Ernest Miller Hemingway was one of the most famous American authors because of his simple style yet complex psychological analysis. The Old Man and the Sea is just one example of this typical Hemingway style. The novella won the Pulitzer in nineteen fifty-three and the Nobel Prize for Literature in nineteen fifty-four. It has remained popular since the publication in nineteen fifty-two because of its timeless themes of struggle and endurance. The story starts out with the protagonist, Santiago who is an elderly fisherman, having an extended run of bad luck.
It is told in third person omniscient point of view so that while alone, the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings can be revealed. Santiago is a character who has lost his wife and is incredibly poor. Sympathy for him is established from the beginning. He has been a fisherman from a small village near Havana, Cuba all of his life and he carries deep inside of himself an infinite hope that his skills are first-rate and that his luck will soon change. Hemingway was also a fisherman. In all actuality, he was many things, a soldier, reporter, hunter, boxer, and lover of the outdoors. Like Santiago, he was also aging at the time he wrote the book.
He had begun to see in himself the ravages that time takes on a body, especially on one that has been pushed to the limit many times. Hemingway had lost four wives, but to divorce instead of death. Santiago has a companion, Manolin, but his parents order him to quit Santiago and his boat for one that is more successful. Manolin wants to remain loyal to Santiago, but is forced by a higher power to do otherwise. This leads to Santiago’s isolation. Hemingway was a man who periodically imposed isolation on himself. It could have possibly been the isolation that was the time for his creative genius to work.
He resided in Cuba for a number of years before Castro came to power. So he knew that the sea could be a place for solidarity. It seemed like the perfect setting for the story of Santiago and his fishing adventure. “Jolting” Joe DiMaggio is Santiago’s hero. It is important that he read the baseball scores every day. DiMaggio, whose father had been a fisherman, had overcome a heal spur that would have crippled many others, but he went on to have a successful career. Santiago greatly admires DiMaggio’s courage and determination. Hemingway believed that courage was man’s greatest attribute.
The famous “Hemingway Code” is that men must display courage, determination, and a since of adventure. The code gets its name from the qualities that Hemingway embodied. Santiago’s dreams play an important role in the story. At night he has a recurring dream about lions playing on the beaches of Africa. He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy. (Hemingway, Ch. 1)
He had seen this scene when he was a young boat while on a ship off the shore. The dream ties Santiago’s youth with his elderly present. Africa was a favorite place for Hemingway. Safaris were a constant pleasure in his life. Hunting big game was his beloved pastime. It takes courage and determination to face the game that he did even with a weapon. It was the since of adventure that he lived for and added to his fame. There was something about the freedom and power of the lions that gave Santiago pleasure and peace. The lion is a predator as Hemingway felt that man was also a predator.
However, they both had another side, one that could be playful and loving. As Santiago departs on the sea, he becomes one with it. He considers the fish his friends and he likens his relationship with the sea to that of a woman who is not in control of herself. He chooses the adventure of rowing to the Gulf Stream instead of staying within sight of the shore. This action takes him out farther that he had ever been before and foreshadows his struggles in the sea. He is after a marlin to break his streak of bad luck. He knows that it will be difficult without any help, but that is part of the challenge. He catches two tunas to use for bait.
Just then the stern line came taut under his foot, where he had kept the loop of the line, and he dropped his oars and felt the weight of the small tuna’s shivering pull as he held the line firm and commenced to haul it in. The shivering increased as he pulled in and he could see the blue back of the fish in the water and the gold of his sides before he swung him over the side and into the boat. He lay in the stern in the sun, compact and bullet shaped, his big, unintelligent eyes staring as he thumped his life out against the planking of the boat with the quick shivering strokes of his neat, fast-moving tail.
The old man hit him on the head for kindness and kicked him, his body still shuddering, under the shade of the stern. (Ch. 2) It was a decision that one would expect Hemingway to make. He would have faced the courage that it would take to face the power of the sea and the marlin with an aging body. Santiago hooks a marlin that is so large he can not pull it into the boat on his own. He is determined to catch the fish regardless of what it takes from him. The marlin is the largest one that he has ever seen. The marlin symbolizes the perfect opponent.
