This is a study of the theme of The Old Man and the Sea – one of Ernest Hemingway’s enduring works. Told in language of great simplicity and power, it is a story about an Old Cuban fisherman who struggles in the most difficult part of his life – down on his luck and his supreme ordeal – a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Despite of a short and simple work, it is not only filled with drama but with the idea that a simple man is capable of overcoming the struggles in life. Hemingway recasts, in strikingly contemporary style, the classic theme of courage in the face of defeat, of personal triumph won from loss. Santiago, the main character in the novel, is depicted by Hemmingway as a person who is looking deep within to summon the decency, dignity and heroism which are necessary to get through the triumph and tragedies that life presents. Written in 1952, this hugely successful novel confirmed his power and presence in the literary world and played a large part in his winning the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature (The Old Man and the Sea, 2003).
Discussion of the Theme
It is true that no man is an island. However, in facing circumstances such as problems, it is usually the man alone who will face it. It must be face with determination, grit and courage.
Alone in the sea, Santiago continuously struggles to find hope in several seemingly hopeless situations and even chooses to battle ‘till the end. The Old Man epitomizes Hemingway’s ideal of exhibiting “grace under pressure”, as he refuses to submit himself to the overwhelming hindrances presented by the sea. Santiago often reminisce the memories of his youth, the recovery of Joe DiMaggio from injury and the thoughts of the boy, Manolin. In these memories, he finds the strength to physically and emotionally carry on throughout the story. This is the attitude of Santiago that he will not cease struggling until he ends it triumphal and this is really applicable in life as everyone faces his or her own struggles.
Hemingway intends to create a symbol for human existence through the struggles of Santiago. The struggles of Santiago are an opportunity for him to show what a man is and what a man is capable to endure or to do. Santiago symbolizes mankind and he proves that every man has a reserve of unlimited potentials in the face of danger. When he is striving hard to catch the marlin, which is bigger and stronger than him, he showcases his potential to fight to the extent and until the end. The outcome, however, becomes less important than the struggle, which offers a chance to show grace under pressure. As a result, it is not really important that Santiago brings the fish home; the important thing is he struggled to win the battle, and in the struggle he becomes.
Santiago, as portrayed by Hemingway, is a man with an unwavering faith. Faith can generally be defined as a strong belief in something that is beyond proof. Faith may also be a strong conviction or belief in something, like God, religion, doctrine or prophecy. Faith in oneself, and the ability to achieve things not known, is the most important faith of all. If you don't believe in yourself, then it will be impossible to truly believe in anything else that you cannot see, touch, feel or physically behold (www.lifespy.com). Hemingway introduces Santiago as an old man with the youth and will in his eyes. He intends to present Santiago as a believer in himself. Thus, Santiago still won even he is actually defeated.
Faith in God is also presented in the story. It is one of the prime motivating powers that encourage Santiago to set forth yet he is eventually failing. He recited prayers such as Hail Mary, to mean his will to succeed in catching the big marlin.
Santiago also exhibits his pride as he goes along his greatest hurdle. His pride is the source of his greatness and determination. He also has the honour in struggle, defeat and death. Throughout the novel, no matter how baleful his circumstances become, the old man exhibits an unflagging determination to catch the marlin and bring it to shore. It is this conscious decision to act, to fight, to never give up that enables Santiago to avoid defeat. Although he returns to the shore without the trophy of his battle, he returns with the knowledge that he has acquitted himself proudly and manfully.
Hemingway proposes that victory is not a requirement for honour. Instead, glory depends upon one having pride and determination to see a struggle through to its end, regardless of the outcome. Even if Santiago had returned with the marlin undamaged, his moment of glory, like the marlin’s meat, would have been unimportant and short-lived. The glory and honour of Santiago comes not from his battle itself but from his pride and grit to fight till the end.
The nobility of human exertion in the face of extreme odds becomes the main idea of this novel. From the very start, Santiago faces every conceivable hurdle - he is aged, unlucky, ill fed and laughingstock of his fellow fishermen. When he sailed, he is also alone in his boat, with nobody to assist him. However, he does not cease striving because of these facts. He always reaches inside himself to find the courage and determination to continue the struggle.
The novel is not a story of just one man called Santiago. It is the story of all people who struggle for the best in life whether he fails or succeeds. Man must believe in himself and in God to have grit and nobility to push through every in hurdle he might undergo. He can use his pride to pursue in every battle. Hence, it is not the winning or the losing that matters; it is how one plays – this is the major theme of The Old Man and The Sea.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. Scribner. 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York. 2003