The Old Man and the Sea By Ernest Hemmingway-(excerpt plus references)
He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he
had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first
forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a
fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now definitely
and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy
had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish
the first week. It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each
day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry
either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was
furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and,
furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.
The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his
neck. The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings
from its reflection on the tropic sea were on his cheeks. The blotches
ran well down the sides of his face and his hands had the deep-creased
scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars
were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert.
Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same
color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.
“Santiago,” the boy said to him as they climbed the bank from where the
skiff was hauled up. “I could go with you again. We’ve made some
The old man had taught the boy to fish and the boy loved him.
“No,” the old man said. “You’re with a lucky boat. Stay with them.”
“But remember how you went eighty-seven days without fish and then we
caught big ones every day for three weeks.”
“I remember,” the old man said. “I know you did not leave me because
“It was papa made me leave. I am a boy and I must obey him.”
“I know,” the old man said. “It is quite normal.”
“He hasn’t much faith.”
“No,” the old man said. “But we have. Haven’t we?”
“Yes,” the boy said. “Can I offer you a beer on the Terrace and then
we’ll take the stuff home.”
“Why not?” the old man said. “Between fishermen.”
They sat on the Terrace and many of the fishermen made fun of the old
man and he was not angry. Others, of the older fishermen, looked at
him and were sad. But they did not show it and they spoke politely
about the current and the depths they had drifted their lines at and
the steady good weather and of what they had seen. The successful
fishermen of that day were already in and had butchered their marlin
out and carried them laid full length across two planks, with two men
staggering at the end of each plank, to the fish house where they
waited for the ice truck to carry them to the market in Havana. Those
who had caught sharks had taken them to the shark factory on the other
side of the cove where they were hoisted on a block and tackle, their
livers removed, their fins cut off and their hides skinned out and
their flesh cut into strips for salting.
When the wind was in the east a smell came across the harbour from the
shark factory; but today there was only the faint edge of the odour
because the wind had backed into the north and then dropped off and it
was pleasant and sunny on the Terrace.
“Santiago,” the boy said.
“Yes,” the old man said. He was holding his glass and thinking of many
“Can I go out to get sardines for you for tomorrow?”
“No. Go and play baseball. I can still row and Rogelio will throw the
“I would like to go. If I cannot fish with you, I would like to serve
in some way.”
“You bought me a beer,” the old man said. “You are already a man.”
“How old was I when you first took me in a boat?”
“Five and you nearly were killed when I brought the fish in too green
and he nearly tore the boat to pieces. Can you remember?”
“I can remember the tail slapping and banging and the thwart breaking
and the noise of the clubbing. I can remember you throwing me into the
bow where the wet coiled lines were and feeling the whole boat shiver
and the noise of you clubbing him like chopping a tree down and the
sweet blood smell all over me.”
“Can you really remember that or did I just tell it to you?”
“I remember everything from when we first went together.”
The old man looked at him with his sun-burned, confident loving eyes.
“If you were my boy I’d take you out and gamble,” he said. “But you
are your father’s and your mother’s and you are in a lucky boat.”
“May I get the sardines? I know where I can get four baits too.”
“I have mine left from today. I put them in salt in the box.”
“Let me get four fresh ones.”
“One,” the old man said. His hope and his confidence had never gone.
But now they were freshening as when the breeze rises.
“Two,” the boy said.
“Two,” the old man agreed. “You didn’t steal them?”
“I would,” the boy said. “But I bought these.”
“Thank you,” the old man said. He was too simple to wonder when he had
attained humility. But he knew he had attained it and he knew it was
not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true pride.
“Tomorrow is going to be a good day with this current,” he said.
“Where are you going?” the boy asked.
“Far out to come in when the wind shifts. I want to be out before it
“I’ll try to get him to work far out,” the boy said. “Then if you hook
something truly big we can come to your aid.”
“He does not like to work too far out.”
“No,” the boy said. “But I will see something that he cannot see such
as a bird working and get him to come out after dolphin.”
“Are his eyes that bad?”
“He is almost blind.”
“It is strange,” the old man said. “He never went turtle-ing. That is
what kills the eyes.”
“But you went turtle-ing for years off the Mosquito Coast and your eyes
“I am a strange old man.”
“But are you strong enough now for a truly big fish?”
