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The act of catching the fish is bound to the act of losing the fish—the red blood released by the mortal blow is the green light for the sharks. Whether he catches the fish or whether the fish snaps the line and escapes, the old man will not be able to bring the meat home. The fish is lost, either way. But the two scenarios are not equal. The man is welcomed back into the esteem of the fishermen, into Manolin's company on the fishing boat, into society, solely because he broke with society and went out "too far", out beyond all others. He gains only by losing. This old man will never again chase marlin for days on end. He won't have to, because for the rest of his days he will have Manolin with him not only physically but mentally because of the fact that he knows Manolin will stick with him no matter what. Even if the odds are against him, and the two of them will catch big, but not giant-sized, marlin with the relative ease known as teamwork.
One could also make a case that the old man has neither gained nor learned anything. He did not care when the other fishermen mocked him so why should he care if they praise him? He had Manolin's love before and he has it still, and the love and support of that one special person can mean so much to someone, and give them the confidence to go on. He had been a champion before, as an arm-wrestler, and knew he could be a champion again, as a fisherman even though in Manolin’s eyes he was always a champion. He was right, and has the skeleton to prove it. He had bad luck before he hooked the marlin, and he has bad luck after he kills the marlin.
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In Conclusion, I believe that Hemingway was trying to show us the strength of one man, and how one boy could be so much help to only one person. Also, how there might be many obstacles in our way sometimes but there's always a way around them, and there's always a solution.