Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.
Here, the narrator describes what Santiago looks like. Santiago’s wrinkled skin riddled with scars and blotches shows the effects from his many years in the sun, but his eyes reveal he’s young at heart. Despite his recent streak of bad luck, Santiago retains confidence and optimism that his skills remain strong.
But, he thought, I keep them with precision. Only I have no luck anymore. But who knows? Maybe today. Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.
When Santiago first goes out to sea, he puts his lines in the water and thinks about how other fishermen fail to be as precise with their lines. He acknowledges the benefit of luck but asserts the superiority of skill and accuracy to being lucky. His pride in his craft and reliance on his own skill and knowledge of fishing keep him hopeful.
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.
Santiago contemplates the fact that he plans to kill the fish despite his feelings of respect. He looks up at the sky and considers the situation from a heavenly perspective, comparing his quarry to elements beyond his control such as the sun or the moon. He realizes he operates in exactly the sphere in which he belongs and feels gratitude that he only needs to contend with fish and not greater matters. As a skilled fisherman, Santiago knows what he must do to defeat the marlin. He also understands that other forces of nature are beyond him.
After he judged that his right hand had been in the water long enough he took it out and looked at it. “It is not bad,” he said. “And pain does not matter to a man.”
When the fish begins to jump, Santiago struggles to hold the line and cuts his hand. Here, he dulls the pain and cleanses the cuts by submerging his dominant hand in the cold ocean water, and then he assesses the injuries. He chooses to ignore the pain by reminding himself that suffering doesn’t faze strong men. Santiago’s hands undergo much hurt throughout the story, but he doesn’t let the pain stop him from holding the line and persisting in his goal of catching the fish. He takes for granted that accomplishing goals entails suffering, and that every fisherman deals with pain.
He did not like to look at the fish anymore since he had been mutilated. When the fish had been hit it was as though he himself were hit.
After Santiago kills the fish and heads back to land, a shark smells the fish’s blood and takes a large bite out of it. Santiago then tries to avoid looking at the fish. Even though Santiago killed the fish, he considers it to be a part of himself. The fish, like him, was strong and determined but then falls victim while it cannot defend itself. Santiago, described as old and decrepit, does not want to acknowledge the vulnerability in both the fish and himself.