“I think so. And there are many tricks.”
“Let us take the stuff home,” the boy said. “So I can get the cast net
and go after the sardines.”
They picked up the gear from the boat. The old man carried the mast on
his shoulder and the boy carried the wooden box with the coiled,
hard-braided brown lines, the gaff and the harpoon with its shaft. The
box with the baits was under the stern of the skiff along with the club
that was used to subdue the big fish when they were brought alongside.
No one would steal from the old man but it was better to take the sail
and the heavy lines home as the dew was bad for them and, though he was
quite sure no local people would steal from him, the old man thought
that a gaff and a harpoon were needless temptations to leave in a boat.
They walked up the road together to the old man’s shack and went in
through its open door. The old man leaned the mast with its wrapped
sail against the wall and the boy put the box and the other gear beside
it. The mast was nearly as long as the one room of the shack. The
shack was made of the tough bud-shields of the royal palm which are
called guano and in it there was a bed, a table, one chair, and a
place on the dirt floor to cook with charcoal. On the brown walls of
the flattened, overlapping leaves of the sturdy fibered guano there
was a picture in color of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and another of the
Virgin of Cobre. These were relics of his wife. Once there had been a
tinted photograph of his wife on the wall but he had taken it down
because it made him too lonely to see it and it was on the shelf in the
corner under his clean shirt.
“What do you have to eat?” the boy asked.
“A pot of yellow rice with fish. Do you want some?”
“No. I will eat at home. Do you want me to make the fire?”
“No. I will make it later on. Or I may eat the rice cold.”
“May I take the cast net?”
There was no cast net and the boy remembered when they had sold it.
But they went through this fiction every day. There was no pot of
yellow rice and fish and the boy knew this too.
“Eighty-five is a lucky number,” the old man said. “How would you like
to see me bring one in that dressed out over a thousand pounds?”
“I’ll get the cast net and go for sardines. Will you sit in the sun in
“Yes. I have yesterday’s paper and I will read the baseball.”
The boy did not know whether yesterday’s paper was a fiction too. But
the old man brought it out from under the bed.
“Perico gave it to me at the bodega,” he explained.
“I’ll be back when I have the sardines. I’ll keep yours and mine
together on ice and we can share them in the morning. When I come back
you can tell me about the baseball.”
“The Yankees cannot lose.”
“But I fear the Indians of Cleveland.”
“Have faith in the Yankees my son. Think of the great DiMaggio.”
“I fear both the Tigers of Detroit and the Indians of Cleveland.”
“Be careful or you will fear even the Reds of Cincinnati and the White
Sox of Chicago.”
“You study it and tell me when I come back.”
“Do you think we should buy a terminal of the lottery with an
eighty-five? Tomorrow is the eighty-fifth day.”
“We can do that,” the boy said. “But what about the eighty-seven of
your great record?”
“It could not happen twice. Do you think you can find an eighty-five?”
“I can order one.”
“One sheet. That’s two dollars and a half. Who can we borrow that
“That’s easy. I can always borrow two dollars and a half.”
“I think perhaps I can too. But I try not to borrow. First you
borrow. Then you beg.”
“Keep warm old man,” the boy said. “Remember we are in September.”
“The month when the great fish come,” the old man said. “Anyone can be
a fisherman in May.”
“I go now for the sardines,” the boy said.
When the boy came back the old man was asleep in the chair and the sun
was down. The boy took the old army blanket off the bed and spread it
over the back of the chair and over the old man’s shoulders. They were
strange shoulders, still powerful although very old, and the neck was
still strong too and the creases did not show so much when the old man
was asleep and his head fallen forward. His shirt had been patched so
many times that it was like the sail and the patches were faded to many
different shades by the sun. The old man’s head was very old though
and with his eyes closed there was no life in his face. The newspaper
lay across his knees and the weight of his arm held it there in the
evening breeze. He was barefooted.
The boy left him there and when he came back the old man was still
“Wake up old man,” the boy said and put his hand on one of the old
The old man opened his eyes and for a moment he was coming back from a
long way away. Then he smiled.
“What have you got?” he asked.
“Supper,” said the boy. “We’re going to have supper.”
“I’m not very hungry.”
“Come on and eat. You can’t fish and not eat.”
“I have,” the old man said getting up and taking the newspaper and
folding it. Then he started to fold the blanket.
