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Santiago: The Hemingway Hero Essay

The book Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway is one like most Hemingway books. It contains, like most of his works, hidden meanings in the texts. Not only that, but the main character is one of an adventurous, glamorous lifestyle, much like Hemingway himself. Santiago, the main character of The Old Man and the Sea, has been debated over the topic as to whether or not he is actually worthy to be deemed a “Hemingway Hero.”

The “Hemingway Hero”

In each of Hemingway’s books, he puts uniqueness in each main character that remains true throughout all his books. This uniqueness is a combination of qualities that place the character in a category of a “Hemingway Hero.” What exactly are these qualities? Well, first off, a Hemingway Hero depends wholly on himself, and is completely self-reliant: a loner at heart. “Participating in Nature makes the Hemingway Hero feel alive and refreshed, for nature offers him an opportunity to test his skills through forms of competition, such as hunting and fishing,” (Dwiggins). Therefore, a Hemingway Hero also enjoys nature, as far as to the point of coinciding or even seeming to rely on Natures Company. It is usually a male, who would face danger willingly because he believes that his worth as a man is measured by his ability to endure. A hero made by Hemingway views personal violence (healthy competition between two worthy opponents) as something necessary and beneficial to life.

The Hemingway Hero, by competing with an equally skilled opponent, can prove his manhood through such testing of endurance, courage, strength, and spirit. He faces Death as any human, however, regards a fight to the death as an ultimate challenge of his worth, and advances to face such challenges with supreme dignity. Although the hero does this, he is rarely satisfied on his life or accomplishments, and proves himself again and again. He holds extreme intimacy with nature, holding a deep appreciation for her sights, sounds, and smells. Most of all, the Hemingway Hero displays four very important qualities that ultimately complete the being as a Hemingway Hero. These qualities are courage, honor, endurance, and “grace under pressure.”


The main character Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea completes his seaward journey, trials, and tribulations with much courage inside. “Santiago, throughout his hardships of his three-day fight with the marlin, displays courage by keeping at the task, no matter how tired he gets, and ‘going the distance,’ (Dwiggins). This “going the distance” she speaks of is not only the fact that he went the distance by holding onto the marlin, and not letting it go, but also going out farther than the rest of the fisherman normally would. Not only did he go further than the fisherman in that factor, but also in the factor of vowing for a fight with the Marlin to the death.

He was not going to let go, no matter the cost. “Just as Santiago goes ‘far out’ beyond the lesser ambitions of the other fishermen, he finds the great fish not simply because he was the better fisherman, but because, in a symbolic sense, he deserves it,” (Davis 6). Why does Santiago deserve this great catch? Well, simply put, he had the courage to go out and look for it, unlike the other fishermen. Also, to go out as far as he did reveals another idea of his courage. His boat could have easily capsized, or he could’ve gotten lost out in the deep blue sea. The courage to go out as far as he did helps his nomination for the honor of being named a “Hemingway Hero.”


Honor is another clearly shown characteristic of Santiago throughout The Old Man and the Sea. “Furthermore it helps him earn the deeper respect of the village fisherman and secures him a prized companionship of the boy–he knows that he will never have to endure such an epic struggle in his entire life,” (Mitchell 506). The deeper respect of the fisherman and also the companionship of the boy are a type of honor that is very special. Santiago, in terms of this type or honor, has earned it respectively, and deserves to be recognized. However, not only is it earned, it is shown off in a somewhat proud manner through his action in the book.

“Santiago stands alone in the level of his commitment to his craft and in his role as the hero who must test himself against his own frailty. His defense against the randomness of the experience is precision…The value of such a method is confirmed by the presence of the Great fish…he finds the great fish no simply because he was a better fisherman, but because, in a symbolic sense, he deserves it…Such a deep concern with the quality of Santiago’s actions reflects Hemingway’s own concern with style…the more courageous the act, the greater it’s beauty, clarity, and ethical purity,” (Davis 5-6).

