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18 Sep

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea

Ernest Hemingway

Comprehension Questions

Section 1: Defying Defeat

A1. Why does Manolin leave Santiago?

Manolin leaves Santiago because his parents asks him to go on another boat which seems to be lucky. Manolin’s parents thinks that Santiago is definitely unlucky because he has gone forty days without a fish. The boy however is really sad to leave the old man.

                             

A2. How does the boy help the old man in the evenings?

In the evenings the boy goes to the old man and helps him carry fishing gear like coiled lines, gaff, harpoon and the sail. The boy is forced to leave the old man upon his parents’ insistence, but he is sad about it. He is very fond of the old man and very proud of his skills as a fisherman.

 

A3. What is the appearance of the old man?

Santiago, the old man, is extremely thin and bony. There are deep wrinkles in the back of his neck and brown blotches on his cheeks. His hands are marked with old scars. His eyes have the colour of the sea and look cheerful and undefeated.

 

A4. What happened when Santiago first took the boy in a boat?

Santiago first took Manolin in a boat when he was just five years old. Santiago brought an active fish into the boat and the fish almost tore the boat to pieces. Santiago’s timely intervention saved the boy from getting killed.

 

A5. Why does Santiago take the fishing gear home?

Santiago takes the fishing gear home because he knows that the dew is bad for them. He is confident that the local people will not steal from him. Still he takes them home because he doesn’t want to give people needless temptation by leaving them in his boat.

 

A6. Describe Santiago’s shack.

Santiago’s shack is a very small one made of the tough bud-shields of royal palm. In his shack, there is a bed, a table, a chair and a place to cook. On the walls, there is a picture each of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Virgin of Cobre.

 

A7. What is the fiction that the old man and the boy go through every day?

Every day, when Santiago and Manolin are in the old man’s shack, they talk about the cast net and about having a pot of yellow rice with fish. In reality, the cast net has been sold and there is no pot of yellow rice or fish. This is the fiction.

 

A8. How does Santiago plan to reward Martin for giving them food?

Santiago plans to reward Martin by giving him the belly meat of a big fish. Martin, the owner of the Terrace – a bar cum café at Cojmar near Havana in Cuba – is a kind-hearted man who has given the old man food and beer for free, more than once. Santiago praises Martin’s thoughtfulness towards them.

 

A9. Why does Santiago wish to take DiMaggio for fishing?

DiMaggio, the great baseball player, is Santiago’s all-time hero. Santiago regrets the opportunity he missed once to take him fishing because of his timidity. He believes that since DiMaggio’s father is a fisherman, he too might have been poor and hence would understand them and come with them for fishing.

 

A10. What is the boy’s rating of Santiago as a fisherman?

Manolin rates Santiago as the best fisherman. He believes that no fish is good enough to defeat Santiago. There are many good fishermen and some great ones, but they are not as good as Santiago. As the boy tells Santiago, “there is only you”.

 

Section 2: Into the Far Out

 

A1. How does Santiago wake the boy up?    

Santiago wakes Manolin by taking hold of one foot gently and holding it until the boy wakes up. The previous night Santiago had promised Manolin to wake him up.

 

A2. What is the old man’s attitude to food and water?

The old man takes very little food. Eating has bored him for a very long time. Whenever he goes fishing, he never carries a lunch. A coffee is all that he would have on a fishing day; hence he drinks it slowly. He takes a bottle of water on his skiff for an entire day.

 

A3. What does the old man experience as he starts his voyage?

As he starts his voyage into the sea, the old man hears the sound of the oars of the other boats. Since it is early morning he cannot see them. Most of the boats are silent, except for the oars or when someone speaks. Each boat heads in a different direction. The old man decides to go far out, into the early morning smell of the ocean, leaving the smell of the land behind.

 

A4. How does the old man deploy his baits?

He brings his baits out before sunrise. He deploys one bait down forty fathoms, the second at seventy five, the third at one hundred and the fourth at one hundred and twenty five fathoms. Each bait hangs head down with the shank of the hook inside the bait fish. He ensures that the complete hook is sweet-smelling and good-tasting.

 

A5. What does Santiago feel in the sharp morning sun?

The glare of the morning sun from the water surface hurts his eyes. So he rows without looking at it.

 

A6. Why is Santiago happy seeing the plankton?

Santiago is happy seeing the plankton because plankton means fish. The sight of the plankton makes a fisherman happy.

 

A7. How does the old man catch an albacore?

