The Heroic Impulse in "The Old Man and the Sea"

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway is a short novel written in 1951 in Cuba, which was published in 1952. It was written when there are important political changes in Cuba- and the Cuban government was in decline and the situation later changes to a dictatorship that had made it endured to this day. Ansari, H. (2016) claims that “Lost generation is generally applied to those who had actively participated in the First World War and as a consequence of this had realized that life was meaningless.

” The Old Man and the Sea show how a man is alienated from society, where the problems of existence of identity and the worst suffering after the war, and the intense subjectivity of a character who reveals himself through interior monologue. Thus, the theme of” lost generation” in The Old Man and Sea is portrayed through various themes such as existentialism, Heroism, and alienation.

Firstly, Hemingway shows the theme of the lost generation in his novel through existentialism.

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There comes a time where they need to decide one’s meaning of life with pure sincerity and passion to define their own meaning of life is the only way to existentialism. Mustafa (2009, p. 2) claims that “existentialism is a philosophy and a point of view of the group who sees life without meaning especially after WWI”. This philosophy plays an important role in Hemingway’s writing, and as well as in his personal life as he is one among many who witness war. The existentialism protagonist seeks the real meaning of life and order in a chaotic and meaningless universe which shows the reality of American society after the war.

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Similarly, the existentialist protagonist in his novel struggles with his own sense of alienation and isolation just in order to define him and the meaning of life. In his novel, the life of human is portrayed as a struggle against the external forces of the world and it is a hateful struggle where man is fated to lose. During First World War the machine had played an important role than the men who were fighting the war. The machines had become their masters where everything is being done by machine in war where the men felt helpless and meaningless. Existentialism says that the existence of humans is meaningless where the individuals are responsible for their own lives by overcoming feelings of fear and hatred. In his novel “The Old Man and the Sea” the fishing part of the old man struggling is to show his own existential values where he fails till the end in a meaningless way. Old man is an alone man engaged in isolation where he is bound to fail till the end. Thus, the theme of lost generation was shown through existentialism in his novel.

Moreover, old fisherman, Santiago is the hero of the novel The Old Man and the Sea. Any man can be a hero because of his strong bravery, good action, values and intellectual qualities which would be like in his novel. “Hemingway’s heroes make a breakthrough in the connotation and transcend the traditional function of heroes” (Kumar, 2013, p. 368). Years of struggle and suffering from the harsh life as a fisherman made him tired and thin, but his eyes are still as blue as seawater which is filled with cheerfulness and unyielding spirit. Santiago is a hero in the novel because he fights against both marlin and the difficulties that faced throughout his life. An old fisherman, who is a hero of novel, catches a giant marlin after a long and hard struggle but to have the fish eaten by sharks with nothing left for him. This represents Hemingway’s own personal grief and that of society who were traumatized through war in America. According to Monk (2010), Hemingway and the people of his time sacrificed their own dream and hope and in the end they were left feeling hollow about it. Hemingway’s hero is a realistic person, showing the acceptance of painful and harsh reality, with only the loss of his defeat. Thus, heroism in his novel shows how the lost generation feels after world war.

Further, the theme of isolation is prevalent in The Old Man and the Sea. Isolation is being excluded from others and being left out. In The Old Man and the Sea the old man is the main character who is isolated from the human world. This isolation defines who he really is, and emphasizes the unique nature of his character. According to Rani “the cause of alienation are enumerated by extracting the influencing factors like anxiety, despair, and loneliness” (2016, p.478). Isolation can weakness (he suffers from loneliness), but is also a key element to his battle because of his isolation. The narrator introduces Santiago as an old man who is always fishing alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and it had been eighty-four days without getting any fish in the sea. In the novel The Old Man and the Sea, the hero old man is alienated from society and is left alone on the wide sea for three days and night fighting endlessly fighting with a marlin. Throughout the whole novel, Santiago was alone with no family and friend fishing alone which made it easy to notice the alienation in the novel. Similarly, after the First World War society has to move away to a new area where they struggle with no food fighting against their life in depression. Hence, alienation in his novel shows the theme of the lost generation.

To sum up, after the first world war the society who has witness the war found the life of human meaningless where they have no choice rather to face harsh reality. Society has to witness harsh reality of life which led them in traumatized and depression where they lost faith in everything. Lost generation was formed after First World War with few writers in America mainly to depict the suffering of the society. Hemingway always put his heroes in difficult and dangerous situation where they have to struggle hard and bear pains where his hero is related to the real-life of society.

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The Heroic Impulse in "The Old Man and the Sea". (2020, Sep 28). Retrieved from

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