Kill or be killed is one of the fundamental natural laws among animals. Life is tough in such a world and calls for certain qualities such as determination and endurance. Ernest Hemingway’s short novel, The Old Man and the Sea, is a tribute to determination and endurance.
Santiago is an aged fisherman. Of late he is beset with misfortune. Eighty-four days have gone by since he caught his last fish. The people around him are now convinced that he is hopelessly down on his luck so much so that even the boy Manolin, Santiago’s apprentice, is asked to stay away from the old man. Manolin continues to do some chores for Santiago but stops accompanying him to the sea.
On the 85th day, Santiago sails beyond the charted waters and hooks a huge marlin in the deep sea. The fish is too huge for him to manage and so he lets it drag the boat initially. Both Santiago and the fish know that they have to kill or be killed. Who will kill whom is the only question that remains.
On the third day the fish tires. Santiago has been surviving on raw fish for food. And he is determined to survive. He is too proud to give up. He has to prove that he is still a man. A “man can be destroyed but not defeated,” he tells himself. The fish can kill him or else he will kill the fish: there is no other option.
The fish is not his enemy, however. On the contrary, Santiago calls the fish his brother. He tells the fish, “Because I love you, I have to kill you.” The marlin is a worthy enemy who is as strong, determined and proud as Santiago. The fish has given Santiago a good fight, a noble fight, a worthy fight. But now the fish is tired and Santiago will kill him. The fish will be taken ashore and people will admire it before eating it. The people who will eat it are unworthy of its greatness, Santiago knows. But that can’t be helped. That is how the world is.
Finally Santiago kills the fish with his harpoon and ties it to the boat. It is too big to be dragged into the boat. So it has to be dragged along. But the sharks smell it.
Santiago reaches home on the fifth day morning and goes to sleep for a while. When Manolin wakes him up there is a crowd outside his hut admiring his prowess. However, by the side of his boat, there is nothing but the marlin’s skeleton left. The sharks had feasted on its flesh all along.
Santiago is not disappointed, however. He has proved something. He has proved that “a man can be destroyed but not defeated”. Santiago defeated the marlin and the sharks defeated Santiago. But the old man has a secret delight: he has challenged destiny. “I went too far,” he tells himself. He went too far into the ocean challenging one of nature’s laws. Nature is not kind. If you challenge nature, it will retaliate. However, heroism lies in the challenge and in the way you face the consequences. Santiago emerges as a hero. The people who mocked him till yesterday now view him with veneration.
Santiago goes back to sleep. And he dreams of lions at play. He has been a lion. That is what matters in the end. Never mind the skeleton that mocks him from the side of his boat.
PS. This is part of a series being written for the #BlogchatterA2Z Challenge. The previous parts are:
3. The Castle
14. No Exit
Tomorrow: The Plague