Study Guide

The Old Man and the Sea Suffering

By Ernest Hemingway

Suffering

Day Two

So he did it. It was difficult in the dark and once the fish made a surge that pulled him down on his face and made a cut below his eye. The blood ran down his cheek a little way. But it coagulated and dried before it reached his chin and he worked his way back to the bow and rested against the wood. He adjusted the sack and carefully worked the line so that it came across a new part of his shoulders and, holding it anchored with his shoulders, he carefully felt the pull of the fish and then felt with his hand the progress of the skiff through the water. (2.103)

The old man never flinches at pain, continuing his work as though it were not there.

It was cold after the sun went down and the old man’s sweat dried cold on his back and his arms and his old legs. During the day he had taken the sack that covered the bait box and spread it in the sun to dry. After the sun went down he tied it around his neck so that it hung down over his back and he cautiously worked it down under the line that was across his shoulders now. The sack cushioned the line and he had found a way of leaning forward against the bow so that he was almost comfortable. The position actually was only somewhat less intolerable; but he thought of it as almost comfortable. (2.84)

The old man is so used to pain that his concepts of pain and comfort differ from ours.

The old man, or Santiago

I wonder what he made that lurch for, he thought. The wire must have slipped on the great hill of his back. Certainly his back cannot feel as badly as mine does. But he cannot pull this skiff forever, no matter how great he is. Now everything is cleared away that might make trouble and I have a big reserve of line; all that a man can ask. (2.104)

The old man compares his pain to the pain of the fish; this is what allows him to see brotherhood between them.

All my life the early sun has hurt my eyes, he thought. Yet they are still good. In the evening I can look straight into it without getting the blackness. It has more force in the evening too. But in the morning it is painful. (2.31)

The old man’s body maintains its prowess because of his willingness to withstand pain.

Day Three
The old man, or Santiago

As the sun set he remembered, to give himself more confidence, the time in the tavern at Casablanca when he had played the hand game with the great n**** from Cienfuegos who was the strongest man on the docks. They had gone one day and one night with their elbows on a chalk line on the table and their forearms straight up and their hands gripped tight. Each one was trying to force the other’s hand down onto the table. There was much betting and people went in and out of the room under the kerosene lights and he had looked at the arm and hand of the n**** and at the n****’s face. They changed the referees every four hours after the first eight so that the referees could sleep. Blood came out from under the fingernails of both his and the n****’s hands and they looked each other in the eye and at their hands and forearms and the bettors went in and out of the room and sat on high chairs against the wall and watched. The walls were painted bright blue and were of wood and the lamps threw their shadows against them. The n****’s shadow was huge and it moved on the wall as the breeze moved the lamps. (3.89)

The old man’s past as a champion is based on his ability to withstand pain longer than others.

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)

Despite the immensity of his pain, the old man still believes that man is not capable of withstanding suffering as animals are. From here stems his respect for the marlin.

The bird had flown up when the line jerked and the old man had not even seen him go. He felt the line carefully with his right hand and noticed his hand was bleeding.

"Something hurt him then," he said aloud and pulled back on the line to see if he could turn the fish. But when he was touching the breaking point he held steady and settled back against the strain of the line.

"You’re feeling it now, fish," he said. "And so, God knows, am I." (3.20-3.22)

The old man compares his pain to the pain of the fish; this is what allows him to see brotherhood between them.

He did not truly feel good because the pain from the cord across his back had almost passed pain and gone into a dullness that he mistrusted. But I have had worse things than that, he thought. My hand is only cut a little and the cramp is gone from the other. My legs are all right. Also now I have gained on him in the question of sustenance. (3.104)

The old man deceives himself into thinking the pain less intense. He uses this self-deception to withstand and endure against the fish.

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 pain to that of DiMaggio; yet he never assumes equality with his hero, admitting humbly that he doesn’t know the magnitude of DiMaggio’s pain.

It encouraged him to talk because his back had stiffened in the night and it hurt truly now. (3.17)

The old man’s pain is heightened by his isolation; therefore, when he wishes for the boy, it is partly as a distraction from his discomfort.

