header logo
The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea Summary


Here you will find a The Old Man and the Sea summary (Ernest Hemingway's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

P.S.: As an Amazon Associate, we earn money from purchases made through links in this page. But the summaries are totally free!

Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

The Old Man and the Sea Summary Overview

Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman, has gone 84 days without a successful catch. He's considered unlucky to the point where his young, loyal friend, Manolin, is compelled by his parents to abandon Santiago and join a more fruitful fishing crew. Despite this, Manolin remains devoted, aiding Santiago at the end of each day, ensuring he has food, and engaging in conversations about their shared passion for baseball. Santiago, optimistic, determines to venture farther out into the ocean than he typically would on his next trip, believing his dry spell is about to end. On his determined journey out into the Gulf Stream, Santiago finally hooks a large marlin on the 85th day of his unlucky stretch. His strength isn't enough to reel the fish in, and instead, he finds himself being towed by the fish, unable to secure the line to his boat out of fear it would snap. For two days and two nights, Santiago endures excruciating pain as the marlin drags the boat across the ocean, his hands raw from the strain of the line. Throughout this ordeal, Santiago feels a profound respect for the marlin, viewing it as a companion in suffering and endurance. Exhausted and almost delirious on the third day, Santiago finally manages to kill the marlin, which is the biggest he's ever seen, with a harpoon. He secures it to his boat, excited about the profit it'll fetch him but also concerned that those who will consume it don't truly appreciate its magnificence. However, the marlin's blood attracts sharks, and Santiago is left increasingly defenseless as he fights off multiple attacks, losing his harpoon and valuable rope in the process. By nightfall, the sharks have left nothing but the marlin's skeleton, leading Santiago to regret his decision to venture too far out. Returning home, he is too exhausted to do anything but sleep. The next morning, local fishermen are awestruck by the marlin's remains, while unaware tourists mistake it for a shark. Manolin is relieved to find Santiago safe, and they agree to resume fishing together. Santiago, back in his own world of dreams, sees lions playing on African beaches.

day one

Santiago, an elderly fisherman, has experienced 84 days of unsuccessful fishing. His companion, a young boy named Manolin, was forced to leave him by his parents who believe Santiago is extraordinarily unlucky. Despite Santiago's weathered appearance from his occupation, his spirit remains high, reflected in his sea-colored eyes. Manolin, having earned some money with other successful fishers, proposes to return to Santiago's boat. He recalls their previous streak of bad luck that ended with a surge of good fortune. As they collect Santiago's fishing equipment, Manolin expresses regret for having to follow his father's orders and abandon Santiago. The two stop for a beer at a local cafe where Santiago's peers ridicule him. Nonetheless, Santiago is unbothered. They reflect on their shared past and Manolin insists on supplying Santiago with fresh bait. The old man graciously accepts. Santiago then reveals his intentions to venture further into the sea the next day. They transport the equipment to Santiago's simple shack, adorned with only the most essential items and two religious images. A picture of his wife is absent, as it causes him loneliness. They perform their common dinner routine where Manolin enquires about Santiago's meal plan. Santiago responds that he'll have "yellow rice with fish," and attempts to share some with Manolin, who politely rejects. In truth, there is no food. Santiago, eager to read baseball news from a newspaper gifted by a local named Perico, is interrupted when Manolin returns with bait and dinner, courtesy of Martin, the cafe owner. Touched by this act, Santiago promises to return the favor. They engage in a conversation about baseball and Santiago's admiration for "the great DiMaggio" is revealed. Manolin asserts that Santiago is the superior fisherman: "There are many good fishermen and some great ones. But there is only you." The boy departs, leaving Santiago to sleep and dream of youthful memories, specifically of lions frolicking on the sandy beaches of Africa.

day two

Early before dawn, the elderly man rouses Manolin from his sleep. They return to Santiago’s humble abode, transport his fishing equipment to his vessel, and consume coffee from tin cans. Santiago feels well-rested and optimistic about the forthcoming day. He and Manolin part ways at the shoreline, each wishing the other good fortune. Santiago sails steadily towards the deeper parts of the Gulf Stream. He listens to the flying fish, considering them an ally, and feels compassion for the frail birds that hunt them. Although he loves the sea, he acknowledges its occasional harshness. He likens the sea to a woman who can't control her wild tendencies. Santiago meticulously lowers his baited lines into the water at specific depths and skilfully rows to maintain their position. Precision is his priority. As the sun rises, Santiago keeps sailing further away, observing his surroundings as he drifts. He spots flying fish being chased by dolphins; a seabird dive and circle; Sargasso weed; the unwanted purple Portuguese man-of-war; and the tiny fish swimming among the jelly-like creatures. He sails further out, following a seabird hunting fish as a guide. Suddenly, one of his lines tightens. He reels in a ten-pound tuna, a perfect bait, he declares. He wonders when he started talking aloud to himself but can't recall. He contemplates that other fishermen might consider him insane if they heard him, despite knowing he isn't. Eventually, he realizes that he's sailed so far that the shore has disappeared from sight. When a stick indicating his deepest line dips sharply, Santiago is confident that the fish pulling is large. He prays it will bite the bait. The marlin teases the bait for a bit, and when it finally bites, it pulls the boat along. Despite his mighty efforts, Santiago gains no ground. The fish drags the boat further into the sea, with no land in sight. The fish drags the boat the entire day, with Santiago bracing the line, ready to let out more if necessary. The tussle continues through the night with the lights of Havana gradually fading, indicating their increased distance from the shore. Santiago wishes Manolin was with him and starts empathizing with the fish. He recalls catching a pair of marlin, where the male allowed the female to be caught and stayed by the boat as if mourning. Despite the melancholic memory, Santiago remains resolute: he will catch the marlin, no matter what. As the sun rises again, the fish still isn’t tired but swims in shallower waters. Santiago can't increase the line tension, as it could snap and the fish could escape. He hopes the fish will leap, filling its air sacs, and prevent it from diving deep, making it easier to reel in. Yellow weed attaches to the line, slowing the fish. Santiago can only hold on. He promises to both respect and kill his adversary before the day ends.