When he feels the weight of the albacore (log finned tuna fish) on the fishing line, Santiago drops his oars, holds the line firm and draws the fish in. He then swings the fish over the side and into the boat. He killed it by hitting on its head.

 

A8. What would others think if they saw Santiago talking to himself?

If they saw Santiago talking to himself, others would think that he is crazy. However, Santiago doesn’t care as he knows that he is not crazy. Further, unlike others, Santiago doesn’t have a radio in his boat.

 

Section 3: The Catch

 

A1. What does Santiago guess from the tension on the line?

From the tension on the line, Santiago knows that a marlin is eating the sardines that covered the hook one hundred fathoms down. He positions the line so that the fish doesn’t feel any tension.

 

A2. What does Santiago tell the marlin?

Santiago tells the marlin to eat the sardines that covered the hook. The sardines are fresh; Santiago almost pleads with the fish to eat them. He asks the fish to make another turn in the dark and come back and eat them.

 

A3. How does the old man realise that the fish has taken the bait?

At a particular moment, Santiago realizes that the fish has stopped moving but the weight is still there on the line. Then the weight increases and Santiago gives more line. He feels that the weight is going straight down. Now he knows the fish has taken the bait.

 

A4. What does Santiago wish when he could not pull the fish to the skiff?

When Santiago realizes that he cannot pull the fish to the skiff, he wishes that he had the boy with him. The fish starts towing the boat.

 

A5. What are Santiago’s expectations about the fish coming up to the surface?

Santiago hopes that the fish comes up to the surface before sunset. If it doesn’t, Santiago expects it to come up with the moon. Still if it doesn’t, Santiago hopes that the fish will come up with the sunrise.

 

A6. Why does the old man wish to see the fish?

Santiago wishes to see the fish so that he could know what he has against him. He admires the fish for its ability to keep travelling despite having the hook in its mouth.

 

A7. What are Santiago’s thoughts about the porpoises?

Santiago thinks that the porpoises are his brothers like the flying fish. He says that they are good. They play and make jokes and love one another.

 

A8. What was the saddest thing the old man ever saw?

Once he hooked the female of a pair of marlin. The male fish stayed close to her all the time. When Santiago and Manolin brought her aboard the boat, the male fish stayed by the side of the boat. He jumped high into the air beside the boat to see where the female was. Then he went down deep into the sea.

 

A9. What are the choices before the fish and the old man?

The choice of the fish is to stay safe and secure in the deep dark water, far beyond all traps. The old man’s choice is to go out there and find the fish beyond all people in the world. Now they are joined together with no one to help.

 

A10. Describe how the old man gets the wound below the eye.

In the early morning, the marlin makes a strong forward movement that pulls the old man down on his face and makes a cut below his eye. The blood runs down the down and dries before it reaches his chin.

 

A11. What does Santiago tell the fish when the sun rises next morning?

When the sun rises the next morning, Santiago tells the fish that he loves and respects him very much. He also tells the fish that he will kill it dead before the day ends.

 

Section 4: The Journey Together

 

A1. What makes Santiago’s hand bleed?

In the morning, the fish gives a sudden lurch that pull s the old man down onto the bow. He braces himself and gives the fish some line to prevent himself from going overboard. In the process, the line hurts his hand and it starts bleeding.

 

A2. What, according to the old man, must have caused the hurt?

Santiago wonders what causes the hurt on his hand. He realizes that he was absent minded and stupid. He might have been looking at the small bird and thinking of him instead of concentrating on his work.

 

A3. What happens to his left hand? What does he tell the hand?

His left hand has muscle cramps. He angrily tells the hand to cramp if it wants and make itself into a claw. He reminds the hand that getting cramps will do it no good.

 

A4. Why is Santiago happy that he got a tuna and not a dolphin?

Santiago is happy that he didn’t get a dolphin because it is too sweet. A tuna on the other hand is a strong and full blooded fish. It is not at all sweet and has a lot of strength in it.

 

A5. What does Santiago think about the plans of the fish and his own plans?

Santiago’s plan is to improvise and adapt his pan to that of the fish because the fish is so big. If the fish jumps Santiago can kill him. The plan of the fish seems to be to stay down forever. In that case, Santiago will stay down with the fish forever.

 

A6. What is Santiago’s view of the muscle cramp?

He hates the cramp. It is a treachery of your own body. A cramp is a calambre, it humiliates you especially when you are alone.

 

A7. According to the old man, what is the difference between man and the fish?

The fish is not as intelligent as man who kills it. But they are more noble and more able than human beings. The fish is not aware of its strength. Man achieves things through trick and cunning.

