Old Man and the Sea Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


Old Man and the Sea: Novel Summary: Chapter 4

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Santiago awakes from his quick nap to the marlin jumping from the water more than a dozen times. As the sun rises on Santiago's third day the fish finally begins to circle the boat. Although the marlin has weakened, the old man is also suffering from fatigue, as he begins to experience faintness and dizziness, and feels "tireder than I have ever been" (89). Yet, Santiago refuses to break down either physically or mentally, and continues working his great marlin closer to the skiff. 

Finally, the marlin circles close enough for the old man to spear it with his harpoon, which he drives in with all the strength he can summon. The dying fish musters its final power, and "rose high out of the water showing all his great length and width and all his power and his beauty. He seemed to hang in the air above the old man in the skiff. Then he fell into the water with a crash..." (94). As blood from the marlin's heart discolors the  sea, Santiago attaches the marlin to the outside of the skiff with rope, and starts sailing for home. 

As the old man's worst fears begin to come true, it is only "an hour before the first shark hit him" (100). A Mako shark, attracted by the trail of marlin blood, attacks the attached fish, ripping out forty pounds before Santiago kills it with the harpoon. With the marlin
bleeding again, and without his harpoon which went down with the shark, Santiago realizes that his great prize, won after two long days of struggle, may be destroyed much quicker. After the first attack the old man's hope begins to diminish, and "he did not like to look at the fish anymore since he had been mutilated. When the fish had been hit it was as though he himself were hit" (103). This continues to recall the parallels made earlier in the novel between Santiago and his marlin. 

Two more sharks arrive to feed on the marlin, only to be killed by Santiago, who ties his knife to an oar to make a substitute harpoon. The old man's knife snaps when he kills the next shark, leaving him with a club to use against the ceaseless barrage of sharks. As the sun goes down on Santiago's triumphant and tragic third day the old man recognizes that fighting the sharks is useless, but continues clubbing them until they take the club from his hands. Santiago resiliently uses his boat's tiller as a weapon until it breaks when he kills his last shark, and he realizes, "That was the last shark of the pack that came. There was nothing more for them to eat" (119). 

With all 1500 pounds of marlin meat stolen by the sharks, Santiago 
acknowledges defeat and sails for the harbor, ignoring the sharks still hitting the bare carcass. Upon arriving in the middle of the night, Santiago pulls his boat in, puts the mast on his shoulders, and, burdened with his particular cross, makes the slow walk back to his shack. For a closer examination of Christian imagery, see the Metaphors section.


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