Read a summary of The Old Man and the Sea:
There are only two characters and for most of the novel only one. It is therefore a very simple plot that hardly involves the interaction between characters.
Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman, has gone eighty-four days without catching a fish. In that fishing community there is an affliction that can strike at you, called “salao.” It means “unlucky” – the most severe lack of luck. Santiago’s apprentice, Manolin, a young boy, has been forbidden by his parents to go out with the old man any more and told to join the boats of more successful fishermen.
Manolin, who has been taught how to fish by the old man is very attached to him and visits him in his run-down shack every night and helps him prepare his fishing gear. The old man has not been eating and Manolin tries to encourage him by cooking for him. The two talk, mainly about baseball. They are both fans of the legendary player, Joe Di Maggio.
Santiago tells the boy that on the next day he is going to try and break his unlucky streak by venturing out further than usual, far into the Gulf Stream, into the Straits of Florida. He is sure that the salao is nearing its end. Manolin will not, of course, be accompanying him.
He goes to sleep dreaming of lions he once saw on an African beach. He wakes before sunrise and sets out on what is now the eighty-fifth day of his unlucky streak. He sails his skiff into the Gulf Stream, further than he has intended to, and sets his lines. Just before noon, a line is taken by something big, which Santiago identifies as a marlin. It soon becomes evident that the fish is too big and too strong to be hauled in. Instead, the marlin keeps swimming and pulls the fishing skiff behind it, Santiago holding on to the line. It turns into a marathon struggle. Most of the novel consists of this struggle, which lasts over three days. It is a battle of strength and wills between two noble adversaries.
Suddenly the fish lurches forward. Santiago thinks something has hurt it by the way it moves. The line cuts deeply into his hand. After holding on for hours his hand cramps, forcing him to use his other hand to hold the line. Both hands become badly damaged as the struggle continues. He is annoyed by the weakness he is showing by injuring his hands so badly. But at the same time, he admires the marlin’s strength and determination.
Two days and two nights pass. Trying to fight fatigue on the second day, the old man diverts his mind by thinking about baseball. This is the second day he won’t be at home to hear about the baseball results. He’s sure that Joe DiMaggio will persevere despite his bone spurs and the New York Yankees will win the game. As the sun goes down Santiago is remembering an exciting arm-wrestling match that lasted twenty-four hours. Coming from behind and defying the odds, Santiago didn’t falter and won the match. He later won the rematch more easily because his opponent’s confidence had been shaken by losing the first match.
Santiago doesn’t let go of the line. By the end of the second day, he is in pain and his hands are even more severely wounded. Nevertheless, his respect for the fish grows. He talks to it and calls it his brother. Struck by the fish’s great dignity he resolves that this fish does not deserve to be eaten because no-one is worthy of eating such a fish. That does not prevent him, however, from being resolved to kill the fish.
The third day dawns and the fish is still pulling the skiff. Santiago’s pain has become unbearable. The fish now begins to circle the skiff. By now Santiago is almost delirious, his mind full of hallucinations. He summons up his remaining strength and manages to pull the marlin on to the side of the skiff. He kills it by piercing it with the harpoon and he straps it to the side of the boat. As he makes his way back he thinks about how much money he is going to make from a fish that will feed so many people.
But now, the marlin’s blood begins to attract sharks. Santiago fights them off and kills a great mako shark with his harpoon but as it dies the shark makes off with the harpoon. The old man makes a weapon by tying his knife to the end of an oar and begins fighting the gathering sharks. He kills five and drives more away. But they come back and he finds himself fighting a losing battle. He loses his first home-made weapon and then the second. By sunset the sharks have devoured the whole of the fish, leaving only the skeleton, the head, and the tail.
The old man reaches the village before dawn the next day. He leaves the skeleton on the beach, still attached to the skiff, and struggles to his shack, dragging his fishing equipment. He carries the heavy mast on his shoulder. He lies down on his bed and sinks into a deep sleep.
In the morning the other fishermen gather around the skiff, marvelling at the size of the marlin. One of them takes out a tape measure and pronounces the fish to be 18 feet from its nose to its tail, two feet longer than the boat. He is allowed to take the head. The fishermen leave for their day’s fishing, telling Manolin to convey their apologies for what he has gone through to the old man. Tourists gather and speculate on what kind of fish it is, concluding that it’s a shark.
Manolin goes to the old man’s shack and finds him safely sleeping. When he sees how badly Santiago’s hands have been injured he cries. He goes out and gets him newspapers and coffee. The old man wakes up and the two agree to fish together once again. The old man goes back to sleep and dreams of his youth, and of lions on an African beach.
That’s our The Old Man And The Sea summary. Make sense? Any questions? Let us know in the comments section below!