John F. Kennedy once said, “We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came. ” This quote notably resembles the protagonist, Santiago, in Ernest Hemingway’s, The Old Man and the Sea. Santiago is very much tied to the ocean. Fishing is his life and means of survival. After a long period of bad luck and fishless fishing trips, Santiago lost his assistant and best friend, Manolin. To redeem himself, Santiago sails farther out to sea than the other fishermen are willing and hooks the mother load of marlin.
The only obstacle standing between Santiago and the admiration of the fishermen who mock him is the fish itself. The marlin and Santiago are equally determined to defeat the other, thus an all-out battle of wit and strength takes place between the two. This novella ties together the story of a fisherman trying to reel in the catch of his life and the inner struggle of a man attempting to prove to society that he is still as capable in his old age as he was in his youth. Presented within Hemingway’s story is the theme that there can be triumph in spite of loss.
The Old Man and the Sea led to numerous awards for Hemingway, including the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The story’s protagonist is Santiago who has gone eighty four days without catching a fish. For the first forty, his assistant, Manolin, aided the old man. After the boy’s parents conclude that Santiago is the worst kind of unlucky, Manolin is forced to leave Santiago and work on a boat that catches fish. With some bait from the boy, Santiago sets out on a quest to regain his former social status among the village. He decides to sail farther out in sea than the other fishermen in hopes that his glorifying catch is waiting for him.
Sure enough, a marlin bigger than the old man’s skiff takes Santiago’s bait. The book from this point on is Santiago’s struggle to reel the fish in. More often than not, Santiago sympathizes the marlin. He knows that no one is worthy of eating the flesh of a creature as proud and dignified as his brother at the other end of the line, but the old man still feels that he must kill the fish. This is made apparent when Hemingway writes, “Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him. How many people will he feed, he thought. But are they worthy to eat him?
No, of course not. There is no one worthy of eating him from the manner of his behaviour and his great dignity,” (Hemingway, 5). For two days and two nights the old man and the marlin wrestled each other. Through torn hands and sleep deprivation, Santiago finally gets his opportunity to end the battle. With a harpoon to the heart, the old man conclusively defeated the marlin. On his way back to shore, he starts realizing the mistake he had made by sailing out too far in the sea. Little by little, his prized catch is destroyed by sharks. He chides himself for being rash and apologizes to the marlin for wasting its life.
Santiago realizes that a man can be destroyed but not defeated through the fish, who had lost the battle yet maintained its nobility. If one takes anything away from this novella, it should be that through loss, one can still achieve greatness. The major theme conveyed in Hemingway’s novella, The Old Man and the Sea is that fulfillment can be attained despite misfortune. Bad luck stalked the old man since the first paragraph. His livelihood was his ability to catch fish and he had not even done that in 84 days. Before this recent stint of adversity, there was a period of 87 days where the old man was, again, unable to catch any fish.
Due to his affliction, his assistant’s parents deemed Santiago, “salao” which is as unlucky as one can get. This is explained when Hemingway writes, “But after forty days without a fish, the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally ‘salao’, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week,” (Hemingway, 1). The younger fishermen made fun of the old man and the older fishermen felt bad for Santiago, but never showed it. However, Manolin never gave up faith in his instructor.
He knew in his heart that the old man would persevere and come out on top as he had during his first bad break. The boy reminds Santiago, “”But remember how you went eighty-seven days without fish and then we caught big ones every day for three weeks,” (Hemingway, 1). This is only one of many examples that proves the boy’s conviction in the old man. Finally, when the old man had caught a break and hooked the greatest marlin he had ever seen, he was unprepared to reel in a fish of such size on his own. Consequently, he suffered immensely, without food, he was forced to eat dolphin.
Without another hand on deck, he needed to stay awake to hold the line. In his old age, his back hurt and his hands cramped. Yet, he refused to just cut the line and return to town. He was determined to reel in the marlin or die trying. At one point in the story Santiago says, “Fish, I’ll stay with you until I am dead,” (Hemingway, 14). When the marlin was enduringly caught and tied to the side of the boat, it seemed that the old man had outrun his salao. But then, with the element of surprise, the sea took back the prize he wrested from it.