day three

A weary little bird lands on Santiago's fishing boat, briefly resting on the tense fishing line linking Santiago to the marlin. Santiago senses that the bird is inexperienced and ignorant of the predatory hawks awaiting it on land. As he advises the bird to rest, the marlin tugs on the line, startling the bird away. Santiago finds his hand is cut by the line. Realizing he needs his strength, Santiago consumes the tuna he'd caught, originally planned for bait. Eating with his right hand, his left hand cramps due to the continual strain of reeling in the fish. His frustration rises at his body's weakness, but he hopes the tuna will energize his hand. He wishes he could share the meal with the marlin. While waiting for his hand to relax, he stares out at the sea, feeling isolated. But the sight of ducks overhead reminds him that no man is ever truly alone at sea. He notices a change in the fishing line, an indication of the marlin nearing the surface. The fish then leaps out of the water, impressing Santiago with its size - two feet longer than his boat. He praises the fish and vows to prevent it from realizing its own strength. By midday, his hand stops cramping. Santiago, though not particularly religious, prays and promises a pilgrimage to the Virgin of Cobre if he catches the fish. Anticipating another long night, he baits another line to catch additional food. As the second day of his struggle with the marlin continues, Santiago reflects on his quest to kill such a grand adversary. As night falls, he begins to think about baseball and admires DiMaggio's ability to play despite a painful bone spur. He ponders if DiMaggio would endure the marlin's struggle. To lift his spirits, he recalls his youth, when he won a long arm-wrestling match against a formidable opponent and earned the title "The Champion." As darkness sets in, a dolphin bites the bait Santiago placed. He hauls it in and kills it, saving the meat for the next day. Despite his pain, Santiago reassures the marlin of his readiness for the upcoming battle. As the stars emerge, he feels a kinship with them and the marlin. He's grateful he doesn't have to hunt anything as grand as the stars or moon. However, he still intends to kill the marlin, acknowledging the fish's dignity and how it will feed many people. He contemplates ways to tire the marlin out but fears tactics might result in losing the fish. He decides to "rest," which involves relaxing his hands and letting the fishing line rest on his back instead of resisting the marlin's strength. After resting for two hours, Santiago scolds himself for not sleeping due to the risk of a clouded mind. He eats half of the dolphin meat and a flying fish found within the dolphin. As the marlin calms down, Santiago decides to sleep. He dreams of a pod of dolphins, a storm in his hut, and once again, of the lions on the African beach.

day four

Santiago is awakened by the marlin jerking the line, causing him to fall into the skiff. He struggles against the fish, his left hand suffering severe cuts. He wishes the boy could help lessen the friction of the line. He cleans the dolphin meat off his face and eats another flying fish to regain energy. As the sun rises, the marlin starts to circle, leading to a grueling hours-long fight. Santiago is faint and dizzy, but manages to gradually pull in the line. He marvels at the size of the fish and respects its fight, saying, “I do not care who kills who.” Eventually, he harpoons the fish, which thrashes beautifully before dying. Its blood stains the waves. Santiago ties the fish to the skiff, anticipating the money it will bring. With his battered hands, he sails the boat towards land, eating raw shrimp. A mako shark approaches, attracted by the marlin's blood. Santiago kills it, but the shark takes a chunk of the marlin and his harpoon. He laments the loss, but remains resilient, thinking “a man can be destroyed but not defeated.” Recalling DiMaggio's resilience, Santiago stays hopeful. He ponders the morality of killing, deciding that “everything kills everything else in some way.” Two shovel-nosed sharks attack, and Santiago kills them with a makeshift knife, but not before they devour a quarter of the marlin. He regrets killing the marlin and apologizes to it. Another shark appears, which Santiago kills, losing his knife. As night falls, more sharks attack. With only a club left, Santiago fights them off, but they further mutilate the marlin. He apologizes to the marlin again, pledging to continue fighting until his death. At midnight, a swarm of sharks attack. Santiago fights blindly, losing his club and breaking the boat's tiller. When the last shark leaves, the marlin is nothing but bones. Santiago sits, bloodied and numb, steering the boat home. He blames his defeat on venturing too far out. He arrives to an empty harbor, and struggles to carry the mast up to his shack due to exhaustion. Once home, he falls into a deep sleep.

day five

When dawn arrives, Manolin visits the old man's hut, moved to tears by the sight of his scarred hands. He goes to bring back coffee. Local fishermen had already gathered around Santiago's boat and measured the marlin skeleton to be eighteen feet long. Manolin awaits Santiago's awakening, ensuring his coffee remains hot for immediate consumption. Upon waking, Santiago and Manolin engage in a heartfelt conversation. Santiago admits his defeat to the sharks, and Manolin promises to fish alongside him once again, disregarding his parents' disapproval. Manolin shares that search parties were dispatched to find Santiago, including the coast guard and airplanes. Santiago appreciates having company, and after discussing future plans with Manolin, he falls back asleep. Manolin departs to fetch food and newspapers for Santiago, as well as to inform Pedrico that he can claim the marlin's head. Later, a pair of tourists at the local café mistakenly identify the enormous marlin skeleton as a shark's. Manolin continues his vigil over Santiago, who slumbers and dreams of lions.

Enjoying this summary?
Buy the book! (it's better)

Lists that recommended The Old Man and the Sea