The Old Man and the Sea
Ernest Hemmingway
Contributed by Harvey Landy
Chapter 6

The cut on his hand concerns the old man-not so much for the pain at the moment, but rather because he knew he would need to rely on it to conquer the fish. He worries that it might fail him when he needs it the most, and that the gash will only get deeper. Santiago convinces himself he must eat the tuna he had caught early before it goes bad. Despite the awful taste, he slowly consumes a strip. At the same time, he feels the giant fish pull harder, and his left hand cramp on the line. He hopes the food will ease the cramp, and finishes the five other strips before the sun could dry up or rot the meat.

Santiago decides to hold the line with the right arm alone until the cramp in the left hand goes away. He did not want to force the hand open but rather to allow it to uncramp on its own, so it will be ready to fight with the great fish. If the boy were here, he thinks, then he could massage the cramp out quicker. But for now, he must allow his body to heal itself.

The old man marvels at how far at sea he is, and wonders why some men are so fearful of losing sight of land in a small boat. Although it is hurricane season, the old man insists that he can tell when such a storm is brewing at sea, and when there is no storm the weather is better than at any other time of the year. Just then, the slant in the line began to change, and the fish started slowly to rise towards the surface. For the first time, Santiago sees his worthy opponent. His head and back are a dark purple, his sides a light lavender, and the sword at the end of his head as long as a baseball bat and sharp as a rapier. The old man is astounded that the fish is two feet longer than the skiff itself. He knows this fish is great and strong, and if he put all his energy into one burst could break the line. This fish was the biggest he had ever seen, and the biggest he had ever heard of. Alone in the middle of the sea, the old man realizes he must use all his strength, skill, and intelligence to kill the noble beast at the end of the line. Unfortunately, his left hand is still cramped, and the old man becomes enraged at the treachery of his own body. The hand was ignoble, dishonorable, and unworthy to be cramped in the middle of such a battle.

The old man wonders why the fish had jumped at all. Afterwards, it just returned to its previous strategy. Maybe it was to show me how big and wonderful it is, he thinks. He wishes he could show the fish how strong of a man he was, but fears the fish would then see his cramped hand and think him weak. For a moment, Santiago wishes he were the fish, with all its greatness versus only his will and intelligence.

By noon, the left hand had lost its cramp. Santiago confesses he is not a religious man, but would say ten Hail Mary’s that he would catch the fish. He says them and at the end adds, "Blessed Virgin, pray for the death of this fish. Wonderful though he is." The old man considers baiting one of the other lines to catch a meal that would be much needed if the great fish remains strong for another day. He thinks it unjust to kill such a glorious fish, but will anyway to show the boy what a man can do. He had told the boy he was a strange old man, and now he believed he had to prove it.

In the afternoon, the line slowly began to rise again, but this time it stopped well before the surface and continued to pull the boat at a slow, steady pace. He could picture the fish swimming beneath the surface, turning with the current direction due to exhaustion. Santiago was tired, but he knew the fish was, too. "If you’re not tired, fish," he says aloud, "you must be very strange."

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