The marlin is the giant, 18-foot fish that battles with Santiago in the middle of the ocean for three days and three nights. Although Santiago hooks the marlin on his first afternoon at sea, the marlin refuses to come to the surface and instead pulls Santiago farther and farther from land. Santiago admires the marlin's beauty and endurance, and considers it a "noble" adversary, telling the fish repeatedly that though he loves it, he must kill it. Ultimately, the marlin is presented as Santiago's worthy opponent. Struggling against such an opponent brings out the best in an individual—courage, endurance, and love. At the same time, because Santiago comes to see the marlin as an alter-ego—he identifies the marlin as male and imagines the fish is old—the marlin comes to represent Santiago himself as well. In other words, Santiago's struggle with the marlin is in fact a struggle with himself. It is not a struggle of strength but rather of endurance, and a refusal to accept defeat. Santiago's struggle with the marlin is a struggle to face and overcome his own weaknesses as much as it is a struggle to subdue the great fish. In the process, by refusing to give in to the fish or the weakness of his mind and body, Santiago transcends those weaknesses.
The Marlin Quotes in The Old Man and the Sea
The The Old Man and the Sea quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Marlin. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one: Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Scribner edition of The Old Man and the Sea published in 1952.).
Day Two Quotes
He is wonderful and strange and who knows how old he is, he thought. Never have I had such a strong fish nor one who acted so strangely... He cannot know that it is only one man against him, nor that it is an old man.
Day Three Quotes
"Fish, I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends."
"If I were him I would put in everything now and go until something broke. But, thank God, they are not as intelligent as we who kill them; although they are more noble and more able."
Day Four Quotes
You are killing me, fish, the old man thought. But you have a right to. Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than you, brother. Come on and kill me. I do not care who kills who.
Then the fish came alive, with his death in him, and rose high out of the water showing all his great length and width and all his power and his beauty. He seemed to hang in the air above the old man in the skiff. Then he fell into the water with a crash that sent spray over the old man and over all of the skiff.
You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food, he thought. You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?
He stopped for a moment and looked back and saw in the reflection from the street light the great tail of the fish standing up well behind the skiff's stern. He saw the white naked line of his backbone and the dark mass of the head…