The old man is alone on the sea. The boy Manolin has been taken away from him and he has no radio to bring him baseball or music. Quite naturally, he takes to self-communing. His deliberations sometimes become his reveries or a vocal stream of the subconscious. Although talking during fishing is injudicious yet he cannot help doing so.
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.
The old man feels truly elated after he had killed the biggest marlin hunted by any fisherman in that area. He is sure that even great Di Magio would be proud of him that day. He lashes the fish alongside his boat and sail southwest, unaware of the blackest tragedy that awaits him.
Hardly an hour passes when, attracted by the scent, the first shark, a Mako, hits him. It is armed with teeth sharper than the edge of the sword; it is the worst enemy that could be imagined on the sea. The unconquerable man runs the harpoon into the head of the shark. He hits it “with resolution and complete malignancy.” It turns over and sinks in water. The old man is deeply grieved to think that his fish has been mutilated. It seems to him “as though he himself were hit.” This however, is the beginning not the end. The scent of the fish spreads far and wide attracting entire shoals of sharks from the deep. The old man is now pitted against not one but legions. He wishes “it had been a dream” but then he reminds himself “man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” He kills them one after the other, first with the harpoon, then with the oar with the knife lashed to it, then with his club and lastly with his tiller. He gives a brave fight and makes short work of several sharks but they are too many: but that cannot dampen his courage. However, it does not mean that he is a
superman or a giant. He has the common weaknesses, which become all the more prominent when he is pitted against forces much stronger than he.
After he hooks the fish, he wishes a successful end of this adventure. Without compromising on his skill or in any way relaxing his efforts, he promises scores of “Hail Mary’s and Our Fathers.” Perhaps he does this to keep up his heart. However, his anxiety culminates into a delirium. When the sharks hit him, he cannot help calling out helplessly, “I’d like to buy some luck if there’s any place they sell it.” He then accuses himself of violating his luck by going “too far outside.” Nevertheless towards the end of the novel, he emerges a living martyr, reconciled to the fortune and ready to make new start.
Marlin, the old man hooks, drags his skiff for a couple of nights and two and half days. Another man in his place would have been panicky and given up but the old man knows better. He knows that a fish however strong and big it might be, can’t drag the skiff forever. Hunger and toil must take its toll. In the meantime he eats raw tuna to keep himself strong. At long last, the fish as he had predicted, starts circling.
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.