In the novel “The Old Man and the Sea”, first published in 1952 , Ernest Hemingway describes the successful fight of the old fisherman Santiago against an unusually large marlin off the coast of Cuba. On the way home, Santiago loses the catch of his life to attacking sharks.
The old fisherman Santiago is poor, he sleeps on newspapers in a modest hut and hardly has the bare minimum to eat. He has also been without a catch for 84 days. At first he was accompanied by Manolin, a boy whom he once taught to fish. After 40 hapless days, Manolin’s parents sent their son to work on another boat.
Manolin remembers how Santiago took him out to sea for the first time when he was five. Now he gives Santiago a hand when he returns tired and with an empty boat. He provides the old man with food and takes care of the bait for the next day in the evening.
The 85th day should be a lucky day. But even more than luck, Santiago counts on precise work when he casts the lines. He rows further out than usual until something actually bites. The fisherman soon realizes that it must be a marlin, a spearfish, of gigantic size, because the fish tows the boat and pulls it further and further out to sea. Santiago fights the fish, but at the same time he talks to him, feels for him and calls him his brother. He regrets that Manolin is not with him.
It takes two days and two nights for the marlin to give up exhausted and come to the surface. Also exhausted and injured, Santiago manages to harpoon him. The marlin is longer than the boat, and Santiago moored it alongside. Then he sets sail in order to reach the distant shore of his home with the emerging trade wind.
The blood sunk into the sea by harpooning attracts a shark. This falls on the marlin and tears a new bleeding wound. Santiago succeeds in killing the shark with his harpoon, but he loses the weapon in the process. The next two sharks that attack the fish, Santiago can kill with the knife, but the third breaks the blade of the knife. More sharks follow the wide trail of blood, and the old man lacks the strength to kill them with the club, the last remaining weapon on board.
When he finally sees the light of Havana and thus the coast to save, the remaining half of the fish is attacked by a pack of sharks and completely eaten up.
On land, Santiago, exhausted, drags himself to his hut. Manolin weeps for the old man, tends to the wounds on his hands and worries about food and drink. He decides to defy his parents’ wishes and from now on to go out again with Santiago. Meanwhile, down by the sea, the eighteen-foot-long fish skeleton still lashed to the boat is being admired by the other fishermen.
The novel “The Old Man and the Sea” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1953, and Ernest Hemingway received the Nobel Prize in 1954 for his complete works. In this modern classic too, the lonely adventurer Hemingway managed to capture extraordinary encounters between man and nature. Here unequal opponents meet. The old man knows that the fish could defeat him at any time because of its strength; even if he returns home empty-handed in the end, he has proven himself in a tough fight. That’s what counts, and Santiago’s credo is: “You can be destroyed, but you can’t give up.”