He talks to the bird that alights upon his line to take rest, to the hand as it cramps. His conversation on these occasions is amusing and witty and at the same time thought provoking. Most instructive and penetrating are, however, his jibes at himself. It is here that he takes stock of things, thrashes and analyses. He gets at the truth at one leap that is enlightening not only to himself but also the reader. Some times his thinking aloud becomes so realistic a sort of vocal current in the stream of subconscious. It is inclusive of all his experience, his desires, his ambitions, his pride, his disappointments and his courage. It is through these communing that we get at the real man in him. These are most revealing in nature and perhaps the most important part of the novel.
He now gains line with every circle, forcing the fish to come closer with every round. As the fish comes alongside, he pulls with all his strength, and turns “part way over” but then it rights itself and swims away. It happens several times. The old man says, “Fish you are going to have to die any way. Do you have to kill me too?” he is so enamoured of the beauty and nobility of the fish that the calls it a brother. He even goes on to say, “Come on and kill me. I don’t care who kills who.” As the fish, now tired and exhausted, comes along side, he drops the line, puts his foot on it, lifts the harpoon as high as he can and drives it down with all his might “in to the fish’s side just behind the great chest fin.” He feels the iron go in and pushes “all his weight after it.” There oozes out a cloud of blood from the fish’s heart. It is dead. Soon it is afloat, green, golden and silver. The greatest adventure on sea has been accomplished although it is by no means the end of old man’s labour and struggle.
He also knows that the fish has the hook “side ways in his mouth’ and is rushing away with it. He lets the line slip through his fingers and makes the two reserve coils fast with this line. He does not lunge at the line lest it should throw the hook out. He says to the fish, “Eat it a little more. Eat it well.” And then he strikes hard with both hands again and again so that the points of hook firmly stuck in its flesh. This done, he braces himself “against the thwart”, leaning back against the pull. The fish starts pulling the skiff steadily.
There are a couple of pictures on Biblical themes as well as “a tinted photograph of his wife”, which remains covered in one corner “under his clean shirt” lest he should feel lonely. He has a fireplace “on the dirt floor to cook with charcoal” but there is nothing in his house to be cooked. He tries to put off the boy by pretending that he has “a pot of yellow rice,” for his supper, but the boy knows too well that the promised “yellow rice and fish” is a dream. Infact they go through “this fiction everyday”. Their conversation centers on baseball and the champion of this game. Dimagio is the favourite hero of the old man. Infact he is competing with Dimagio all the time and turns out to be his equal in fishing. His great feat on the sea is of course as big as any victory of Dimagio.
He is attached to the old man as a calf to its mother. Manolin takes very good care of the old man. He helps him carry gear to and from the shack. He listens to him avidly and showers the sincerest praises on him. He calls him, and believes it truly, that old man is the greatest fisherman in the world. He serves the old man with beer and brings him sumptuous supper from time to time.
The old man’s adventure on the sea is not just an event, “one-in-a-series” but something new, something challenging, something impossible. He is pitted not just against a huge marlin or greedy reckless sharks but against all the forces of nature, rather the forces of universe that try to keep man subdued. They grudge him his success and cheat him of his final victory. Nevertheless he remains unbeaten to the end; his pride is unscathed and his spirit unbent. He rightly remarks that a man may be destroyed but not defeated. His struggle against the Marlin and his fight against the sharks are as much objective as subjective. He is Odysseus, Achilles, Agamemnon and Macbeth combined. He struggles nobly against the fish and kills it successfully but reaches the truly tragic height when he fights against the Sharks. It is his “be all and end-all”. He fights like Macbeth and suffers like Lear. He has the cleverness of Odysseus and nobility and charm of Hamlet. In crucial moments, the great tragic heroes say great things and so does Santiago: “Man is not made for defeat. A man may be destroyed but not defeated.” We can say that Hemingway has given us a message that a man should live a life of struggle. He should have courage to face the circumstances. When someone wants to prove his dignity he has to fight against the heavy odds without any help and even without any resources. He is to use all the available things to defend his pride.