He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. By the outer looks, Santiago was indeed just an old aged fisherman whose side luck had for the time being left, but by riding alongside him in his puny little skiff as he takes the reader on a three-day journey that is beyond the capabilities of any ordinary man, Santiago evidently proves that he is everything more than just an old aged fisherman. As the first line states, Santiago had been living through tough times as a fisherman, where despite his skill and above all inspiring endurance, each day’s attempts had left him empty-handed. Manolin, better known as the boy had once fished with and assisted the old man, until numerous fruitless days had forced his parents to send him elsewhere. Still, the boy reveres Santiago as more than just a teacher but a role model and visits him to make sure his idol is well and cared for. On the 85th day, Santiago manages to catch a marlin, three times the size of his boat that drags him for almost 48 hours deeper and deeper into the sea.
This time, Santiago is tested severely by nature for his strength and determination, to stay with the marlin, which he had begun to address and feel like a brother. Yet, nature continues to be relentless and soon enough on his victorious journey home, three sharks swim along and devour the old man’s prized marlin. Weakened, injured, and at a loss of weapons, he still ferociously fights the beasts but is unable to protect his brother from the sea. With nothing more than the skeleton of the marlin to prove his greatest catch, the old man retreats back to his home to rest for another fishing day the next morning. Hemingway has long been known for his heroic and strong-hearted protagonists, and Santiago plays his role with complete justice. Every action and thought of Santiago portrays his intrepid and unyielding character, despite the hurdles and misfortunes that are thrown at him. In Santiago, the central character of the Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway has created a hero who personifies honour, courage, endurance, and faith.
No matter the severity of the situation, Santiago holds firm to his honour and pride in struggle and battle. Having gone more than two and a half months without catching a fish, Santiago never admits to poverty and holds his head high among those who have been more fortunate than he. This is apparent when he offers the boy food and drink, well aware that he has none, and the boy politely answers that he will eat at home. “There was no cast net and they remembered when they had sold it. But they went through this fiction every day. There was no pot of yellow rice and fish and the boy knew this too.” This routine is a strong example of Santiago’s honour as he is not embarrassed by who or what he is, but looks at every trial from an optimistic angle, and Manolin’s steadfast belief in the old man helps keep his pride untouched and firm. Moreover, his unwavering pride is discerned when the boy asks him if he wishes to borrow two dollars and he lovingly explains, “But I try not to borrow.
First, you borrow. Then you beg.” Even though he is in need, Santiago chooses his values above all else and considers nothing that would disgrace them. This can be greater seen in his journey with the marlin. His appreciation of his opponents and love for them further displays his pellucid moral character. “It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers.” He teaches one that the true battle is between two honourable and skilled opponents rather than two angry blind individuals, and that a worthy competitor can be found in anything or anyone. El Campeon (champion) shows courage in all its glory, as he demonstrates it in face of pain defeat, and death. Santiago’s pride and honour serve as a source of his indestructible courage. To face each day of life isolated and taunted by others, but the boy, and still look to a new morning with the same optimism and anticipation as the last, in itself requires immense courage. Perhaps the simplest example of this trait is the old man’s daring to ride out farther out into the sea than any other fisherman, alone and poorly equipped. When the ravaging sharks arrive to steal his catch, Santiago determinedly guards and protects his brother, even when there is little to save.
“I’ll fight them until I die.” His belief in his inner strength and confidence in himself, overshadow his vulnerability and idea that he is an old man at a task far too great for him. His honour and courage work as one when he must finally kill the marlin. “Come on and kill me. I do not care who kills who.”Upon realizing the true size of fish, which he had previously only guessed at, Santiago does not cower from the risk, but respects his noble competitor and embraces the perspective of death. “…suffer like a man.” Santiago’s mindset that endurance in suffering constitutes genuine manhood, fortifies his fragility against the toughest of trials. .”…a cramp…humiliates oneself especially when one is alone.” Having held the line in place for over 2 days, he is faced with a cramp in his left hand, but Santiago is never one to complain. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, a more common reaction, the old man feels in fact embarrassed by it, as though his body had betrayed him. His indifference to physical pain clearly portrays the greater strength of motivation and resolve.
To propel himself further in the strain, Santiago makes use of the memories of his youth to provide him with confidence and endurance, as well as reminds himself of his idol, the great DiMaggio. “…I must be worthy of the great DiMaggio who does all things perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in his heel.”Looking to his hero for tenacity, Santiago keeps to his words, “Sail on this course and take it when it comes.”, and tackles hunger, sleepless nights, and the ravenous sharks with the power and effort of many men combined. Santiago ideally personifies the idea that destiny must be taken into one’s own hands but he does not negate God’s will, and draws confidence from his faith, as he does faith from his confidence. “I am not religious…but I promise to make a pilgrimage to the Virgin de Cobre if I catch him.”Santiago mechanically says prayers throughout his journey, but not in religious worship more so he may gain peace and hope from them. “…I dream of the lions.”The lions seem to symbolize beauty and achievement to the old man and he reminds himself of them for a new faith and new will.
This he sources from his belief in his own power and his ability to prove himself. He tells the boy at the beginning of the novel, that he is a strange old man, and feels now is the time he must prove this. “The thousand times that he had proven it meant nothing…Each time was a new time and he never thought about the past.” Manolin, also serves as a source for his faith, for the boy’s pure confidence in and heartfelt love for him builds hope in Santiago to win yet another challenge for himself and for the boy. The power of love is openly exemplified as Santiago fights this new battle with the faith of seeing the boy once again, and going fishing better prepared the following day.
Critics have not faulted in identifying the Old Man and the Sea, as one of Hemingway’s greatest works. He has truly outdone himself, in this novella that forces the reader to ponder his own character and place in life. “Man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” Honour, courage, endurance, and faith are the constituents of a great man, and Santiago is nothing less than that. He teaches the reader of the relative insignificance of physical appearance and material wealth, when values such as those previously mentioned, can sustain you far better than any superficial possession or quality. Santiago evokes the inner campeon in every reader and divulges the fact that defeat is worthless if it is over-shined by the light of a new dawn and a new hope.