Santiago’s commitment to fishing alone is a behavior that deserves to be honored, as most fishermen after eighty plus days of fishless returns to the village. Catching such a great sized fish deserves honor, as trying his best to defend it from sharks. With his courageous act, it increases his honor in its own beauty, and clarity. As you can see, Santiago displays great amounts of honor throughout his ordeal, and not only shows it, and earns it, but also lightly flaunts it in the end.


Defining the “Hemingway Hero,” one cannot overlook the characteristic of endurance throughout The Old Man and the Sea. Santiago’s Struggle is truly a test, and in the end, a conquered feat of endurance. He fights the Marlin, despite the pain and aches all over his body he suffers. Not only is Santiago enduring physical things, but he is also enduring the fact of being socially isolated from the village throughout the story. “Despite having received a bad deal from the world, the Hemingway Hero preserves in his search for a good life, creating his own meaning out of the chaos of existence,” (Magill 1171).

According to Frank N. Magill, Santiago has received next to nothing from the world, yet he still endures whatever may be put upon him; he never backs down from a challenge. Also, once he has begun a challenge, he will not stop until the task is complete, or death. It will be either him or the Marlin. Hemingway’s Heroes usually have a history, or are currently being scarred by some sort of traumatizing experience, including war, or violence. In comparison with Santiago, it proves true with the fact that Santiago is in fact enduring, and puts him closer to the title or a Hemingway Hero.

“Grace under Pressure”

Despite having all the qualities of courage, honor, and endurance, one cannot be even considered without the characteristic of having “grace under pressure.” “Despite his losing the Marlin to sharks, Santiago maintains a purposive, peaceful resolve with his fate, a heroic dignity epitomizing the “victory in defeat” ideal that Hemingway recurrently addressed in his fiction,” (Harris 172). As Stated by Harris, Santiago maintains his act of “grace under pressure,” but what about the beginning of the Novel? Does he learn to keep “grace under pressure” through his ordeal? Or has he already achieved this gain before going out. “Santiago at the start is more like, say, a farmer who has a series of poor harvests. His predicament is that of average humanity in its day-to-day effort to keep going.

That is why he is more broadly representative of the human race than any other Hemingway character,” (Hovey 3). Clearly, Santiago learned this “grace under pressure,” but it was before the start of the book, when his bad luck started. Although he learned it before the ordeal, it took his trial and tribulation with the Marlin to be able for a reader to clearly recognize the display. Santiago’s ordeal is much like the crucifixion, as he has “grace under pressure,” like Christ on the cross (Stoltzfus 7). Santiago, in his quest to become a Hemingway Hero, has efficiently achieved the quality of “grace under pressure.”

Santiago, the main character, of The Old Man and the Sea has easily achieved the all important character traits of having honor, courage, endurance, and “grace under pressure.” Through this knowledge, we can clearly, and finally conclude that Santiago can indeed be deemed a Hemingway Hero.

Works Cited

Davis, Carl. “Overview of The Old Man and the Sea.” Exploring Novels (2003): Student resource center. Lee High School Library, Midland, TX. 18 March 2004. .

Dwiggins, Mary. Hemingway Defines the Code Hero as. Millikin University. 18 April 2004. .

Harris, Laurie Lanzen. Characters in 20th Century Literature. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1990. 167-168.

Hovey, Richard B. “The Old Man and the Sea: A new Hemingway Hero.” Discourse: A Review of Liberal Arts. Vol. IX, No 3 (Summer 1996): 283-94.

Magill, Frank N, Ed. Critical Survey of Long Fiction. Pasadena: Salem Press, 1991. 1595-1607.

Mitchell, Sharie P. A Guide to American Literature. 2nd ed. New York: Bantam Books, 1998.

Stoltzfus, Ben. “Gide and Hemingway: Rebels against God.” Exploring Novels (2003): 39t. Students Resource Center. Lee High School Library, Midland, TX. 18 March 2004. .

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