It is large, strong, and will also fight for his life. He pulls the boat out even farther into the sea, and Santiago sees the lights of Havana disappear into the distance. This action symbolizes the shedding of modernization and the things of human kind. Santiago must now face his opponent with just himself. Hemingway would embrace this quality of bravery in any man especially in an aging one. Santiago must rely on his massive knowledge of the sea for survival. He must look to his natural surroundings and determine the information that is to keep him alive.
He understands the sea so well because he is not merely a fisherman who has fished for money, but he has learned great lessons from his teacher, the sea and all of its occupants. Santiago uses flashback to remember an earlier time when he caught a female marlin, and how her male counterpart was so grieved that he follows the boat in mourning. It is then we see that, according to Hemingway, women lead to grief. Santiago could not keep the picture of his wife on the wall because it made him too heartbroken. Hemingway did not allow women a prominent and positive place in his literature.
This was due to the fact that his experiences with women were negative. His own mother was cruel to the young boy and even made him dress in female clothing. Hemingway even resented his father for not standing up for him. His first love was Agnes Von Kurowsky, a nurse he met after he was wounded in World War I. After a brief romance, Agnes rejected the young Hemingway. It broke his heart and he never truly go over the experience. He then proceeded to marry four times. The first three marriages ended in bitter divorces. It was not until later in life that he would meet his last wife, Mary Welsh, and then he would find happiness with a woman.
By the next morning, Santiago has seriously hurt his left hand. He then uses his back to hold onto the fish. Even though he is in excruciating pain, he continues to hold to the fish. Hemingway also knew great pain in his life. At nineteen, he was wounded in Italy during World War I. He took many pieces of shrapnel to the leg. Most were removed, but the injury left him in pain for the rest of his life. He also suffered greatly from injuries suffered from a plane crash in nineteen fifty-four. He was left with an injured spleen, a concussion, and he was blind in his right eye.
His health deteriorated rapidly and he was never in good physical condition after the crash. Santiago also feels that the pain that he endures makes him a worthy opponent for the great marlin. He cannot help but ponder the idea that whoever purchases the marlin once he gets it back to shore will not be worthy to eat it and does not deserve to own the marlin. This is ironic because for Santiago to provide such a great fish would be an honor for him. Santiago is mostly characterized by his thoughts and actions. He is a deep thinking man even though he is formally uneducated. However, his knowledge of the sea and survival on the sea is vast.
He is resourceful in that he can survive with the materials that he has with him. Santiago eats his bait fish and uses his oar as a weapon. Even though he is the predator of the marlin, he is respectful of it and all of his natural surroundings. Even though Santiago is not a religious man, there is quite a bit of Christian religious symbolism in the novella. The only two pictures on the walls of Santiago’s hut were of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and one of the Virgin of Cobre, the patroness of Cuba. As stated earlier, he had taken down the picture of his dead wife because it was too painful for him to be reminded of her.
It would seem that the other two pictures were important to him. He alludes to the crucifixion when he refers to his pain as nails being driven through the hands. Santiago is also cut on both of his hands. It was the markings of the hand that Jesus used to prove to his disciple, Thomas that he was the risen Christ. The marlin, once killed by Santiago is tied to the side of the boat, lifting it up above the rest of the fish, as Christ was lifted on the cross. It is also the blood of the marlin that attracts a following of sharks just as the blood of Christ attracts his followers.
The fourth day Santiago finally kills his marlin after a tough fight that has left him exhausted, feeling faint, and seeing black spots. “I have never seen or heard of such a fish. But I must kill him. I am glad we do not have to try to kill the stars. ” Imagine if each day a man must try to kill the moon, he thought. The moon runs away. . . . Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him. . . . There is no one worthy of eating him from the manner of his behavior and his great dignity.
I do not understand these things, he thought. But it is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers. (Ch 3) He is victorious, but wonders if it is he who killed the marlin or the marlin that has killed him. It is his wounds that allow him to know that the situation is real and he is definitely alive. Then the fish came alive, with his death in him, and rose high out of the water showing all his great length and width and all his power and his beauty. He seemed to hang in the air above the old man in the skiff.