He was comfortable but suffering, although he did not admit the suffering at all. (3.67)

The old man’s pride comes into play here: because of it, he refuses to acknowledge his pain.

Day Four
The old man, or Santiago

He was stiff and sore now and his wounds and all of the strained parts of his body hurt with the cold of the night. I hope I do not have to fight again, he thought. I hope so much I do not have to fight again. (4.162)

The old man finally recognizes the enormity of his pain, but only once the fish is killed. This may be due to his pride in his battle with the fish.

I must not think nonsense, he thought. Luck is a thing that comes in many forms and who can recognize her? I would take some though in any form and pay what they asked. I wish I could see the glow from the lights, he thought. I wish too many things. But that is the thing I wish for now. He tried to settle more comfortably to steer and from his pain he knew he was not dead. (4.159)

The old man’s pain becomes an asset to him, keeping him alive on the boat.

But I must think, he thought. Because it is all I have left. That and baseball. I wonder how the great DiMaggio would have liked the way I hit him in the brain? It was no great thing, he thought. Any man could do it. But do you think my hands were as great a handicap as the bone spurs? I cannot know. I never had anything wrong with my heel except the time the sting ray stung it when I stepped on him when swimming and paralyzed the lower leg and made the unbearable pain. (4.95)

The old man hinges his equality with "the great DiMaggio" on his ability to withstand pain.

After he judged that his right hand had been in the water long enough he took it out and looked at it.

"It is not bad," he said. "And pain does not matter to a man." (4.8, 4.9)

I must hold his pain where it is, he thought. Mine does not matter. I can control mine. But his pain could drive him mad. (4.29)

The old man later answers his question about pain, suggesting that man’s superiority to beast is his ability to withstand pain.

He woke with the jerk of his right fist coming up against his face and the line burning out through his right hand. He had no feeling of his left hand but he braked all he could with his right and the line rushed out. Finally his left hand found the line and he leaned back against the line and now it burned his back and his left hand, and his left hand was taking all the strain and cutting badly. He looked back at the coils of line and they were feeding smoothly. Just then the fish jumped making a great bursting of the ocean and then a heavy fall. Then he jumped again and again and the boat was going fast although line was still racing out and the old man was raising the strain to breaking point and raising it to breaking point again and again. He had been pulled down tight onto the bow and his face was in the cut slice of dolphin and he could not move. (4.1)

As the battle with the fish progresses, so does the pain that the old man is forced to feel. The stakes are raised, it seems, with every passing hour.

He took all his pain and what was left of his strength and his long gone pride and he put it against the fish’s agony and the fish came over onto his side and swam gently on his side, his bill almost touching the planking of the skiff and started to pass the boat, long, deep, wide, silver and barred with purple and interminable in the water. (4.64)

Interestingly, the man uses his pain as a weapon, just as he uses his strength.

He could not see the fish’s jumps but only heard the breaking of the ocean and the heavy splash as he fell. The speed of the line was cutting his hands badly but he had always known this would happen and he tried to keep the cutting across the calloused parts and not let the line slip into the palm nor cut the fingers. (4.3)

The old man doesn’t avoid injury because of pain; rather he is concerned for the functionality of his body. Pain doesn’t even factor into the equation here.

But in the dark now and no glow showing and no lights and only the wind and the steady pull of the sail he felt that perhaps he was already dead. He put his two hands together and felt the palms. They were not dead and he could bring the pain of life by simply opening and closing them. He leaned his back against the stern and knew he was not dead. His shoulders told him. (4.152)

The old man’s pain becomes an asset to him, keeping him alive on the boat.

Day Five
The boy, or Manolin

He was asleep when the boy looked in the door in the morning. It was blowing so hard that the drifting-boats would not be going out and the boy had slept late and then come to the old man’s shack as he had come each morning. The boy saw that the old man was breathing and then he saw the old man’s hands and he started to cry. He went out very quietly to go to bring some coffee and all the way down the road he was crying. (5.1)

The old man’s physical pain becomes emotional pain for the boy.

As the boy went out the door and down the worn coral rock road he was crying again. (5.52)

The old man’s physical pain becomes emotional pain for the boy.

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