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La Nuit

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Elie Wiesel

Summary

Santiago is awoken by the marlin jerking the line. The fish keeps jumping into the air, throwing Santiago against the bow with the dolphin meat in his face. Santiago leans back against the line, causing friction burns on his back and badly cutting his left hand. He struggles to keep the line, which is feeding quickly, straining close enough to the breaking point to make the marlin work hard. Once again, the old man wishes Manolin were there to reduce the friction on the line by wetting the coils.

Santiago then washes the dolphin meat off his face, worried he will vomit and lose strength. He notices his hand is injured, but tells himself it isn't bad, berating the hand for not working better. Thinking he is no longer clear-headed, Santiago eats the last flying fish in hopes of strengthening himself back up.

The sun rises, and the marlin starts to circle the boat. Santiago spends hours steadily pulling the marlin in. He is feeling faint, dizzy, and seeing spots, so he promises to say one hundred Our Fathers and Hail Marys if God will help him endure in the fight. The marlin fights back, hitting the wire leader with its spear. Santiago rests briefly, then begins pivoting and weaving to bring the marlin further in. The marlin swims under the boat, and Santiago can't believe how big it is. He continues fighting to pull it closer in. Feeling faint, Santiago first asks the fish if it really has to kill him, then decides it has a right to do so, and says he doesn't care which of them dies.

Finally, Santiago pulls the marlin on its side and stabs it with his harpoon. The marlin puts on one last display of power, rising high into the air as it dies, then crashes into the water, spraying Santiago and the boat. Blood from the marlin's heart stains the waves.

Santiago takes a small drink of water and ties the marlin's corpse alongside the boat. Looking at the giant corpse, the old man thinks his eyes look like those of a saint in a procession. Santiago tries to figure out how much money he will make if the marlin's meat sells at 30 cents per pound, but isn't clear-headed enough to figure it out. He thinks that Joe DiMaggio would feel proud of him, thinking that his hands and back hurt badly even if he didn't have a bone spur.

Determining which direction is southwest by the feel of the trade wind and movement of the sail, Santiago heads back toward his fishing village. He grabs a patch of gulf weed and eats the shrimp attached to it with half a sip of water. When Santiago had seen the marlin in the air, he thought there was something strange and unbelievable about the incident, but the presence of the dead fish, as well as his injured hands and back, now remind him that the fight wasn't a dream.

Within an hour, a mako shark comes for the marlin's corpse, having followed the scent of blood. The shark is described as big and beautiful, except for the appearance of its jaws, which look like razor-sharp talons. Santiago waits for the shark to attack, then spears it through the head with his harpoon. When the shark finally sinks, the old man's harpoon and rope go with it.

Forty pounds of the marlin's body is now gone. Its blood is flowing into the water, leaving a scent for more sharks to follow. Santiago doesn't want to look at the marlin's mutilated body, regretting having killed it. He feels that the worst is yet to come, but reassures himself that "man is not made for defeat."

Thinking that all he has left are his thoughts and baseball, he wonders whether Joe DiMaggio would like how he hit the mako shark in the head. He wonders if the pain is his hands was as much of a handicap as Joe DiMaggio's bone spur, but decides it isn't possible to know without having suffered from a bone spur himself.

He tells himself to stay hopeful, thinking it may be a sin to lose hope. The old man wonders whether it was a sin to kill the marlin, thinking that he didn't just kill the marlin for food, but for the sake of his pride and his role as a fisherman. Santiago can't decide whether his love for the marlin meant that killing him was not a sin, or if that love made it a greater sin. Thinking that the shark he killed also lives on fish, Santiago finally concludes that everything kills everything else.

After two hours, two shovel-nosed sharks head for Santiago's boat. Seeing them, he makes "a noise such as a man might make, involuntarily, feeling the nail go through his hands and into the wood." They attack the marlin's body, and he fights back with a knife lashed to one of his oars. Unlike the mako shark, the shovel-nosed sharks are described as stupid, hateful, bad-smelling scavengers who will attack anything. Santiago kills the shovel-nosed sharks, but they take a fourth of the marlin's body with them, along with the best meat. The old man apologizes to the marlin for having gone so far out to sea, again wishing he had never killed the big fish. Santiago tries to stay positive by thinking that the boat will sail lighter now.