“Keep the blanket around you,” the boy said. “You’ll not fish without
eating while I’m alive.”
“Then live a long time and take care of yourself,” the old man said.
“What are we eating?”
“Black beans and rice, fried bananas, and some stew.”
The boy had brought them in a two-decker metal container from the
Terrace. The two sets of knives and forks and spoons were in his
pocket with a paper napkin wrapped around each set.
“Who gave this to you?”
“Martin. The owner.”
“I must thank him.”
“I thanked him already,” the boy said. “You don’t need to thank him.”
“I’ll give him the belly meat of a big fish,” the old man said. “Has
he done this for us more than once?”
“I think so.”
“I must give him something more than the belly meat then. He is very
thoughtful for us.”
“He sent two beers.”
“I like the beer in cans best.”
“I know. But this is in bottles, Hatuey beer, and I take back the
“That’s very kind of you,” the old man said. “Should we eat?”
“I’ve been asking you to,” the boy told him gently. “I have not wished
to open the container until you were ready.”
“I’m ready now,” the old man said. “I only needed time to wash.”
Where did you wash? the boy thought. The village water supply was two
streets down the road. I must have water here for him, the boy
thought, and soap and a good towel. Why am I so thoughtless? I must
get him another shirt and a jacket for the winter and some sort of
shoes and another blanket.
“Your stew is excellent,” the old man said.
“Tell me about the baseball,” the boy asked him.
“In the American League it is the Yankees as I said,” the old man said
“They lost today,” the boy told him.
“That means nothing. The great DiMaggio is himself again.”
“They have other men on the team.”
“Naturally. But he makes the difference. In the other league, between
Brooklyn and Philadelphia I must take Brooklyn. But then I think of
Dick Sisler and those great drives in the old park.”
“There was nothing ever like them. He hits the longest ball I have
“Do you remember when he used to come to the Terrace? I wanted to take
him fishing but I was too timid to ask him. Then I asked you to ask
him and you were too timid.”
“I know. It was a great mistake. He might have gone with us. Then we
would have that for all of our lives.”
“I would like to take the great DiMaggio fishing,” the old man said.
“They say his father was a fisherman. Maybe he was as poor as we are
and would understand.”
“The great Sisler’s father was never poor and he, the father, was
playing in the big leagues when he was my age.”
“When I was your age I was before the mast on a square rigged ship that
ran to Africa and I have seen lions on the beaches in the evening.”
“I know. You told me.”
“Should we talk about Africa or about baseball?”
“Baseball I think,” the boy said. “Tell me about the great John J.
McGraw.” He said Jota for J.
“He used to come to the Terrace sometimes too in the older days. But
he was rough and harsh-spoken and difficult when he was drinking. His
mind was on horses as well as baseball. At least he carried lists of
horses at all times in his pocket and frequently spoke the names of
horses on the telephone.”
“He was a great manager,” the boy said. “My father thinks he was the
“Because he came here the most times,” the old man said. “If Durocher
had continued to come here each year your father would think him the
“Who is the greatest manager, really, Luque or Mike Gonzalez?”
“I think they are equal.”
“And the best fisherman is you.”
“No. I know others better.”
“Qué va,” the boy said. “There are many good fishermen and some
great ones. But there is only you.”
“Thank you. You make me happy. I hope no fish will come along so
great that he will prove us wrong.”
“There is no such fish if you are still strong as you say.”
“I may not be as strong as I think,” the old man said. “But I know
many tricks and I have resolution.”
“You ought to go to bed now so that you will be fresh in the morning.
I will take the things back to the Terrace.”
“Good night then. I will wake you in the morning.”
“You’re my alarm clock,” the boy said.
“Age is my alarm clock,” the old man said. “Why do old men wake so
early? Is it to have one longer day?”
“I don’t know,” the boy said. “All I know is that young boys sleep
late and hard.”
“I can remember it,” the old man said. “I’ll waken you in time.”
“I do not like for him to waken me. It is as though I were inferior.”
“Sleep well, old man.”
The boy went out. They had eaten with no light on the table and the
old man took off his trousers and went to bed in the dark. He rolled
his trousers up to make a pillow, putting the newspaper inside them.
He rolled himself in the blanket and slept on the other old newspapers
that covered the springs of the bed.