Ernest Hemingway ʈ The Old Man and the Sea
I hate a cramp, he thought. It is a treachery of one’s  own body. It is humiliating before
others to have a diarrhoea from ptomaine poisoning or to vomit from it. But a cramp, he thought of
it as a calambre, humiliates oneself especially when one is alone.
If the boy were here he could rub it for me and loosen it down from the forearm, he thought.
But it will loosen up.
Then, with his right hand he felt the difference in the pull of the line before he saw the slant
change in the water. Then, as he leaned against the line and slapped his left hand hard and fast
against his thigh he saw the line slanting slowly upward.
“He’s coming up,” he said. “Come on hand. Please come on.”
The line rose slowly and steadily and then the surface of the ocean bulged ahead of the boat and
the fish came out. He came out unendingly and water poured from his sides. He was bright in the
sun and his head and back were dark purple and in the sun the stripes on his sides showed wide and
a light lavender. His sword was as long as a baseball bat and tapered like a rapier and he rose his full
length from the water and then re-entered it, smoothly, like a diver and the old  man saw the
great scythe-blade of his tail go under and the line commenced to race out.
“He is two feet longer than the skiff,” the old man said. The line was going out fast but steadily
and the fish was not panicked. The old man was trying with both hands to keep the line just inside
of breaking strength. He knew that if he could not slow the fish with a steady pressure the fish could
take out all the line and break it.
He is a great fish and I must convince him, he thought. I must never let him learn his strength
nor what he could do if he made his run. If I were him I would put in everything now and go until
something broke. But, thank God, they are not as intelligent as we who kill them; although they are
more noble and more able.
The old man had seen many great fish. He had seen many that weighed more than a thousand
pounds and he had caught two of that size in his life, but never alone. Now alone, and out of sight
of land, he was fast to the biggest fish that he had ever seen and bigger than he had ever heard of,
and his left hand was still as tight as the gripped claws of an eagle.
 It will uncramp though, he thought. Surely it will uncramp to help my right hand. There are
three things that are brothers: the fish and my two hands. It must uncramp. It is unworthy of it to be
cramped. The fish had slowed again and was going at his usual pace.
I wonder why he jumped, the old man thought. He jumped almost as though to show me how
big he was. I know now, anyway, he thought. I wish I could show him what sort of man I am. But
then he would see the cramped hand. Let him think I am more man than I am and I will be so. I
wish I was the fish, he thought, with everything he has against only my will and my intelligence.
He settled comfortably against the wood and took his suffering as it came and the fish swam
steadily and the boat moved slowly through the dark water. There was a small sea rising with the
wind coming up from the east and at noon the old man’s left hand was uncramped.
“Bad news for you, fish,” he said and shifted the line over the sacks that covered his shoulders.
He was comfortable but suffering, although he did not admit the suffering at all.
“I am not religious,” he said. “But I will say ten Our  Fathers and ten Hail Marys that I
should catch this fish, and I promise to make a pilgrimage to the Virgin of Cobre if I catch him.
That is a promise.”
He commenced to say his prayers mechanically. Sometimes he would be so tired that he could
not remember the prayer and then he would say them fast so that they would come automatically.
Hail Marys are easier to say than Our Fathers, he thought.
“Hail Mary full of Grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is
the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of
Ernest Hemingway ʈ The Old Man and the Sea
our death. Amen.” Then he added, “Blessed Virgin, pray for the death of this fish. Wonderful
though he is.”
With his prayers said, and feeling much better, but suffering exactly as much, and perhaps a
little more, he leaned against the wood of the bow and began, mechanically, to work the fingers of
his left hand.
The sun was hot now although the breeze was rising gently.
“I had better re-bait that little line out over the stern,” he said. “If the fish decides to stay
another night I will need to eat again and the water is low in the bottle. I don’t think I can get
anything but a dolphin  here. But if I eat him fresh enough he won’t be bad. I wish a flying fish
would come on board tonight. But I have no light to attract them. A flying fish is excellent to eat
raw and I would not have to cut him up. I must save all my strength now. Christ, I did not know he
was so big.”
“I’ll kill him though,” he said. “In all his greatness and his glory.”
Although it is unjust, he thought. But I will show him what a man can do and what a man
“I told the boy I was a strange old man,” he said.
“Now is when I must prove it.”
The thousand times that he had proved it meant nothing. Now he was proving it again. Each
time was a new time and he never thought about the past when he was doing it.
