Before daylight, something takes hold of one of Santiago's other baits, which are still in the water. Santiago quickly cuts all of his other lines so that nothing interferes with the marlin's line.
In devoting himself to capturing the marlin, Santiago reveals that this struggle is all-important to him. It is a matter of pride, of proving and defining himself.
After Santiago cuts the other lines, the marlin makes a sudden, surging dive that pulls Santiago downward. He cuts his face, just below the eye, on the line. Santiago tells the marlin he will never give in, and will fight until one of them dies.
The physical injury that the marlin inflicts shows that this battle could result in injury or even death for Santiago. The injury only strengthens Santiago's resolve.
The marlin continues to pull the boat to the northeast. Santiago senses that while the fish doesn't seem to be tiring, it is swimming at a shallower depth. Santiago hopes the fish will jump, so that its air sacs will fill, stopping it from diving so deeply. If the fish died while deep underwater, Santiago knows he would not be strong enough to pull it up. Santiago holds tight to the line and occasionally pulls it taught, but he is fearful to pull on it because the line might snap or the hook might pull free from the marlin. He tells the marlin that he loves and respects it, but vows to kill it before the end of the day.
Santiago carefully and skillfully practices his craft, pitting his decades of knowledge as a fisherman against the marlin's greater strength. He loves and respects the marlin because it is a worthy opponent, but he must kill it for two reasons: 1) to fulfill his role as a fisherman, and 2) to prove his strength despite his age by overcoming such a worthy adversary.
A warbler (small song bird) flying south lands on the marlin's line. Santiago talks to the bird, wondering why it is so tired. When he considers the hawks that the bird will have to escape when it comes near land, though, he tells it to take a nice rest and then go "take your chance like any man or bird or fish."
Santiago again feels an affinity with an animal. His advice to the bird hints at his belief that all living things struggle against mortality, and that how one faces that struggle, rather than whether one survives it, is what defines a person.
As Santiago is talking to the bird, the marlin lurches again and the bird flies away. Santiago notices that there is blood on the line—the pull of the line has cut his left hand. He thinks that the marlin must itself have been injured to lurch in that way. He berates himself for letting the bird distract him, and vows not to lose focus again. Santiago washes his cut hand in the salt water, then carefully positions himself and eats the tuna he caught earlier in order to keep his strength up. Even so, his left hand soon cramps.
The injuries to Santiago's hand evoke Christ's stigmata (the crucifixion wounds in Christ's hands). The injury inspires Santiago to work harder and stay focused, even though the cramping shows his body's age and frailty. Notice that Santiago continues to sense a connection with the marlin, believing it also must have been injured just when he was.
As he tries to nurse his cramped hand, Santiago sees a flock of wild ducks in the sky and realizes that no man is ever alone on the sea. He continues to try to uncramp his hand, and thinks of the cramp as a betrayal by his own body. He wishes that Manolin were there to rub his hand for him.
Suddenly, the marlin jumps out of the water. The magnificent fish is dark purple and huge, two feet longer than the length of the skiff with a sword as long as a baseball bat.
Purple, a royal color, suggests that the marlin is a kind of "king of the sea." In his Christ-like role, Santiago is also regal, as Jesus was King of the Jews.
Santiago holds the line with both hands to keep the fish from breaking the line. He thinks that if he were the marlin he would give a final pull on the line until something broke. He gives thanks that fish are not as intelligent as men, although he thinks that they are "more noble and more able."
Santiago has seen many fish over 1000 pounds and caught two fish of that size in his life, but never when he was alone and out of sight of land. And this marlin is bigger than any he had ever heard of or seen. He thinks that to catch this fish will be a great accomplishment.
Santiago recognizes that he has given himself a nearly impossible job, but he focuses on the immensity of the achievement rather than the immensity of the task.
Although Santiago is not religious, he promises to say 10 Hail Marys and 10 Our Fathers if he catches the marlin. He says the prayers, and feels better, though the pain in his back and cramped hand is just as strong.
