Analysis of Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’

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Updated: Jul 10, 2021
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Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea serves as a tale of Santiago’s epic struggle with the greatest catch of his life, however, this conflict is not the sole instance of perseverance and sacrifice rather the author illustrates this through every aspect of Santiago’s life. Hemingway’s purpose is to write a realistic and emblematic novel that mirrors his own decline in his writing career. Perseverance is a continuous effort to do or achieve something despite complications, disappointments, or conflictions. Hemmingway sees failure as something that is not a coincidence instead that it is a choice. Sacrifice is the act of giving up something to help someone else or yourself. In The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway employs the major themes of perseverance and sacrifice to highlight the struggle between a wise, seasoned fisherman and nature’s raw strength.

Santiago, the main character in The Old Man and the Sea portrays perseverance as one of his main qualities. Perseverance plays a huge role in the novel because it is what leads Santiago, the old man, on a five-day journey. He is a determined fisherman who has been on an eighty-four-day streak, without catching a fish. He wakes up every morning, way before dawn and gets equipped for a day of fishing which is his occupation. Santiago becomes known as the buffoon of his small community. The society thinks of him as salao “which is the worst form of unlucky”(Culver 35). As Hemmingway once voiced, “courage is grace under pressure”, and this illustration suits Santiago’s courage flawlessly. Not once did Santiago give into allegations or fear. Instead, he strives to do his greatest, without complaining or boasting. Santiago shows courage by not permitting what his community is voicing about him but instead goes out all alone every day and fishes. On the eighty-fifth day he sails out to sea as usual, and this is the day that changes Santiago’s existence forever.

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He hooks a remarkably enormous marlin, and they have an excruciating battle for several days. Despite the difficulty that he encounters, Santiago remains steadfast, and perseverant through the grueling task of catching the enormous marlin. He displays the most courage when he has to go up against the marlin. The old man’s determination is enabled by the variety of skills he possesses. The old man “uses his own determination to test the limits of that of the fish”(Stephens and Cools 197). Santiago could have let the marlin go, by cutting the line, but instead, he pronounces to the marlin “I’ll stay with you until I die”(52). The old man kills or fends the animals that attack one by one, despite losing a weapon with each confrontation until he has nothing left but his bare fists. Returning home with nothing but the carcass to bear witness to the utmost catch of his life and his skiff badly damaged, Santiago is not defeated, nor is his spirit broken. Santiago’s motivation to stay with the marlin until death shows his perseverance throughout the novel.

The sharks in the novel are perceived as Santiago’s fiercest antagonists. The sharks display perseverance as they go up against Santiago for the Marlin. Santiago has just killed the marlin and pronounces, “if sharks come, God pity him and me”(68). After the long and crucial three days and nights of Santiago and the marlin struggling he finally captures the marlin and lashes its body alongside his skiff. Having secured the marlin to the skiff, Santiago draws the sail and lets the trade wind push him toward the southeast. An hour after Santiago kills the marlin, a mako shark is in pursuit of the enormous marlin. The shark follows the smell of the blood from the marlin and encounters a grueling battle with Santiago. Santiago depicts the shark as being “built as a swordfish”(67) and having teeth with “razor-sharp cutting edges”(67). The Mako shark fights with perseverance for the marlin but ends up with a harpoon sunk into its head. The mako takes nearly forty pounds of meat, so fresh blood from the marlin spills into the water, inevitably drawing more sharks to attack.

Santiago begins to regret catching the marlin, wishing that his adventure had been but a dream. Only two hours later Santiago encounters a pair of shovel-nosed sharks. Santiago is up against two scavenging fearless predators. After battling with the Mako shark Santiago is eager to give up, but he fights the two shovel-nosed sharks with a knife that he has lashed to an oar as a makeshift weapon. The old man kills them both, but “not before they put up a good fight and take a good quarter of the marlin”(Morgan and Losada 47). After encountering two other sharks Santiago realizes that he never should have killed the marlin and apologizes to the dead marlin for having gone out so far. In The Old Man and the Sea, the author depicts the sharks as disparaging forces of nature that put up a good fight with the old man. Santiago manages to kill them, but they tear apart the marlin’s body and leave Santiago distraught.