I wish he’d sleep and I could sleep and dream about the lions, he thought. Why are the lions the
main thing that is left? Don’t think, old man, he said to himself, Rest gently now against the wood
and think of nothing. He is working. Work as little as you can.
It was getting into the afternoon and the boat still moved slowly and steadily. But there was an
added drag now from the easterly breeze and the old man  rode gently with the small sea and the
hurt of the cord across his back came to him easily and smoothly.
Once in the afternoon the line started to rise again. But the fish only continued to swim at a
slightly higher level. The sun was on the old man’s left arm and shoulder and on his back. So he
knew the fish had turned east of north.
Now that he had seen him once, he could picture the fish swimming in the water with his
purple pectoral fins set wide as wings and the great erect tail slicing through the dark. I wonder how
much he sees at that depth, the old man thought. His eye is huge and a horse, with much less eye,
can see in the dark. Once I could see quite well in the dark. Not in the absolute dark. But almost as a
The sun and his steady movement of his fingers had uncramped his left hand now completely
and he began to shift more of the strain to it and he shrugged the muscles of his back to shift the
hurt of the cord a little.
“If you’re not tired, fish,” he said aloud, “you must be very strange.”
He felt very tired now and he knew the night would come soon and he tried to think of other
things. He thought of the Big Leagues, to him they were the Gran  Ligas, and he knew that the
Yankees of New York were playing the Tigres of Detroit.
This is the second day now that I do not know the result of the juegos, he thought. But I must
have confidence and I must be worthy of the great DiMaggio who does all things perfectly even
with the pain of the bone spur in his heel. What is a bone spur? he asked himself. Un espuela de hueso.
We do not have them. Can it be as painful as the spur of a fighting cock in one’s heel? I do not think
I could endure that or the loss of the eye and of both eyes and continue to fight as the fighting cocks
do. Man is not much beside the great birds and beasts. Still I would rather be that beast down there
in the darkness of the sea.
“Unless sharks come,” he said aloud. “If sharks come, God pity him and me.”
Ernest Hemingway ʈ The Old Man and the Sea
Do you believe the great DiMaggio would stay with a fish as long as I will stay with this one? he
thought. I am sure he would and more since he is young and strong. Also his father was a fisherman.
But would the bone spur hurt him too much?
“I do not know,” he said aloud. “I never had a bone spur.”
As the sun set he remembered, to give himself more  confidence, the time in the tavern at
Casablanca when he had played the hand game with the great negro from Cienfuegos who was the
strongest man on the docks. They had gone one day and one night with their elbows on a chalk line
on the table and their forearms straight up and their hands gripped tight. Each one was trying to
force the other’s hand down onto the table. There was much betting and people went in and out of
the room under the kerosene lights and he had looked at the arm and hand of the negro and at the
negro’s face. They changed the referees every four hours after the first eight so that the referees
could sleep. Blood came out from under the fingernails of both his and the negro’s hands and they
looked each other in the eye and at their hands and forearms and the bettors went in and out of the
room and sat on high chairs against the wall and watched. The walls were painted bright blue and
were of wood and the lamps threw their shadows against them. The negro’s shadow was huge and it
moved on the wall as the breeze moved the lamps.
The odds would change back and forth all night and they fed the negro rum and lighted
cigarettes for him.
Then the negro, after the rum, would try for a tremendous  effort and once he had the old
man, who was not an old man then but was Santiago El Campeon, nearly three inches off balance.
But the old man had raised his hand up to dead even again. He was sure then that he had the negro,
who was a fine man and a great athlete, beaten. And at daylight when the bettors were asking that it
be called a draw and the referee was shaking his head, he had unleashed his effort and forced the
hand of the negro down and down until it rested on the wood. The match had started on a Sunday
morning and ended on a Monday morning. Many of the bettors had asked for a draw because they
had to go to work on the docks loading sacks of sugar or at the Havana Coal Company. Otherwise
everyone would have wanted it to go to a finish. But he had finished it anyway and before anyone
had to go to work.
For a long time after that everyone had called him The Champion and there had been a return
match in the spring. But not much money was bet and he had won it quite easily since he had
broken the confidence of the negro from Cienfuegos in the first match. After that he had a few
matches and then no more. He decided that he could beat anyone if he wanted to badly enough and
he decided that it was bad for his right  hand for fishing. He had tried a few practice matches
with his left hand. But his left hand had always been a traitor and would not do what he called on it
to do and he did not trust it.