Then he fell into the water with a crash that sent spray over the old man and over all of the skiff. (Ch 4) The attack of the mako shark is devastating to Santiago. It takes at least forty pounds of meat from the marlin before Santiago can kill it with his harpoon. Unfortunately, the mako shark sinks with the harpoon stuck in it. This leaves Santiago unarmed far enough out in the sea that he is defenseless. Now that the blood is flowing rapidly from the marlin, he knows that other sharks will follow, and he is right. It is not long before a pair of shovel-nose sharks arrive and begin to take their toll on the marlin.
Santiago decides to produce a make-shift spear by attaching his knife to an oar. He skillfully kills the sharks, but does not think that were worthy opponents like the mako shark. More and more shovel-nose sharks are drawn by the marlin’s blood. Santiago fights them off losing his knife in the process. He is only left with a club, but he continued to fight. When it was all over, all he had left was the skeleton of the marlin. He feels that he was defeated or crucified. The suspense that Hemingway creates at this point in the story is incredible. It is uncertain if Santiago will survive or if he will die as did the marlin.
He stated that he and the marlin were one, and at this point there is little doubt that he will join the marlin in his fate. In a surprise twist of fate, Santiago does make it back home with a ravaged body and fatigue. He struggles to carry the skeleton of the marlin to his shack. Once he makes it to his shack, he collapses on his small bed with his arms outstretched like Christ during the crucifixion. He falls into a deep sleep. Manolin is surprised to find Santiago in his bed the next morning. He notices the old man’s hands and feels an immense amount of pity for him.
The other fishermen notice the huge skeleton of the marlin, and they measure it to find that it was eighteen feet long. Manolin, who is in tears, goes to get coffee for Santiago. When he returns he tells him of the search for him by the Coast Guard and how many thought that he was dead. Manolin now sees Santiago as a hero that he can look up to. He tells the elderly man that he will work with him on his boat no matter what his parents say. He has seen the courage that Santiago demonstrated, and now Manolin knows that if he could endure what he did, then he too can summons his courage.
Hemingway felt that men should stick together to encourage each other when it came to their courage. Manolin went to get Santiago some food and a newspaper. He knows that after his ordeal in the sea, he deserves it. Pedrico, the local cafe owner, sends free food to Santiago through Manolin. He then promises that he will give Pedrico that he can have the head of the marlin. Later on that afternoon, some tourist mistook the skeletal marlin head for a shark. They could not comprehend what the significance of the great fish had meant. Manolin then returns to the shack and finds that Santiago has again fallen asleep.
He sits down and watches him dream about the lions. From Manolin bringing the old man coffee to the old man’s return to sleep to dream, once again, about the lions. (Ch 5) The play of the fierce lions symbolizes contrasting forces. Santiago has learned that these forces are a natural part of life. Even though he is an old man, he has come full circle and is connecting with his youth. One of the major themes of the novel is that there is honor in death, a struggle, and in defeat if one gives it all that he has to the fight. Santiago struggles with the elements of nature, sea creatures, and society during the whole novella.
He is ready to face death when he opposes the marlin and the sharks. The fact that he was facing a worthy opponent made him feel that it was worthy of death. It was a fight that would lead to the death of one or the other. Hemingway was not afraid to face death in the adventures. He faced danger in the ocean, on African safaris, and his decision to take his own boat and freed the Plaza Hotel from the Germans during World War II. Pride is another major theme of the story. You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food, he thought. You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman.
You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more? (Ch 4) Santiago takes pride in his fishing skills and in his determination. When he successfully catches and kills the marlin, he is proud of his accomplishment. Hemingway does not condemn pride. He was proud of his accomplishments and saw no shame in it. The suffering of man is also a theme of the book. Suffering is a normal part of life. Santiago goes through an extreme amount of pain while on his fishing adventure. His back and hands take the worst of the damage.
After he returned home, Manolin notices that his hands are completely mutilated hands. He suffers the pain of having his prize catch that he worked and sacrificed so much destroyed by the sharks. When the novella opened, Santiago suffered the chiding of the other fishermen. He endures it with honor. It was easy to see why this was the novel that won Hemingway the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize. The work embodied the author’s best work. It was a perfect example of how Hemingway was living at the time, and contained many of the lessons that he had learned about life.