Faith is belief in the absence of evidence or proof. Santiago's prayers don't alleviate his pain, but they do help him to feel better despite his pain.
Realizing it will be dark soon, Santiago decides to rebait a small line to catch some more food. He thinks about why he wants to catch and kill the marlin: To show "what a man can do and what a man endures" and to prove to Manolin that he is indeed a "strange old man."
Santiago, who was bored of eating, now has a reason to eat and live. He wants to defeat the marlin out of pride, and to prove that Manolin's faith in him is not in vain.
As the day approaches its end, Santiago wishes he could sleep and dream of the lions again. Then he wonders why the lions are the only things left for him to dream about.
Since the lions represent Santiago's youth, here he is beginning to realize all that he has lost as he has aged.
Eventually Santiago's hand uncramps, but he feels tired. He hopes that the marlin also feels tired. If it isn't, he thinks, then it is a very strange fish.
Another connection between the marlin and Santiago, a self-described "strange old man."
To distract himself, Santiago thinks about baseball. He tells himself that he must try to be worthy of the great DiMaggio, "who does all things perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in his heel." He wonders if DiMaggio would stay with the marlin as long as he will stay with it, and knows that DiMaggio would.
It occurs to Santiago then that men may be inferior to the "great birds and beasts." For a moment, Santiago wishes that he were the marlin. That is, unless sharks were to come. If the sharks come, Santiago thinks, both he and the marlin would be in trouble.
Again, Santiago displays his deep respect for and connection to nature. His thoughts of sharks foreshadows the arrival of the sharks later in the story.
To prop up his own confidence, Santiago remembers when, as a young man in Casablanca, he arm-wrestled a great "negro" who was the strongest man on the docks. The battle lasted an entire day, and finally Santiago won. For a long time after that he was known as "The Champion."
Santiago purposely recalls this memory in order to try to regain the youthful strength he needs to defeat the marlin. His memories may not literally give him strength, but he uses them to fuel his determination.
Just before dark, Santiago's small line is taken by a dolphinfish. He pulls the dolphinfish into the boat and clubs it to death. It seems to Santiago that the marlin has begun to pull with a bit less strength. He positions himself so that the line puts less stress on his back. He feels confident because he's learned how to handle the line and because he has recently eaten and will eat again soon, while the marlin hasn't eaten anything.
Santiago's reverence for nature and animals is not at all an unwillingness to kill, as his clubbing of the dolphinfish shows. Instead, it's an acknowledgment of his role within nature as a man. He has tired the marlin not through strength but through his endurance and skill as a fisherman.
When it becomes completely dark, the stars come out. Santiago thinks of the stars as his friends. The marlin is also his friend, he thinks, but he must kill it. Santiago is glad that men do not have to kill the sun, the moon or the stars as they do their fellow creatures. He feels sorry for the fish, and thinks there is no one worthy of eating him.
Santiago rests for two hours, after which he decides to eat the dolphinfish he caught. When he cuts the dolphinfish open to fillet it, he finds two fresh flying fish in its belly. He eats half the dolphinfish and one of the fish. When he runs his hand through the water after skinning the fish, he notices that his hand has left a trail of phosphorescence in the water.
As Christ multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed the thousands who had gathered to hear him, Santiago has multiplied the fish he has caught. The phosphorescence given off by his hand suggests that the act of preparing food is a sacred act.
Finally Santiago falls asleep. He dreams at first of a vast school of mating porpoises leaping in the water. Then he dreams of sleeping in his bed in the village, with a north wind blowing coldly over him and his hand asleep from having slept on it. Finally, his dreams turn to the lions walking along the long yellow beach in the early dark, and he is happy.
Santiago's dreams of the porpoises and his cold bed set up a contrast between the fertile splendor of the sea and the emptiness of life on land. Yet, even in sleep, rather than giving in to despair, Santiago gains strength from his dreams of his youthful pride.