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Ernest Hemingway brought home a Pulitzer Prize for the literary piece about a poor fisherman’s quest to gain power and individuality through a fight between a man and a marlin. While creating an analysis and interpretation of “The Old Man and the Sea,” it is important to put a focus on the main character’s internal struggle, the major themes, and the biblical involvement during the story, while also noticing the specific symbolism in order to draw out a specific message from the novel.
When Hemingway began his writing career, his writing was a result of his journalistic background. His writing is very minimalistic and plain, where he focuses more on telling rather than showing. He uses a style that is characterized by simple sentences and very few adverbs and adjectives. Some might say that his writing style lacks substance as he avoids direct statements and descriptions of emotions, while others believe that it gives the reader a better change to interpret Hemingway’s stories.
“The Old Man and the Sea,” by Ernest Hemingway, all-time American author, is written in 1951, and tells the story of an epic and internal struggle between an old fisherman and the greatest fight for his life: the catch of the enormous marlin. Santiago, an old and aged Cuban fisherman, has been fishing for eighty-four days, but have always returned empty-handed. On the eighty-fifth day, Santiago sets out to the sea like any other day, and finally luck strikes him, as he is greeted by the powerful marlin that changes Santiago’s life forever.
Santiago is suffering with an internal struggle in “The Old Man and the Sea,” He has become an old man, lost his proud rumor as a great fisherman, and instead he has become a laughing stock. Not only psychically is he getting weaker and weaker, but physically, Santiago’s body is collapsing into several pieces after years of intense fishing.
“Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated,” (P. 10, l. 5-7). Determined and stubborn, Santiago refuses give up on fishing or his dreams of catching something so big it will change his life, he continues to fish every day with the help of his apprentice, Manolin, and one day, Santiago challenges himself by sailing further out on to the sea than any other fisherman. Santiago’s determination to sail out further away from shore than any other fisherman in order to capture a great fish, testifies, one of the major characteristics of Santiago, which is his pride, yet it also shows, how Santiago wishes to turn his life around, and abstain from the rumors and expectations of him “To hell with luck. I’ll bring the luck with me,” (P.125, l. 34).
Santiago’s journey on the sea is painful and dangerous. For three days Santiago holds on to the fishing line, even though it hurts him badly: cuts deeply into his palms, causes crippling cramps and ruins his back, but his pride is what enables him to endure the rough pain and finish the fight with the marlin. Santiago’s persistence to catch the marlin is a reference to how Santiago wants to proof all of the notions about elderly people wrong, as he refuses to be reckoned as a weak and unsuccessful man upon society.
Santiago uses the physical pain as an adrenalin rush, as it proves that he is a worthy fisherman. Santiago generates a connection with the marlin, who like Santiago, is in physical agony. The link between Santiago and the marlin attest to Santiago’s belief, that he is well matched, and that he is a worthy opponent to the strong fish “He rested sitting on the un-stepped mast and sail and tried not to think but only to endure,” (p.46, l. 8-9). Santiago has like most people hopes and dreams, which is shown in the novel through his interior discussions with himself, for an example when he talks of his favorite baseball player, Joe DiMaggio, while he is holding on to the fishing line. Santiago uses DiMaggio as an encouragement to keep fighting “But I must have confidence and I must be worthy of the great DiMaggio who does all things perfectly, even with a bone spur in his heel,” (P.68, l. 4-5).
This quote sustains that the image of Joe DiMaggio works as a motivation in fulfilling Santiago’s challenge of catching the fish. Obviously, Santiago is the next iteration in a long line of Hemingway’s personal heroes, who are often portrayed as men of action, tested by life’s adversity and affliction, someone who lives by their own beliefs and rules. Hemingway’s personal need to create strong and proud male character refers as a counterpart to his own family, who suffered through several family suicides, including his own father.
“The Old Man and the Sea” is filled with plenty of major themes, but it has been viewed upon by most critics on a basic level, as a story of one man’s courage, and human being’s quest and attendant struggle with nature, yet as much as it is a struggle, the novel also explores a man’s relationship with nature. Santiago’s relationship with nature is unique and special, as he speaks highly of it. He believes the sea is like a woman, the birds are like friends and the sharks are personal enemies “He always thought of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her call her bad things […],” (p.30, l. 26-27) Santiago’s feelings towards the marlin are very conflicted, as he does not only see the marlin as an adversary, he loves it too as a brother “Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than, brother.
Come on and kill me. I do not care who kills who,” (p.36, l. 16-18). The statement shows Santiago’s admiration for the marlin, but it also tells the fundamental law of nature that affiliates men with animals, saying: all beings must die, kill or be killed. This hints to Hemingway himself, as it was to believe, that he was a naturalistic author. Being a naturalistic author assumes that the individual character have a direct influence in the movement of their lives, either by focusing on nature or fate.
That way, human beings and nature are entwined in a circular system, where death is necessary in order to foster new lives. Manhood is one of the other most important themes of the novel, like most of Hemingway’s other short stories or novels. Hemingway’s idea of manhood is practically inseparable from ideas of heroism. “But a man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated,” (P.103, l. 15-16). Hemingway looks upon manhood as to be a man is to act with honor and pride, a man cannot be consumed by suffering, but most important, a man has to display a maximum of self-control. When Santiago talks of the sea, he presents it as a love to him, but it also expresses the lack of selfcontrol that women, according to Hemingway, possesses “[…]
If she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them,” (p. 30, l. 28-30). The marlin represents the masculinity of the story, as the marlin is described as a beautiful, great, calm and noble fish. According to Hemingway, Santiago shows the reader how to live as a hero, but in a benefitting way. “The Old Man and the Sea” is filled with biblical imagery, which is a reference to Hemingway’s strict and religious upbringing.
Santiago identifies with Christ during the course of his struggle. Santiago’s injured hands from holding the fishing line represents Christ’s stigmata, and the mast of the boat represents a crucifix. An example could be when Santiago returns to shore after the shark attack, he carries the mast on his shoulder, just like Christ was forced to carry his own crucifix. Importantly, Santiago resembles Christ, as he turns tragedy into triumph and faces the inevitability of death, just like Christ did.
Before Santiago encounters his meeting with the marlin, he dreams of old memories he collected as a boy, when he watched lions on the beaches of Africa “[…] He only dreamed of places now and of the lions the beach. They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy,”
(p. 25, l. 17-19). The lions symbolize everything that Santiago feels like he has lost, which is his youth, and as well his pride (a group of lions is called ‘pride’), until he recollects it. Santiago keeps dreaming of these lions before and after his encounter with the marlin, which obviously shows, that he feels like he is missing some pieces of him, and that there’s still a wild and kindred spirit inside of him.
The way Santiago enjoys the lions who are very dangerous predators, also reflects his relationship to the marlin, whom he comes to cares for but whose death he also feel is necessary in order to survive. This way, the symbolism of the lions is also connected to one of the major themes of the novel which is nature, as the lions symbolize Santiago’s attraction to nature. At the end of the novel, when Santiago goes to bed and dreams of the lions, it could suggest that triumphing over the marlin, he has undergone his own revival. The sharks are very important to the story, as they’re a predator like the marlin, but unlike the marlin, Santiago does not look upon them as worthy opponents. The sharks symbolize the destructive parts of nature, but going back to the biblical imagery, they could also symbolize the people of Jerusalem who led to the crucifixion of Jesus.
“The Old Man and the Sea” tells a story of hopes and dreams and internal struggle, but also the will to overpower your own standards. Santiago’s fight with the marlin represents every man’s struggle against nature. That is why it is a story that will continue to live on as powerful work of art within the literary world, something that people in many ways can relate to.