Throughout History man has suffered from many setbacks and even though these have slowed his progression it has never defeated him. In the fiction novel The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway the main character Santiago undergoes many challenges while fighting the big fish. Even though in the end Santiago lost the fish, he was never defeated. Throughout the novel The Old Man and the Sea Hemingway uses symbolism through Santiago, the marlin, and his nemesis, the sharks to contribute to his theme that “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” Throughout the novel Santiago represents determination, bravery, patience, and the ideal everyman through his actions when dealing with obstacles. During Santiago’s fishing expedition the marlin represents the ultimate goal we must obtain. Lastly, the sharks represent our enemies in life and that no matter, what we cannot let them break our spirits.
Santiago’s struggle with life shows his true character and that he is the ideal everyman. His struggle defines determination, patience, and bravery. Santiago first shows his inner character when he maintains his daily fishing even after eighty-four days of coming back empty handed. On the eighty-fourth day the old man comes in empty handed again, but something about him seems strange. When Santiago’s friend, Manolin, looks at him “everything about him was old except his eyes and they were they same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated”(10). Even though Santiago’s body might be starting to fail him his spirit has not. Santiago also represents the highly valued ability to have patience. After the big fish has been hooked and starts swimming at its steady rate out to sea Santiago realizes that this fish will not give up soon. As the sun starts to go down Santiago says softly, aloud “Fish, I’ll stay with you until I am dead”(52).
Santiago demonstrates patience here and that time cannot defeat him. Lastly, Santiago proves his bravery when he realizes that he is probably out matched. After one day of swimming below the surface the marlin jumps out of the water in an attempt to break the line. This will be the first time Santiago will be able to look at him. Once Santiago sees him during his breath taking jump Santiago is awed and panic stricken. Santiago has seen many great fish but, “Now alone, and out of sight of land, he was fast to the biggest fish that he had ever seen and bigger than he had ever heard of”(63). He decides to stay with the fish and test his luck. Santiago shows that the big fishes size will not daunt him or let it scare him into defeat. Santiago will fight with all his might to capture this fish. All of these characteristics contribute to Santiago being the ideal everyman and the idealistic vision of man cannot be defeated.
In every person’s life he or she encounters some very difficult obstacles and the rewards to them can be the ones they most highly prize, Santiago’s is the great fish. One of Santiago’s obstacles is his worn body and he pushes it hard. On the second day his left hand begins to cramp and eventually tightens into a form of claw. Santiago is disgusted and says, “What kind of a hand is that, cramp then if you want. Make yourself into a claw. It will do you no good”(58). Here Santiago is battling with his endurance. He knows his body is to old to catch the big fish but he won’t admit it or even acknowledge it because he knows that once he starts to believe it he will give up and the fish will have won. Another challenge Santiago is put through to obtain his goal is one in his mind.
After Santiago first sees the fish he is dumb founded by its sheer beauty and then he realizes it is the biggest, strongest fish he has ever beheld. To succeed he must not let the size of the marlin break his mind set on catching it. After seeing the fish for the first time Santiago says to himself, “I must never let him learn his strength nor what he could do if he made his run”(63). Even though Santiago is up against the greatest fish he has ever seen he must keep his wits about him and not forget what he has learned his entire life about catching fish. No matter what Santiago cannot be defeated by the fish as long as he doesn’t let the fish beat him mentally.
After three long days of wrestling with the big fish Santiago finally succeeded. Once the fish went belly up he laid back and let the fish sit in the water by the boat for a bit. He then said to himself, “I am a tired old man. But I have killed this fish”(95). Santiago’s victory over the big fish proved that if a man kept his spirit strong the he could never be defeated no matter how strong or massive his opponent is. Santiago’s overcoming of his physical and physiological obstacles resulted in victory over the great fish and proving the statement that a man can be destroyed but not defeated.
The worst way to loose is to give in to an enemy and let them break his or hers spirit. Santiago did exactly the opposite when dealing with the sharks. Once the huge fish was caught and killed Santiago started preparing to leave for home. He tied the fish to the side because it would sink the boat if he tried to bring it in and he hoisted the sail so that the winds could bring him in. No long after starting his long journey home the first shark came. When it first appeared Santiago was determined to not let his prize be ruined. He took out his harpoon and “he hit it with his blood mushed hands driving a harpoon with all his might”(102).
Here Santiago shows that he will not let a shark beat him and take all his hard work away. If he can’t protect the fish he’s going to at least die trying. Even after his harpoon is lost Santiago doesn’t stop fighting. He sees two more sharks coming and takes “up the oar with the knife lashed to it” to defend his prize. Santiago shows that he will go as far as it takes to keep himself from being defeated by lowly scavengers. In the end Santiago was beat and his prize destroyed but he was never truly defeated. As Santiago stumbles ashore and towards his shack he feels the pain of the long fishing trip in his muscles. As soon has he gets home his first and only priority is sleep.
Santiago stumbles into bed and pulls the sheets over him. He closes his eyes and immediately falls asleep, “The old man was dreaming about lions”(127). The old man was never defeated. His body, the marlins strength, and the sharks predatorial attacks were no match for Santiago’s mind and his ability to overcome setbacks. Santiago’s dream about lions shows that this fishing trip was just another challenge life had thrown at him. Loosing the fish was only a small setback in Santiago’s life and minuscule in comparison to catching the fish itself.
Throughout this novel Hemingway uses Santiago, the marlin, and the sharks as symbolism to contribute to his theme that “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” Throughout the novel Santiago represented the ideal everyman through his actions which depicted determination, patience, and bravery. He showed the characteristics of a man who could leave any battle feeling undefeated and knowing that he gave it his all and didn’t back down. The marlin represented the ultimate goal we must achieve and how the fight to obtain it is the most strenuous one. In the end the sharks represented our enemies and even if they take what we have earned earning the prize is more valued than the prize itself. Men are the most prize driven creatures and even though sometimes the prize is destroyed by others man has never let that defeat him.