 

A8. Why does Santiago decide to re-bait the line?

Santiago decides to re-bait the line because if the fish stays under water for another night, Santiago will need something to eat. The water is low in the bottle. He will need to eat again and save all his strength to fight the big fish.

 

A9. How does the old man catch the dolphin?

The dolphin takes his fishing line at dusk as Santiago’s boat goes past an island of Sargasso weed. As the dolphin keeps jumping Santiago pulls it in with his left hand, stepping on the gained line. He leans over the stern, lifts the dolphin in and kills it.

 

A10. What is the real punishment for the fish?

The real punishment for the fish is hunger and its inability to comprehend his enemy. Compared with these, the punishment of the hook is nothing.

 

A11. Why does Santiago lament his lack of preparation?

While eating the dolphin Santiago wishes he had salt or limes. He could have splashed water on the bow all day and dried it to make salt. But his lack of preparation means that he has to eat the dolphin raw, without salt.

 

A12. What dreams does the old man have in his sleep?

Usually he dreams baseball and the lions. But this night as he sleeps on the boat, he dreams porpoises leaping and mating. Then he dreams himself lying on his bed in the village. Finally he dreams the long yellow beach and the lions.

 

Section 5: The Battle

 

A1. What would the boy do if he were with Santiago?

If Manolin were with Santiago, he would have wetted the coils of line so that the line doesn’t hurt Santiago’s palm or cut his fingers. Santiago longs to have the boy with him during his struggle with the marlin.

 

A2. Why does Santiago think that the fish cannot go down deep, but will have to circle?

Santiago thinks that the fish cannot go down deep to die because he has already jumped more than a dozen times and filled the sacks along his back with air. The fish now has no option but to circle.

 

A3. What, according to Santiago, must have started the fish?

According to Santiago, hunger could have made the fish desperate or he got frightened by something at night. It is strange because the fish seemed fearless, calm and confident.

 

A4. Why does Santiago wash his face?

Santiago washes his face to clean the crushed dolphin flesh from his face. He is afraid that the dolphin flesh on his face might nauseate him, make him vomit and lose his strength.

 

A5. What is Santiago’s temptation? What does he do?

Santiago is tempted to rest in the bow without gaining any line as the fish circles the boat. He resists the temptation, rises to his feet, and starts pivoting and weaving pulling to bring in all the line he gained.

 

A6. How does the old man plan to kill the fish?

Santiago plans to kill the fish by driving the harpoon into the heart of the fish. He gains more line for the purpose and waits for the fish to get close enough.

 

A7. Why does Santiago think that the fish has a right to kill him?

Santiago thinks that the fish has a right to kill him because he has never seen a more beautiful, calmer or nobler thing than this fish. He calls the fish his brother and he no longer cares who kills who.

 

A8. What does the sea look like when the fish dies?

The sea gets discoloured with the red of the blood flowing out from the heart of the fish. First the sea turns dark, as if it is shallow. Then it spreads like a cloud.

 

A9. What does Santiago tell himself after killing the fish?

After killing the fish, Santiago tells himself to keep his head clear. He is a tired old man. But he understands that having killed the fish, his brother, he needs to do the slave work that remains.

 

A10. Why does the old man decide to prepare the nooses and the rope?

To move the dead fish alongside his boat, the old man decides to prepare the nooses and the rope. The fish is too big for his skiff. Hence the best he can do is to lash it alongside and sail home.

 

A11. Describe the confusion that creeps into Santiago’s head.

Santiago’s head becomes unclear and he wonders whether he is bringing the fish home or vice versa. He lets the fish take him home. Further, he thinks that he is better than the fish only through trickery whereas the fish has meant no harm to him.

 

Section 6: Shark! Shark!

 

A1. What makes the shark come up?

The shark comes up by trailing the dark cloud of blood that had settled and dispersed in the sea. It picks up the scent of blood and swims in that direction.

 

A2. What does the old man do when he sees the shark?

When he sees the shark, Santiago prepares the harpoon and makes the rope fast. His head is clear and he is full of resolution; but he has little hope.

 

A3. Describe the dying moments of the shark.

Santiago kills the shark but it seemed as if the shark refused to accept its death. It plowed over the water like a speedboat. Its tail lashed and the jaws clicked. Three quarters of its body was above the water. The shark lay quietly for a little while on the surface before going down.

 

A4. What are the damages done by the shark?

The shark took about forty pounds of the marlin. Santiago lost his harpoon and the rope while killing the shark. Moreover, the marlin started to bleed again and the smell of blood would attract more sharks.