One more shovel-nosed shark comes and Santiago kills that one as well, but at the expense of his knife. Two more sharks strike before sunset and, using his last weapon, he clubs them away. Only about half of the fish remains.

Santiago wonders if anyone has been worrying about him, knowing that Manolin must have, and then thinking that other people have, as well. He apologizes to the dead marlin and asks it how many sharks it killed during its life, imaging the marlin alive again and fighting. Asking himself what he will do if sharks attack at night, Santiago promises to fight them until he dies. Santiago thinks that he would take luck in any form now.

A pack of sharks strikes again around midnight. Santiago listens and feels for their location, striking at them blindly in the darkness. A shark takes away his club, so he breaks the tiller off of his boat and uses it to beat the sharks back. The last shark attempts to tear off the marlin's head, but Santiago beats him with the tiller until it breaks, and then stabs him with the splintered butt. The sharks all retreat, but only the marlin's head and bones are left.

Santiago spits blood, momentarily scaring himself. He then numbly returns to steering the boat, letting occasional sharks pick at the small remnants of meat on the marlin. Again, the old man concludes that going too far out into sea has been his downfall.

The harbor is deserted when Santiago makes it back to his fishing village. He puts the mast on his shoulders and starts climbing up the hill to his shack. Looking back, he sees that the marlin's skeleton is still tied to his boat. Santiago is exhausted and has to rest five times before reaching his shack. Upon entering, he leans the mast against the wall, takes a drink of water, and falls asleep with his arms straight out and the palms of his hands up.

Day 4: Analysis

The dramatic conclusion of Santiago's battle with the marlin brings together most of the novel's themes, motifs, and symbols.

The themes of respect as the foundation of competition and friendship, as well as of renewal stemming from pain and death, are realized on this climactic day. Just before striking the killing blow to the marlin, Santiago fully accepts the implications of his kinship with the big fish, thinking to himself, "Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than you, brother. Come on and kill me. I do not care who kills who." The sense of brotherhood and respect Santiago feels toward the fish transcends death, making both of them participants in a much greater cycle of creation and destruction. It is because they are both meeting their destinies with honor that the marlin's death is his greatest moment, when he is said to come "alive, with his death in him," as well as Santiago's greatest moment, in which he shows the most grace under intense pressure. For a detailed analysis of the scene in which Santiago harpoons the marlin, including a variety of interpretations, please see the final item in the section titled "Important Quotations Explained."

However, after the mako shark attacks the corpse of the big fish, Santiago repeatedly regrets killing the marlin. Having felt before that not even the people of his "good town" deserved to eat the dignified marlin, he feels he can't stand to see sharks take its body. However, he does stand it, facing the shark attacks with the same determination to fight to the death that helped him defeat the marlin. As with the many hardships Santiago faces, he suffers "like a man," eventually finding the hope he needs to fend off the sharks for as long as possible. Although he ultimately cannot save any of the marlin's meat, he battles until all of his weapons are destroyed, putting up an honorable fight against any shark that takes a significant portion of its body.

According to some critical interpretations, this is the part of the novel in which the role of Christ transfers from the marlin to Santiago. When Santiago eats the marlin's flesh, echoing the communion rite, he completes the transference. Santiago's big catch is then attacked by the sharks, which is a type of crucifixion for the fisherman, since he has come to think of the marlin's fate as his own. This interpretation is strengthened by the scene in which Santiago returns to his village and carries the heavy mast of his boat on his shoulders up the hill leading to his shack. The mast represents the cross, which has nearly the same shape, while the hill stands for Calvary, also known as Golgotha, the site where Christ was crucified. Immediately upon entering his shack, Santiago takes a drink of water, reminiscent of what the Gospel of John said were among Christ's last words on the cross: "I thirst." Finally, the position into which Santiago collapses, with his arms straight out and palms up, evokes the posture of Christ on the cross.

Ultimately, Santiago considers himself beaten, but decides that it was his own decision to go out so far to sea that beat him, not any external factor. These are the last words he says out loud to himself in the novel, bearing even the responsibility for what he perceives to be his own failure.

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