The sun will bake it out well now, he thought. It should not cramp on me again unless it gets
too cold in the night. I wonder what this night will bring.
An airplane passed overhead on its course to Miami and he watched its shadow scaring up the
schools of flying fish.
“With so much flying fish there should be dolphin,” he said, and leaned back on the line to see
if it was possible to gain any on his fish. But he could not and it stayed at the hardness and water-
drop shivering that preceded breaking. The boat moved ahead slowly and he watched the airplane
until he could no longer see it.
It must be very strange in an airplane, he thought. I wonder what the sea looks like from that
height? They should be able to see the fish well if they do not fly too high. I would like to fly very
slowly at two hundred fathoms high and see the fish from above. In the turtle boats I was in the
cross-trees of the mast-head and even at that height I saw much. The dolphin look greener from
there and you can see their stripes and their purple  spots and you can see all of the school as
Ernest Hemingway ʈ The Old Man and the Sea
they swim. Why is it that all the fast-moving fish of the dark current have purple backs and usually
purple stripes or spots? The dolphin looks green of course because he is really golden. But when he
comes to feed, truly hungry, purple stripes show on his sides as on a marlin. Can it be anger, or the
greater speed he makes that brings them out?
Just before it was dark, as they passed a great island of Sargasso weed that heaved and swung in
the light sea as though the ocean were making love with something under a yellow blanket, his small
line was taken by a dolphin. He saw it first when it jumped in the air, true gold in the last of the sun
and bending and flapping wildly in the air. It jumped again and again in the acrobatics of its fear and
he worked his way back to the stern and crouching and holding the big line with his right hand and
arm, he pulled the dolphin in with his left hand, stepping on the gained line each time with his bare
left foot. When the fish was at the stem, plunging and cutting from side to side in desperation, the
old man leaned over the stern and lifted the burnished gold fish with its purple spots over the stem.
Its jaws were working convulsively in quick bites against  the hook and it pounded the bottom of
the skiff with its long flat body, its tail and its head until he clubbed it across the shining golden head
until it shivered and was still.
The old man unhooked the fish, re-baited the line with another sardine and tossed it over. Then
he worked his way slowly back to the bow. He washed his left hand and wiped it on his trousers.
Then he shifted the heavy line from his right hand to his left and washed his right hand in the sea
while he watched the sun go into the ocean and the slant of the big cord.
“He hasn’t changed at all,” he said. But watching the movement of the water against his hand
he noted that it was perceptibly slower.
“I’ll lash the two oars together across the stern and that will slow him in the night,” he said.
“He’s good for the night and so am I.”
It would be better to gut the dolphin a little later to save the blood in the meat, he thought. I
can do that a little later and lash the oars to make a drag at the same time. I had better keep the fish
quiet now and not disturb him too much at sunset. The setting of the sun is a difficult time for all
fish. He let his hand dry in the air then grasped the line  with it and eased himself as much as he
could and allowed himself to be pulled forward against the wood so that the boat took the strain as
much, or more, than he did.
I’m learning how to do it, he thought. This part of it anyway. Then too, remember he hasn’t
eaten since he took the bait and he is huge and needs much food. I have eaten the whole bonito.
Tomorrow I will eat the dolphin. He called it dorado. Perhaps I should eat some of it when I clean
it. It will be harder to eat than the bonito. But, then, nothing is easy.
“How do you feel, fish?” he asked aloud. “I feel good and my left hand is better and I have
food for a night and a day. Pull the boat, fish.”
He did not truly feel good because the pain from the cord across his back had almost passed
pain and gone into a dullness that he mistrusted. But I have had worse things than that, he thought.
My hand is only cut a little and the cramp is gone from the other. My legs are all right. Also now I
have gained on him in the question of sustenance.
It was dark now as it becomes dark quickly after the sun sets in September. He lay against the
worn wood of the bow and rested all that he could. The first stars  were out. He did not know
the name of Rigel but he saw it and knew soon they would all be out and he would have all his
“The fish is my friend too,” he said aloud. “I have never seen or heard of such a fish. But I
must kill him. I am glad we do not have to try to kill the stars.”
Imagine if each day a man must try to kill the moon, he thought. The moon runs away. But
imagine if a man each day should have to try to kill the sun? We were born lucky, he thought.
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested