Through times of struggle, humans resort to memories and ideas to help them through conflict and adversity. In The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway’s protagonist, Santiago relies on his connection with the sea and with nature, his relationship with a young boy, and past memories and dreams to get through his struggles with a large marlin, which he catches after 84 days with no fish. Ernest Hemingway uses Santiago’s courage, love of nature and his experience to help him overcome adversity.
The novel takes place mostly outdoors and at sea. This setting is important, because the sea and nature both are important parts of Santiago’s life. Santiago makes a living off of the sea. He also feels a strong connection with both the sea and nature. The sea is what makes Santiago’s life worth living and is ironically what causes his adversity. Santiago uses the sea to take his mind off the pain he experiences in his body, but the sea is also what causes that pain. In the beginning of the novel, he was depicted as old but cheerful. Everything about him was old, except for his eyes. They were the same color as the sea, cheerful, and undefeated. Yet later in the novel, his vision got blurry because he was sick, dehydrated, and worn out because of his struggle with the large marlin.
Also, “he always thought of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her… The old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favors, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them” (Hemingway 29). Unlike many others, the old man loves and respects the sea, because he sees its beauty. Despite the struggle the sea creates for him, he knows that it only creates hardships because it can not prevent them.
The old man also uses nature to calm himself down, so he stops worrying about the hunger and pain (Hemingway 109). This is also shown in the quote, “Remember we are in September. The month when the great fish come… Anyone can be a fisherman in May” (Hemingway 18). This quote shows that anyone can overcome the easy times, but it takes courage and strength to overcome the rough times. Santiago’s struggle with the sea generally is what causes his adversity in the novel, yet also part of what helps him overcome it.
Santiago is an old fisherman in Cuba, , who has gone eighty-four days without a fish. He is “thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck…and his hands had deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the chords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert” (Hemingway 10). These scars show Santiago’s lifetime of experience and pain. However, his cheerful eyes, that are the color of the sea, show his youthfulness, and his hope. This hope, youthfulness, and determination is what helps him overcome adversity and go out fishing after 84 day of unluckiness and catch a marlin. Through his actions, we learn that Santiago is persistent and hopeful, despite his luck, and opinions of the other fisherman. Also in the novel, as Santiago’s pain becomes harder and harder to deal with, he starts to unravel, and the reader can see a deeper side of him.
As he both flashes in and out of reality, the reader also learns of what help’s Santiago keep going, and deal with this pain. The reader also see’s Santiago’s intentions change slightly. At first it was more about wanting glory, and wanting to get rid of his bad luck streak, “Then he began to pity the great fish he had hooked. He is wonderful and strange… Never have I had such a strong fish… What a great fish he is” (Hemingway 48). Santiago begins to notice the fish’s beauty, and strength, and feels bad for the fish; this shows Santiago’s respect for the fish. Santiago goes even further in this statement by saying “Fish, I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you before this day ends,” Santiago says this, because he doesn’t want to kill the fist, because he has begun to care for it, and it reminds him of himself, but he knows he has to, for food, and partially for his own need to know that he caught something, and that he wasn’t just a fool for going out there (Hemingway 54).
Santiago also begins to experience great pain in his hands, and he feels nauseous. He needs something to deal with that pain. To overcome this obstacle, and adversity, he relies on his dreams, memories from his youth, and baseball. “He lived along the coast now every night, and in his dreams he heard the surf roar, and saw the native boats come riding through it…. He dreams of places now, and lions on the beach” (Hemingway 24). His perseverance and his willingness to overcome adversity, rather than just give up, shows both Santiago’s strength and his courage.
These are two of the things that make him a Hemingway hero. Hemingway’ also uses pride as Hemingway’s downfall, and what makes him the hero he is. A heroic man like Santiago should have pride in his actions, and as Santiago shows us, “humility was not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true pride” (Hemingway 14). At the same time though, Santiago’s pride is also what presses him to travel dangerously far out into the sea, “beyond all people in the world,” to catch the marlin (Hemingway 50).
And while he loved the marlin and even called him his brother, Santiago admits to killing the fish for pride, and he was also excited at the opportunity to battle such a worthy opponent. It could also be interpreted, that the loss of the marlin in the price that Santiago had to pay for his pride in traveling out so far in search of such a catch. In the end, Hemingway suggests that pride in a job well done, even if pride is what drew Santiago into an unnecessary situation, is a positive trait. Another reason behind this could be Santiago’s need to feel worthy. Santiago is obsessed with proving his worthiness to those around him. He had to prove himself to the boy: “the thousand times he had proved it meant nothing. Now he was proving it again.
Each time was a new time and he never thought about the past while he was doing it” (Hemingway 66). And he also felt the need to prove himself to the marlin. This need, is a big part of what makes the novel. If Santiago, didn’t feel the need to prove himself to everyone, to the boy, to himself, or to the marlin (the sea more generally), then there wouldn’t be a story. His pride wouldn’t have pushed him out that far, because he wouldn’t have felt the need to go. This is a big part of what makes his character overcome the odds, and adversity. Santiago’s relationship with the sea shows that with determination, one can overcome the hardships in life, and continue to fight.