In The Old Man and the Sea, the Old Man continuously grapples and has to make sacrifices during his confrontation with the enormous Marlin. He battles for three days and three nights and pronounces he will “stay with [the marlin] until [he] dies”(52). He only starts to doubt his abilities as his body threatens to betray him. The marlin, which is enormous and powerful, is the ultimate test of his skill as a fisherman; Santiago knows that he doesn’t need to be as strong as the marlin as long as he is smarter than the marlin. When the Old Man first manages to get a grip on the Marlin he realizes that it has more strength than he predicted. The fish jerks so hard that “the old man sacrifices many fathoms of his reserve coils”(Cain 120). When Santiago sacrifices his reserve coils to keep the fish attached he knows he needs to scuffle to keep the fish from tugging the line too tight to the point of breaking. Even when Santiago is lightheaded and severely injured, he continues to summon the strength to bring the major catch of his life. The Old Man continuously struggles to keep his left hand from cramping up because it is “making it impossible to use his [left] hand [when battling for the marlin]”(Cain 117).

The marlin jumps out of the water again and again, and Santiago is flung into the bow of the skiff, facedown in his dolphin meat. After being flung he looks at his wounded hand, and he reflects and declares, “pain does not matter to a man” (Napierkowski and Stanley 199). Santiago’s body slowly weakens, and he cannot bounce back as easily as he had in his youth. The constant strain of fighting the fish starts to break his body and then his resolve. One of the only things keeping Santiago going is his willpower. Santiago fights the marlin until it weakens and allows him to kill it; the sea then fought Santiago until he weakened and allowed it to “destroy him, but not to defeat him” (Stephen and Cools 83). When encountering the hardships Santiago has to sacrifice his physical health as he is forced to drink very little water, which leads him to become dehydrated. He strains his aged muscles, gets muscle cramps, and cuts and scrapes while trying to keep the enormous marlin from getting away. The seasoned fisherman never professes his hunger despite only eating raw fish, which leads to malnutrition. He never complains through all the sacrifices for the marlin he encounters, but instead, he becomes motivated. The old man has attributes of a willingness to sacrifice.

Manolin is a young boy who is Santiago’s apprentice and dedicated attendant. Many of the men in the community work in the sea, so it is common for someone in Manolin’s situation to apprentice with one fisherman or another. Santiago has taken the boy, Manolin, under his wing when the boy was only five years old. The young boy thinks of the old man as “the best fisherman”(17). He sails with Santiago for forty days, during his long streak of bad fishing. Manolin is compliant to his father, but it is Santiago whom he loves. His father has prohibited the boy to fish with Santiago because he thinks the old man is no longer an effective fisherman and a salao. The boy listens to his father’s orders and catches three good fish the first week. However, during their time together Manolin becomes captivated with Santiago’s personality and his involvements, and they become good acquaintances with a father-son relationship. Santiago opens up and shows his innocent side when he is with Manolin. Manolin has to sacrifice not being able to fish with Santiago and that kills him.

Even though Manolin is not allowed to fish with Santiago that does not mean he still does not has faith in him. Despite not being allowed to fish with him anymore, Manolin looks after Santiago, making sure he has bait and food, and lovingly anticipating his needs. Realizing that the village water supply is a good distance from the old man’s home, he brings him water and washing supplies and plans to “get him another shirt and a jacket for the winter and some sort of shoes and another blanket”(Culver 37). Santiago sees Manolin as someone who should aspire greater things than what he did himself in his own life, but he also enjoys the boy’s attention and loves him as a son. After Manolin encounters the old man when he gets back to shore from just killing the marlin he is traumatized. The old man does not look like himself and that tears Manolin to pieces. Manolin has resolved to learn from Santiago no matter what his parents say, thus ensuring that Santiago’s life and experiences will live on.

Analysis of Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ essay

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