10 Important Quotes from ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ Explained

Did You Know?

The Old Man and the Sea was based on the experiences of Ernest Hemingway’s friend Gregorio Fuentes.

Fishing stories have involved either a big catch slipping out of our hands or a cautionary tale aimed towards the sea. Ernest Hemingway’s tale does neither. Instead, it narrates an important experience of the most seasoned fisherman living in his small town. After its release, the book received literary acclaim for its prose and invoked excitement among his fans.

The Old Man and the Sea tells us the story of a man named Santiago, who is a fisherman by profession. However, he is always down on his luck as far as fishing is concerned. As if eighty-four days without catching a worthy prize isn’t enough, the fishing village avoids him, especially a kid named Manolin, who considers Santiago his role model but has to leave him and join the services of successful fishermen deemed ‘lucky’ by his parents. Hemingway’s story depicts the struggle of the fisherman against nature as he learns the lessons by Mother Nature which make him undergo a transformation. Here are some quotes from the book that are referenced by many authors.

Important Quotes

He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy.

Analysis: This line depicts Santiago’s unease as he falls asleep, and his expectations concerning the fishing trip the next day. The lions are a metaphor for his bygone youth. He continuously reflects on it to draw courage from his past experiences. The lions are also linked to Manolin, who expects a lot from his mentor. His dreamless nights also suggest that he’s focused towards his one single goal of capturing the fish that have escaped his clutches for long. But mostly, they reflect his loneliness and the companionship and admiration he demands from his village.

Just then the stern line came taut under his foot, where he had kept the loop of the line, and he dropped his oars and felt the weight of the small tuna’s shivering pull as he held the line firm and commenced to haul it in. The shivering increased as he pulled in and he could see the blue back of the fish in the water and the gold of his sides before he swung him over the side and into the boat. He lay in the stern in the sun, compact and bullet shaped, his big, unintelligent eyes staring as he thumped his life out against the planking of the boat with the quick shivering strokes of his neat, fast-moving tail. The old man hit him on the head for kindness and kicked him, his body still shuddering, under the shade of the stern.

Analysis: The passage depicts the time when Santiago got his victory over the fish. He kept his hand steady at the strain of the fishing line and held it in to contain his excitement of catching a prey. When he pulled the line and hauled his prize on the boat, you could feel the helpless struggle of the fish as it bashed against the boat to swim towards freedom. You can also see Hemingway’s unique prose in play as he showed the character of the old man in one word, ‘kindness’. Santiago hit him on the head to confirm his prize as real and not a depiction of fantasy or dreams. Then he kicked him to bring his prey down as a predator always does when he smells victory nearby. This portrays the perseverance and determination of the old man in spite of the sympathy he feels for the fish.

“I have never seen or heard of such a fish. But I must kill him. I am glad we do not have to try to kill the stars.” Imagine if each day a man must try to kill the moon, he thought. The moon runs away. Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him… There is no one worthy of eating him from the manner of his behavior and his great dignity. I do not understand these things, he thought. But it is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers.

Analysis: This depicts the third day of his adventure in capturing the fish. The quote reflects his innermost thoughts as he ponders his own humanity. He displays both pity and determination to kill because the prey will bring him the much required dignity that he seeks in the village. The natural order of life is inevitable as hawks will continue to hunt snakes, men will continue to hunt for fish, and the sharks will continue to devour the marlin as part of their nature. He has a sense of humility as he knows his limits and is comfortable to hunt within the sea instead of extending his reach towards the stars.

Then the fish came alive, with his death in him, 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. Water splashed on the old man and all over the skiff.

Analysis: This sequence marks the climax of the novel and the moment of the marlin’s capture. The sight of the fish gave a new lease of life to Santiago as noted by the phrase ‘with his death in him’. In other words, the fish transcends by accepting its death and giving a new life to the fisherman. Although Santiago is delighted at his capture, he can’t help but marvel at the beauty of the fish. Like the fish, the old man also faces death, when he goes back to his village empty-handed to face the villagers. But nevertheless, his spirit is revitalized by the realization of his own mortality and he returns to the village with a mixture of pride and wisdom.

You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food, he thought. You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?

Analysis: That’s the first thought that comes in Santiago’s mind as he contemplates the actions he had taken during his fishing trip. As he returns to his village in a dejected mood, he justifies his action by claiming that his slaying of the marlin was out of love and necessity. He feels pity for the fish who died at his hands, only to have his body torn to pieces by sharks. In this, he has a greater view and respect for death than he did before.

Man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.

Analysis: This is the resolve made by Santiago as he pursued the marlin. The same sentiment is echoed by the fisherman as well as the fish in their brief tug of war. In the end, it was a matter of pride for the fisherman as he tried to end his losing streak and go back to the village as victorious.

Every day above earth is a good day.

Analysis: This is the sentiment constantly echoed in the book by Santiago as he tries to overcome depression and tiredness as a result of his old age. It could also be depicted as a private prayer as he thanks the Almighty for his good health. The above line has been echoed by many mainstream movies.

“Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”

Analysis: In spite of all the difficulties he endured, Santiago still had faith in his abilities. All his experience had taught him the nuances of fishing, and the qualities of patience and perseverance were embedded in him. But even he realized, that to receive luck, one needs preparation. To prove his theory right, he keeps one hand on the line fishing for his prey and he puts another line to catch tuna as bait. He realizes that the battle could rage for days and he puts his best foot forward to capture his prey, the marlin.

‘Ay,’ he said aloud. There is no translation for this word and perhaps it is just a noise such as a man might make, involuntarily, feeling the nail go through his hands and into the wood.

Analysis: It alludes to the religion of Santiago as he compares the pain Jesus Christ endured in his crucifixion to the time he cut his hands on the fishing line. Though the thought may be blasphemous, all his feelings and the burden he was going through as he reached the end of his life was reduced to just a single word ‘ay’.

He always thought of the sea as la mar, which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her, but they are always said as though she were a woman. Some of the younger fisherman, those who used buoys as floats for their lines or had motorboats bought when the shark lovers had much money, spoke of her as el mar, which is masculine, they spoke of her as a contestant or a place or even an enemy. But the old man always thought of her as feminine, as something that gave or withheld great favors. If she did wild or wicked things, it is because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman, he thought.

Analysis:Santiago’s love for the sea is prominent in this passage. He feigned a deaf ear towards the rumors and was of the opinion that what you give to nature, you receive in return. His distaste for referring the sea as masculine is obvious, as is evident in the generation gap of fishermen. Pride, one of the greatest sins is evident in Santiago, as he doesn’t deny it but accepts it as part of him. This is a true example of Hemingway’s style of writing. He reveals the inner machinations of the character as he is a proponent of realism.

As all Hemingway’s stories go, the story doesn’t depict man’s battle against nature, but his search for his place in nature. The most common themes of life and death are discussed at length, as he witnesses nature at its cruelest when the sharks devour the marlin in their quest for food. The Old Man and the Sea resurrected the career of Ernest Hemingway, as it regenerated the interest of reading in people. Let’s hope these quotes give you meaning, as they did for Santiago who echoed them.

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