell, he was sure there was some great strangeness and he could not believe it. (4.80)

The word "strange" is associated with prowess and the respect it demands. Both the old man and the fish are therefore "strange."

You are killing me, fish, the old man thought. But you have a right to. Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than you, brother. Come on and kill me. I do not care who kills who. (4.56)

The old man’s respect for the marlin outweighs his desire to beat the fish.

Day Five
The old man, or Santiago

"He was eighteen feet from nose to tail," the fisherman who was measuring him called. (5.6)

The fishermen back on land respect the fish for his size, just as the old man did.

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