The Old Man and the Sea
“A man can be destroyed, but not defeated.”(114). This is the essence, and a major theme of Hemingways novel, The Old Man and the Sea. The story revolves around one old man, and his struggle with the Gulf. The old mans name is Santiago, he was once a master of the sea, but in his old age has become subject to its whims. This story of man versus nature shows that it is not the end result of what you have done, but it is the way you go about your task. This is what Santiago means in the above quote, the result of his undergoing may become destroyed, but he was not defeated. What he did was still done, and he completed his task with honor.
Santiago is a fisherman, but he has not caught a fish for eighty-four days, and on the eighty-fifth day, he goes out on the Gulf farther than he has ever gone before. Santiago knows the sea as well as he knows himself. He talks about the sea in a very loving way, “But 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.” (33). When Santiago has hooked the marlin, it becomes a battle between the two to see who will be defeated. Santiago ends up killing the marlin. But he knows he did not defeat the fish, it was only his human advantages that let him catch the marlin. Santiago admires the fish and he thinks of him as an equal. “we sail like brothers. Then his head started to become a little unclear and he thought , is he bringing me in or am I bringing him in?But they were sailing together lashed side by side and the old man thought, let him bring me in if it pleases him. I am only better than him through trickery and he meant me no harm.”(110) Santiago destroyed the fish, his life was ended. But the fish kept his dignity and was still thought of by Santiago as a hero. The marlin was never defeated, he was gallant in his fight, but was outsmarted by human advantages. Against that no animal has a chance.
After Santiago has caught the marlin he realizes that a large part of his motivation was pride. The thought of going home and having everyone praise him and not think of him as just “the old man” anymore, pulls him through the hardships. He keeps coming back to the image of Joe Dimaggio. He inspires Santiago because Dimaggio is able to do his best even with his painful handicap. Santiago often thinks how proud Joe Dimaggio would be of him if he could see what he had done, this also helps him overcome his obstacles. But he knows that to destroy one of his brothers for pride is not ethical , and he could not get away with such a offense. Nature must keep a balance, and the sea would retaliate to Santiagos prideful killing. The catching of the marlin was a double edged sword, the marlin could give him many rewards, but the pride it took for him to catch it makes a deep cut in his victory. The marlins blood attracted the sharks , and the sharks removed the proof of Santiagos expedition. So Santiago returned to his home with nothing but the skeleton to show for his efforts. Santiago felt guilty for killing this magnificent animal out of pride and so says to himself, “I shouldnt have gone out so far, fish. Neither for you or me . Im sorry fish.”(121). Once Santiago is home, he is able to sleep in peace because he has been cleansed of his pride. Nature took back his trophy, but did not defeat him. The valor of his accomplishment is still in existence even though the fruits of his labors have been destroyed. Nature let him keep part of his trophy and bystanders admire the effort it would take to catch an animal with such a magnificent skeleton.
At home ,the town, with the exception of Manolin, views Santiago as an old defeated man who was once strong. Everything about Santiagos life, shows him as a defeated old man, “The sail was patched with flour sacks, and furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.”(9). The sail on his ship may seem defeated, but it has the most experience and is stronger because of its experience. Santiago is much like the sail on his ship. Both appear to be defeated and worthless, but both have much worth left in them. Destruction means loss or death, but defeat has a very different meaning. Defeat has more of a moral implication and is when you have not even yourself left. Santiago is very poor and his youth and success have long been destroyed. He had nothing left but his dignity and pride, ” He was too simple to wonder when he had attained humility. But he knew he had attained it and he knew it was not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true pride.”(14). But Santiago is not defeated, he has hopes and dreams and the strength to catch a marlin. Santiago lives under the rest of the towns loving condescension, but it does not matter to him because he still has himself. Manolin loves Santiago and takes very good care of the old man. Once Santiago is back and has recovered, Manolin asks him to impart his vast knowledge of the sea to him. Manolin knows that Santiago is not defeated by the ruin of his conquest, he is made stronger by persevering through the challenge.
In all areas of his life the things Santiago has accomplished are not recognized. At home no one realizes the power of his wisdom and his experiences. On the sea, his efforts are made fruitless by nature. But even though it looks as if he has been defeated by his life, he is not. He is stronger and wiser because of the things he has endured. ” They beat me, Manolin. He said. They truly beat me. He didnt beat you. Not the fish. No. Truly it was afterwards.”(136) Santiago tries to tell Manolin that he was defeated by the fish, but Manolin explains that he was not defeated, he still accomplished his task. And therefore he is not only not defeated, he is a stronger and better man. This book is a wonderful example of how even when man is beaten by nature, and he is beaten by society, he is never defeated. As long as he has himself he can never be defeated.