Back on shore, all that was left of his battle was the skeleton of a stupendous fish and an exhausted old man. Santiago says, “[M]an is not made for defeat…. A man can be destroyed but not defeated,” (Hemingway, 103). Even though the sharks destroyed the marlin and Santiago’s good fortune, the old man was not defeated. When he returned, he had not lost because he came back with what he set out for: a marlin. He had done everything a person possibly could have. In turn, he earned the respect from the others and gained the dignity that he yearned for so thoroughly.
The Old Man and the Sea is a beautiful story with a strong theme. The majority of Hemingway’s novella is set out at sea. If one has no prior knowledge of nautical terms, some parts may be a little difficult to understand. For example, “Now the man watched the dip of the three sticks over the side of the skiff and rowed gently to keep the lines straight up and down and at their proper depths. ” (Hemingway, 12) A sentence like this one may confuse a reader who has no idea what a skiff looks like or what is meant by, “straight lines. ” Due to this gap, much of the imagery is also lost.
However, the imagery that can be understood is like poetry. When the fish is finally seen by Santiago, Hemingway writes, “He came out unendingly and water poured from his sides. He was bright in the sun and his head and back were dark purple and in the sun the stripes on his sides showed wide and a light lavender. His sword was as long as a baseball bat and tapered like a rapier and he rose his full length from the water and then re-entered it, smoothly, like a diver and the old man saw the great scythe-blade of his tail go under and the line commenced to race out,” (Hemingway, 22).
Critics often complain that this book is riddled with mistakes due to many missing punctuations. However, maybe one is supposed to read this book in a monotone adventurous voice to fully absorb the message that Hemingway wishes to convey. Either way, Hemingway has produced a withstanding novel that should be revered for its theme and beautiful imagery. While this parable is about an old man trying to reclaim glory by going farther out to sea to catch a great fish, there is still a connection to everyday life within these pages. It is normal for one to go to proficient lengths to achieve respect.
Which is exactly what Santiago was trying to do. Only by going too far out to sea, the old man brought bad luck upon himself. No matter how dismal his situation seemed, Santiago never gave up. He fought off sharks with oars and knives until his catch was back on shore. There is a similar story of perseverance found on inpirationalstories. com, about a boy who realized what a wasteland the plot next to the local copper smelter was. The boy, Paul Rokich, made a vow that one day he would return the plot back to its original state as a forest. When he was older, Rokich asked the company if he could plant trees there; they told him no.
He went to college to study botany where his professor told him that he would waste his life trying to replant the forest because without any rabbits or birds to spread the seeds, it would take about twenty thousand years to reproduce the forest. Rokich grew older, married, and had a family. Soon, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He’d sneak onto the property at night and plant seeds for hours at a time. For fifteen years, everything he planted would be destroyed by weather conditions or freak accidents but, he continued to plant seeds.
Soon, his plants began to flourish and an array of forest animals began to inhabit Rokich’s forest. Seeing the progress, the smelter company finally gave him permission to plant on their land. When political leaders started pressing the topic of a cleaner environment, the smelter company actually hired Rokich to do what he had been doing for free over the past 15 years. With machinery and crew members, Rokich’s forest augmented. For his efforts, Rokich was endowed with numerous environmental awards. He said, “I thought if I got this started, when I was dead and gone people would come see it.
I never thought I’d live to see it myself! ” Paul Rokich much like Santiago never gave up and achieved exactly what he had set out to do. Rokich set out to make something beautiful of a wasteland and Santiago was determined to catch a fish to reclaim respect, both masterfully attained their goal. In conclusion, Hemingway’s novella stresses the importance of perseverance and makes it apparent that through loss, one can achieve success. Again, The Old Man and the Sea should be praised for its inspirational theme.
Through Santiago’s adversity the reader is reminded how imperative it is to never give up on their dream. Just like Paul Rokich and Santiago, relenting upon the first obstacle that comes around should never be an option. Everyone should learn this lesson in their life time, if not through Hemingway’s nautical tale, than through their own experiences. It is no wonder why Hemingway was granted with so many awards for this work. The Old Man and the Sea is a small story, but it is a whale of a tale. If one has not fished these waters before, don’t let this be one of those that got away.