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Saint Luc


Santiago, an aging fisherman, has not caught a fish for 84 days. After the first 40 days, his young assistant's parents made the boy switch to a more successful fishing boat, considering Santiago "the worst form of unlucky." The assistant, Manolin, still chooses to help Santiago carry his fishing equipment back to his one-room shack every evening.

At the start of the novel, since Manolin has made money with the prosperous fishermen, he offers to fish with Santiago again. He reminds Santiago of the time they went 87 days without catching anything, then caught big fish daily for three weeks. Manolin complains that he had to switch boats to obey his father, who doesn't have faith, unlike him and Santiago.

On the way to Santiago's shack, Manolin buys Santiago a beer at the Terrace café. Some of the fishermen there mock Santiago, while the older ones look at him sadly and make polite conversation, but Santiago isn't upset. Manolin offers to give Santiago fresh sardines to fish with, but the old man tells him to go play baseball instead.

After reminiscing about all of the years they spent fishing as a team, Santiago humbly accepts the sardines. Santiago tells Manolin that he plans to row far out into the sea tomorrow. Manolin asks if he is "strong enough now for a truly big fish," and Santiago says that he believes so.

The two return to Santiago's palm-leaf shack, which has just a bed, table, chair, shelf, cooking pit, and two religious pictures that belonged to his wife. One is the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the other is the Virgin of Cobre, who is the patroness of Cuba. A tinted photo of his wife is on the shelf in the corner, underneath his shirt; he no longer keeps it on the wall because it makes him feel lonely.

As always, Manolin asks Santiago what he's having for dinner, and the old man replies "yellow rice with fish," then offers Manolin some. Manolin says he will eat at home, then offers to start the fire for Santiago, who declines, but gives Manolin permission to take away the cast net. Both know that they are pretending, for Santiago no longer has food or a cast net available.

Santiago takes out a newspaper given to him by Perico from the bodega so he can read the baseball scores. While out getting the bait, Manolin picks up dinner from the owner of the Terrace café, Martin, who has given it to Santiago as a gift. Martin has done this several times before. Santiago first says he isn't hungry, then gratefully accepts the food, promising he will pay Martin back with "something more than the belly meat" of a big fish.

Manolin switches the topic to baseball. Santiago, who is a big fan of baseball, says Joe DiMaggio makes all the difference for the Yankees. Santiago tells Manolin he would love to take Joe DiMaggio out fishing, saying the baseball player's father was a fisherman.

After talking about the best baseball managers, Manolin says that Santiago is the best fisherman. Santiago disagrees, but thanks him. The old man says he will wake Manolin in the morning, as always. He then goes to bed and has his usual dream, a memory of lions playing on the beach in Africa, as he saw when he sailed as a young man.


The novel quickly establishes Santiago as an as underdog. He is living in severe poverty, sustained by handouts, and seems to have no one helping to take care of him in his old age except for a fishing assistant, who can no longer even fish with him because of Santiago's reputation. Likewise, although he and others define him by his career, he is struggling there as well, having failed to catch a fish for almost three months. This serves to make Santiago's eventual capture of the great marlin even more heroic, as he started with virtually nothing.

His separation from human society will also become significant later, making his link to the creatures of the sea even more remarkable. For now, this distance only hints at the fundamental differences between him and ordinary humans. Thus far, the reader can only see Santiago as a hero through the eyes of Manolin, his reverent disciple.

While such a beginning could have had a very dark tone, the fact is that Santiago's humility and resilience make him virtually immune to hunger and ostracism. His eyes are "cheerful and undefeated," and through his and Manolin's belief that he will overcome his situation, the text inspires empathy more than pity.

The first day of the novel also introduces Joe DiMaggio as a symbol of renewal after suffering, as well as his importance as a role model for Santiago. Immediately afterward, the first night introduces the lions playing on the beach, a memory linking Santiago back to his own youth. For a more detailed explanation of Joe DiMaggio as a symbol and the lions as a motif, see the sections of this guide titled "Symbols" and "Motifs," respectively.

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