You run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking / Racing around to come up behind you again - Roger Waters
Though many interpretors of the book have tried to turn it into an allegory for Hemingway's own wrestling with the Catholic faith, I must agree with Hemingway's own words that the book stands on its own without having to read more into it than really exists.
The story revolves around an old fisherman in a Cuban village named Santiago, and a young boy who takes to his dreams and hopes named Manolin. There is nothing spectacular about Santiago. He lived his life chasing the sun. He wakes in the morning. Sleeps at night. Fishes by the day. Only to start it all again.
The book is set at a particularly hard time for the old man, when his routine is interrupted. For 84 days, he has gone through the drudgery of his daily ritual (sleep, wake, fish, sleep) with no results - no fish. And no fish means certain death. The villagers call him unlucky, and young Manolin is forbidden from working any longer with him. The old man tells Manolin that his luck is going to change as he plans to take his small fishing boat further out into the Gulf Stream than ever before and bring back fish.
True to form, the old man, traveling far out in the Gulf Stream, hooks a huge marlin. The ensuing battle between old man and fish goes on for two days, with the third day the old man finally able to spear the marlin. Exhausted from the fight, the old man is both happy and sad in that he finally landed the catch of his life, but the respect the old man has for the fish is like that of a brother.
Finally, though, the old man can return to his village, his bad luck gone, with the largest marlin ever caught. He can almost hear the accolades of the crowds as he heads toward home. His only problem: the fish is too big to fit in his boat, so he straps it to the side and makes for land. Anyone who knows anything about Hemingway knows that happy endings are not the stuff of which he is made. The fish blood trail created by the marlin attracts the sharks, and though the old man battles the sharks, they eventually strip the marlin's carcass to nothing but bones before he can return home.
The old man is, in many ways, allegorical. He happens to be old and poor, but his dissatisfaction with his life is true of people from all walks of life, rich and poor, young and old. Because hs toil has yielded him nothing, he accepts the judgment of his village that he is a failure, and that acceptance forces him to launch into unchartered waters to change his position.
I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him. Ecc 3:12-14
In many ways, I am the old man, seeking not just the fish of the day, but the big one that will set me apart. I often feel as if I am spinning my wheels - just chasing the sun. Never satisfied with the daily toil, always looking for that which will improve the position that I am in. And while seeking to do my best is not in and of itself wrong, I often confuse the satisfaction with my work that God has given me with satisfaction with the results of my work, the fruit of my labors. In the security of my occupation, I often forget the providence of God in my daily life.
May Christ grant me the privilege of resting in the satisfaction of my toil, to be happy and do good while I live, and to take each day as a new gift from Him to complete that day's task.
And when He calls me to, may I launch the boat a bit further out.