The fresh breeze drives the skiff quickly, and the old man hopes that he may be able to protect the great fish from more shark attacks. He believes that not to hope is a sin but then tells himself not to think about sin, for he had no understanding of it and is not sure he believes in it. He wonders if it was a sin to kill the fish, even though he did it to keep him alive and feed many people. But he then realizes he killed the fish for more than just those reasons - he killed him for pride, because he was a fisherman and it was a fish. He loved him when the fish was alive, and he loves it still. But Santiago cannot answer the question, whether it is more or less of a sin to kill the great fish if he loved it. He then thinks how everything kills everything else in some way - the fishing kills him as it keeps him alive. He warns not to deceive himself, as he believes it is the boy that keeps him alive.
Santiago pulls a piece of flesh off the fish where the shark had attacked. He tastes it, and notes its superb taste and consistency. It would bring the highest price at market, but the old man knows that he cannot keep the scent out of the water and away from the sharks. Soon, two shovel-nosed sharks pursue the vessel along the trail of blood. The old man lifts the oar with the blade fastened to the end high in preparation for his defense. The first swims under the boat and fed from beneath, while the second approaches quickly and directly. The old man hits the second between the eyes, driving the blade into its brain. But the skiff still shakes from the destruction wreaked on the great fish by the shark beneath the skiff. The old man swings the skiff around, revealing the first shark. He punches the bladed oar at the shark, hitting first its stiff flesh with no injury. Finally, he buries the blade in its left eye, and soon the shark slid to the bottom of the ocean.
"They must have taken a quarter of him and of the best meat," Santiago says aloud. "I wish it were a dream and that I had never hooked him. I'm sorry about it, fish. It makes everything wrong. I shouldn't have gone out so far, fish. Neither for you nor for me. I'm sorry, fish." He soaks his war-torn hands in the water, as he knows that more sharks will arrive soon enough. The next shark is another shovelnose, which hit the mutilated fish quickly. The old man drives the knife into its brain but before dying it jerks backwards, snapping the blade of the knife. Without the blade, he now has only two oars, the tiller, and the short club to defend the great fish with. Although he is too old to club a shark to death, he vows to try nevertheless. But he fears the efforts may be futile: "You're tired, old man," he said. "You're tired inside."
The sharks did not hit again until just before sunset. The two brown fins approached the skiff with enormous speed, never flinching from their line of attack. The old man raised the club high, slamming it onto the shark's head repeatedly until it finally slid away from the great fish. The other shark had been feeding during this encounter, tearing away large junks of meat with every bite. Santiago hits the shark on the head, but the strike only knocked some of the meat from the shark's mouth. But when the second shark comes in for another attack, he strikes it squarely, crushing the bones and driving them into its brain. The second strike sent the shark silently into the deep, dark water. Although he did not kill either of them, the old man had injured them severely.
For some time, the old man could not talk to the fish because it had been ruined so badly. But then he thinks about how many sharks the great fish must have killed with the large sword at the end of its nose. He thinks he should have cut the sword off the fish earlier, and used it as a weapon against the sharks-the fish and he would have fought together against the predators. Even without the fish's blade, the old man vows to fight off the sharks until he dies.
Santiago begins to see the glow of the light in Havana from a great distance, and knows that land is now near. He wishes that his luck might change, and that maybe he could return to the shore with at least half of the great fish. But in the dark without a weapon, the old man had only bad luck. A large group of sharks descends on the highway of blood behind the boat. The old man swings his club whenever he sees the head of one, but the darkness and sheer numbers are both against him. One shark pulls the club out his hands, which forces him to use the tiller as a makeshift weapon. Finally, a shark attacks the head of the great fish, the only piece of meat left on its body. The old man breaks the tiller against the shark's head, and then uses the splintered remains to ram the point into the shark's skull. The shark dropped away from the carcass slowly. Afterwards, no more sharks came, because there was nothing left to eat.
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