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    against the head

    Dear teachers,

    The following is from The Old Man and the Sea. I find it difficult to understand, especially the underlned parts. Please explain them to me.

    One (shark) came, finally, against the head itself and he knew that it was over. He swung the tiller across the shark's head where the jaws were caught in the heaviness of the fish's head which would not tear.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.
    Thank you in advance.


  1. BobK's Avatar
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    Re: against the head

    It sounds to me as if the head belongs to something that has already been mentioned in the text - maybe another fish that is being attacked by sharks.

    If not, then maybe it refers to front of the boat ('the bows', to a sailor, leading to 'the stem' [hence the idiom 'from stem to stern', which in Spanish has the two extremities the other way round - De popa a proa] or 'prow'); this part of the ship was known by non-sailing servicemen (Army, Air Force) as 'the sharp end'. Perhaps there's something in the text that explains why it's particularly vulnerable to shark attack.

    The second 'head' is the fish's. This could be the shark (I loathe Elegant variation - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia), or as I said the thing under attack may be the boat itself.

    The meaning of 'swung the tiller across' also depends on the context. If the sharks are attacking the boat, the tiller may have been broken off. In that case, he swung the tiller itself and hit the shark. Alternatively, it just means he swung the boat by swinging the tiller across the boat from one side to the other.

    The Latin for tiller is gubernator, from which we get the word 'governor'.

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