Old Man And Sea Essay, Research Paper
The Old Man And The Sea: Man Defeated
Reading through the novel The Old Man and the Sea one, as a reader, can perceive several themes in the book. Hemingway suggests certain subjects for discussion which built up the whole plot, therefore giving us options to choose the one we believe is the main one. In the past weeks we have been discussing, in a debate, which is that main theme. My group’s theme was “Man Defeated” and although it is hard to affirm that this theme was the prevailing one of the book, we firmly defend it. Various arguments were established. Some argued that the novel’s theme was Santiago’s struggle, the friendship with the fish and other characters; Santiago’s perseverance and that he really ended up as a triumphant man. But to argue that those were also the main themes of the book is also a difficult thing to do. Even though Santiago fought and kept on with his struggle to catch the fish, he was defeated because he lost it at the end.
Defeat, according to the Larousse Chambers English Dictionary, is when you are overthrown in a battle, you lose a game and therefore you don’t win: you don’t gain or reach your goal. As we can see Santiago, in spite of the fact that he persevered and struggled, starving, for three days lost the battle. He couldn’t get to his main goal. But , exactly what was his goal, one may ask? He wanted the fish, he was not fishing as a hobby or sport; he planned to sell the fish and get some money to eat, it was his way of surviving. Santiago’s only way of income was fishing and he knew that. He mentions: “ He was a fish to keep a man all winter.”(page 111). Santiago had plans for him already but failed to accomplish them. Some will argue that he won because he gained spiritual victory. This , in a way, is true; but fishing is his job and only way of living. If the case had been different and Santiago was only fishing for his personal entertainment, which wasn’t, it could be seen as a new experience or story to tell. But it wasn’t. Santiago needed the fish and lost it. He wasn’t happy or joyful about it, as we will later on discuss.
The definition of the word triumph is : “victory, success, a state of great joy over success, to win a great victory or success and rejoice over this; openly to show one’s rejoicing over the person one has defeated.” Then, to be triumphant you have to celebrate and show your joy or happiness because you succeeded; because you had a favourable result and turned out as one had planned; because you gained wealth or position. As we can examine none of these descriptions fit in with Santiago’s attitude or actions at the end of the book. His situation has disappointed him and, due to his words and thoughts, we may also conclude that he feels ,instead, defeated. He did not glorify himself, he didn’t enjoy his success.
Although he caught the fish, Santiago couldn’t manage to keep it. He stubbornly tied it to his little boat and knew that the sharks were going to come and eat it. He fought with the sharks but didn’t have a favourable result. We can’t say that the old man was triumphant; he was defeated, not only because we think so but because he felt that way. Santiago admits his failure and doesn’t deny it : “They beat me , Manolin. They truly beat me.”(page 124). He accepted his lack of success and knew that he couldn’t achieve his goal. If he had been truly happy and joyful he wouldn’t be that pessimistic. He didn’t even care about what would happen with what was left of the fish “…let Pedrico chop it up (the head)…You keep it if you want it (referring to the spear)” (page 124). The old man is too tired and sad as to care about his ‘trophy’. He doesn’t even appreciate it and really doesn’t have any value to him. We can have an opinion and say that the man gained spiritual victory and that he achieved his aim, but we have to think if he would trade that ‘spiritual victory’ for the necessities of the coming winter. There is no point in having dreams or illusions if you are going to starve and feel miserable. We have to see the facts and realise what Santiago really thought and how he felt about it. He is not triumphant , as the book shows with Santiago’s words; he feels defeated.
Throughout the book we get the persistent idea of Santiago being beaten, a synonym for defeated. We can divide the idea of being beaten into two: the fact that Santiago knows it and that he accepts it. Showing the knowledge of his situation, the author tells us: “He knew he was beaten now finally and without remedy…”(page 119).“…it is easy when you are beaten. I never knew how easy it was. And what beat you, he thought”(page120). With these quotes we can see that Santiago knows that he was finally beaten. He knew that the sharks won even though he fought to avoid their triumph. He also tasted how was it like to be defeated, he was living through a not very pleasant experience and he knew it.
The other part, is the one when he accepts his defeat. Santiago mentions: “Now that they have beaten me…”(page 112)and “They beat me …truly beat me” (page 124). All these quotes shows us a reaffirmation of his defeat, of how he feels. He admits his position and it is constantly repeated. He doesn’t enjoy what it is called “ his success” , mostly he is not showing any sign of joy or even excusing himself saying that he gained honour or recognition. He is sad and knows that has to keep struggling to survive because he lost his only income, all his plans were ruined and we all know how discouraging is.
