Hemingway's story begins by depicting the interaction between the two primary
characters as they prepare their fishing gear for the following day near a
Gulf Stream harbor in the 1940's.
The opening profile is of Santiago, the "old man" in the title, and the main
character throughout the story. He is a Cuban fisherman, described as being old in
every way except his eyes, which "were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and
undefeated" (10). Although Santiago has not caught a fish for eighty-four days, he
ignores the jeers and pity of other fishermen, and returns to the sea in his skiff day after
day. For a more detailed character outline, see the Character Profiles section.
The second character described is Manolin, a young boy whom Santiago taught
to fish. Manolin had fished with Santiago before his parents made him stop, citing the
old man's fishless streak as "the worst form of unlucky" (9). Despite working for
another boat Manolin remains Santiago's one loyal friend, always willing to obtain meals,
coffee, and bait for the penniless old man, and, more importantly, to provide
After reminiscing about a fish that nearly ripped apart Santiago's boat --
foreshadowing the old man's inevitable encounter at sea -- they carry the sail, lines, and
harpoon back to Santiago's shack. The foreshadowing continues as the old man, in anticipation for the following day, offers, "Eighty-five is a lucky number...How would you like to
see me bring one in that dressed out over a thousand pounds?" (16). The boy brings
Santiago supper, and they discuss their favorite conversation topic: baseball -- the
New York Yankees and Joe DiMaggio, in particular. For a more detailed look at
Santiago's continual fixation with DiMaggio, see the Metaphors section.
Manolin leaves for the night, and Santiago sleeps, dreaming of the Africa he
remembers from his youth. The old man dreams nightly of the African coast, as "he no
longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish,
nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places now and
of the lions on the beach. They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as
he loved the boy" (25). Santiago rests, unaware that in the morning he will embark upon a
three day journey of epic proportions.