 

A5. Why does Santiago hate to look at the fish after the sharks attacked it?

Santiago hates to look at the fish because the marlin has been badly mutilated by the shark attacks. He feels that when the fish is hit, he himself is hit.

 

A6. How does Santiago prepare a new weapon after losing his harpoon?

Santiago ties his knife to the butt of an oar. Thus he prepares a new weapon after he lost his harpoon.

 

A7. Comment on the quality of the meat of the fish.

The meat of the marlin tastes good. It is firm and juicy like meat, but it is not red. It is not stringy either. Hence it can fetch the highest price in the market.

 

A8. Why does Santiago say ‘Ay’?

There is no translation for the word. It is a noise that a man tends to make involuntarily when he feels acute pain and anguish.

 

A9. What kind of sharks are galanos?

Galanos are hateful sharks. They are bad smelling. They can be scavengers; they can even be killers. When hungry they would bite at an oar or the rudder of the boat or even hit a man in the water. They cut off the legs and flippers of the turtles asleep on the surface.

 

A10. Why does Santiago say sorry to the fish?

Santiago says sorry to the fish for venturing out too far into the sea. This resulted in the flesh of the marlin being bitten off by the sharks on Santiago’s sail back home.

 

A11. What does the old man tell the ‘half-fish’?

The old man addresses the fish as ‘half-fish’ because the fish is ruined too badly by the repeated attacks from the sharks. Now the fish is a thing of the past – fish it were.

 

A12. What does Santiago think about luck?

Santiago fears that he has violated his luck by going too far into the sea. Still, he is optimistic about luck. He wouldn’t mind buying luck if it is sold somewhere.  He almost bought luck with the luckless eighty four days he spent at sea. He thinks that luck comes in many forms though no one can recognize her.

 

Section 7: Homecoming

 

A1. Why does Santiago realise that the fight was useless?

Santiago realizes that the fight was useless because by midnight the sharks came in a pack. He couldn’t see much in the dark and the sharks took away large chunks of flesh despite his attempts to fight them with his club.

 

A2. Describe the taste in Santiago’s mouth when there is no flesh left of the dead marlin.

Santiago feels a strange taste in his mouth. It is coppery and sweet. He is afraid of it for a moment. Evidently, he has finally tasted defeat.

 

A3. Who all does Santiago count among his friends?

Santiago counts the wind as a friend sometimes. The great sea too is a friend. Even his bed is his friend. During the course of his sail he considers the stars as distant friends and he calls the fish a ‘friend’.

 

A4. What does Santiago see when he looks back at the fish?

When he looks back at the fish he sees the great tail of the fish standing up behind the skiff’s stern. He also sees the white naked line of his backbone and the dark mass of his head with the projecting bill and all the empty parts between.

 

A5. What does Santiago do when he reaches his shack?

When he reaches his shack, Santiago leans the mast against the wall, drinks water, lies down on the bed and covers himself with the blanket. Tired and exhausted, he falls asleep.

 

A6. What is the response of the other fishermen to Santiago’s catch?

The other fishermen stood around Santiago’s skiff. One of them measured the skeleton and found that the fish was eighteen feet long. Another fisherman inquired the boy about Santiago’s condition. Another one was looking after the skiff.

 

A7. What is the boy’s reaction when the proprietor praises the fish he brought?

The boy damns the fish and starts to cry again. He is certainly overcome with grief for the old man.

 

A8. What does Santiago decide to do with the head of the marlin and his spear?

Santiago decides to allow Pedrico, a fisherman, to chop up the head of the marlin for fish traps. He allows the boy to keep his spear.

 

A9. What is the boy’s decision about fishing with the old man?

The boy decides to resume fishing with the old man. When Santiago protests saying he is not lucky, the boy assures him that he will bring the luck with him.

 

A10. How does Santiago plan to go about making a new lance?

Santiago plans to make the blade of the lance from a spring leaf from an old Ford. They can then grind it in Guanabacoa. He wants it sharp and not tempered to prevent it from breaking.

 

A11. Why does Manolin want Santiago to get well fast?

Manolin wants Santiago to recover fast because there is much that he can learn from the old man. The old man will be able to teach Manolin the tricks of the trade. Clearly, Manolin wants to learn from the old man’s experience and expertise as a fisherman.

 

Copyright © Manu Mangattu, Assistant Professor, Department of English, St Goege's College Aruvithura

Provide your Feedback/Suggestions/Corrections/Requests for notes to manumangattu@gmail.com

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