As far as Hemingway and Santiago are concerned, the old man is not fortunate anymore. Since the beginning of the book we are told that the old man is “ salao, which is the worst form of unlucky” (page 9). And again, at the end : “ I am not lucky. I am not lucky anymore.” (page 125). If you are lucky it is because you have good luck and you happen to be fortunate, but this didn’t happen with Santiago. He knew it. And we are not only told this at the beginning of the book but reaffirmed at the end. In regard to his unluckiness we can also remind us of the 84 days that Santiago had spent trying to catch a fish and which didn’t succeed. The fishermen of his community knew his situation and made fun of him, but in a ‘tender’ way, because they knew what it was like, to not catch anything in a long time.
Another important aspect is that Santiago ends up weaponless and helpless. We are given a description of the useless arms he had ( his oars and a short club) to fight the sharks and tells us how he performed through this battle. He tries to kill them but realises that he has no chance, that he is “ too old to club sharks to death.” They are too many for him(pages 112-114). Some may argue about what Santiago says to himself: “ Fight them. I’ll fight them until I die.”(page 115). But he doesn’t die in his ‘war’ and says this only to encourage himself. In spite of his strength, perseverance and struggle he stops fighting. He doesn’t even realise how many come at the end and eat the whole fish. Later Santiago meditates:
“Now it is over. They will probably hit me again. But what
can a man do against them in the dark without a weapon?
…I hope that I do not have to fight again…I hope so much
I do not have to fight again.”(page 117)
With this quote we can see that Santiago is not only weaponless but also tired, tired physically and mentally. If Santiago still had had psychological strength he would have kept on going and not hope that the sharks wouldn’t come again. But he hasn’t any kind of support or strength left in him.
“But by midnight he fought and this time he knew
the fight was useless. They came in a pack and he
could only see the lines in the water that their fins made
… He clubbed desperately at what he could only feel and
hear and he felt something seize the club and it was gone.” (page 118).
Again we can see here that Santiago fought, even though he was very tired, but did it knowing it was useless. He did what he could but failed. He was an old man and was weak, due to the fact that he hadn’t had anything to eat well in three days. He was desperate to keep his fish and struggled to prevent his lost. A shark grabbed his only weapon and Santiago was left with nothing to defend his treasure.
They were too many, he was tired, he was old, it was dark, he had no powerful weapons, he was alone, he couldn’t manage to defend his price: he lost. The sharks ate his fish and he couldn’t do more to avoid it.
Last, but not least, the most obvious evidence or argument of Santiago being defeated: Santiago doesn’t have the fish, he lost his fish. As he affirms later on : “ That was the last shark of the pack that came. There was nothing more for them to eat.”(pages 118-119). Even the sharks knew that there was no more fish, they ate it all. Santiago in spite of his efforts lost his battle. When the sharks ate all of the fish it meant that the battle was over and there was nothing left to fight for.
“He saw the white naked line of his backbone and the dark mass of the head with the projecting bill and all the nakedness between.” (page 121). Here it is when Santiago reaches the Havana, his beach, and finally realises, or we may say, confirms his suspicion: there is no fish left. He was left with the backbone but no meat to sell. He didn’t care what would happen with the bones, as mentioned earlier, and he is not even satisfied with what he brought. He lost the fish and lost his fight/struggle. The whole point of his trip was to catch a fish so that he could sell it. If he could sell it he would have had money to survive for the next winter and so not starve to death. Fishing was his job and way of having money. Santiago lost the fish and so couldn’t accomplish his plans, his goal of passing through the upcoming necessities. It was not a spiritual goal it was Santiago being able to eat, to fulfil basic needs.
With all these evidence presented and my arguments I can state positively that Santiago was a man defeated. He loses too much and wins too little. He couldn’t accomplish his goal and all the efforts and strength he had put into were ‘thrown overboard’. Santiago doesn’t enjoy his “spiritual success” and constantly accepts that he was beaten. If he had been a triumphant man he would have been glad with what he ended up with; and wouldn’t be that sad. Manolin, at the end, comforts him and tells him that he will stay with him and help him. Although Manolin offers his aid the old man knew what a great income the fish was and that he still had to keep on fighting with his cruel life. All the plans he had made with the fish and all the happiness that he had built were destroyed. The old man, sadly, was defeated by time and nature itself. May be that’s why the book has that name; it wasn’t an specific battle with the fish but with mother nature or just creation itself. Anyway, he lost. He ended as a defeated man and all of his efforts were in vain.