The Undefeatable Seafarer

Updated April 22, 2022

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The Undefeatable Seafarer essay

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“The pride of youth is in strength and beauty, the pride of old age is in discretion” (Democritus).

Ancient Greek philosopher Democritus reveals that the augmentation of life, amidst the unraveling pursuit of self-gratification, will always entail the constraints of modesty. Santiago, the protagonist of The Old Man and the Sea endures multiple tests of defeat to find the rewarding accomplishment of growth and endurance. Achieving transparency of the body and the subtlety of the soul is made possible through humility – a critical lesson that the protagonist discovers throughout the novel. Mocked and ridiculed by other fishermen, Santiago is eager to redeem his pride while upholding his honor. Despite what society thinks of him, the protagonist proves that he is an experienced fisherman who is optimistic, yet humble in his abilities. His nobility becomes established during the long journey out at sea which eventually gives him the victory over nature that he fought long and hard for. Facing the ultimate battle between reality and his life’s passion, these physical barriers impact the old fisherman unexpectedly and cause undeniable distress for Santiago. On the verge of his defeat, the protagonist is able to overcome these complications through his unbreakable will and desire to capture the marlin and return to the village with his 18 feet accomplishment. Hemingway uses Santiago as an example to convey that acquiring self-admiration will eventually lead to fulfillment. In the novel, pride is the driving force that motivates Santiago to tackle the impossible endeavor and embark on a life-threatening journey to reclaim internal glorification and solidify his reputation as a fisherman.

There is an undeniable satisfaction in the reward of accomplishing the unthinkable, and pride is the motivating factor. Santiago went eighty-four days without catching a single fish, yet his perseverance never fell short of expectations. The dedicated old man wakes up every morning before the sun in a fog of exhaustion, preparing for another full day at sea. Subconsciously, Santiago trusts that his perseverance would pay off in the long run, even with the doubt of his peers lurking idly over his shoulder. His pride becomes apparent when the battle with his noble opponent begins: “‘Fish’ he said softly, aloud, ‘I’ll stay with you until I die’”(Hemingway 52). The fisherman was willing to risk his life before giving up, without truly knowing what he was dealing with. His attitude in enduring hardships reveals the true extent of his honor, taking pride in the strength and persistence of his opponent. The determined protagonist believed that “he could beat anyone if he wanted to badly enough” (Hemingway 70). For the old man, dying while battling such a powerful beast is more stoic than dishonoring. In harmony with the marlin that he challenges, Santiago demonstrates endurance, honor, and incredible courage. However, his struggle reveals Santiago’s tremendous cunning and tolerance for pain. During the most strenuous moments of his pursuit, Santiago compares himself to other heroic figures such as an inspiring baseball player. “But I must have the confidence and I must be worthy of the great DiMaggio who does all things perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in his heel” (Hemingway 68). When sharks become the new entity of Santiago’s demise, he does not lose hope and constantly revamps his motivation by thinking of Joe DiMaggio and Manolin. Staying focused and not letting go of his dedication to the marlin shows significant pride in Santiago’s character. The one thing he was determined to achieve was sailing home with his rightfully awarded prize. It may have taken an extremely difficult toll on his body; however, he would not let the marlin prevail. The obstacles that he faces challenged his pride and will to fight more than any other afflictions in the story. The sea may have been a demanding challenge for him, but his persistence and determination kept him successful. Santiago ultimately survives, although his initial plan to catch the marlin and bring it back home to sell was unsuccessful in the end. His physical wellbeing is injured, but his moral strength has been fortified by this tremendous interaction with the noble creature. In this time of struggle and hardship, his inner character was revealed. Like Santiago’s torn ambition, the marlin is left with only a skeleton without flesh, but undefeated is the old man’s inner spirit, that remains unconquered.

Degrading remarks can strike one’s pride into a shameful state and redemption becomes the only solution to prove themselves otherwise. For months, Santiago spent each and every day fishing, luck preceding him as he chased it. The villagers pitied him and saw him merely as an unlucky fisherman: “Many of the fishermen made fun of the old man and he was not angry. Others, of the older fishermen, looked at him and were sad” (Hemingway 11). However Santiago’s sense of pride would not let him be defeated by the villagers and certainly not out on the boat while contending with the marlin for so long. While fishing for the Marlin, Santiago constantly talks with the sea creature whom he considers his equal and emphasizes his determination to overcome nature. Although during the old man’s tiresome journey, Santiago had deep regrets while battling the unyielding marlin without Manolin by his side. Manolin used to fish with Santiago before his parents argued that he was an incompetent fisherman even though the young boy looked up to the wise man. Manolin reassures him that “[t]here are many good fishermen and some great ones. But there is only you” (Hemingway 23). Santiago was determined to prove others wrong and reveal how great a fisherman he was. Not only did that apply to the villagers, but also to make the young boy, who never lost hope in him, proud. However, the only souvenir that the old man brings back besides his pain is the pitiful skeleton of the once noble beast. After one focuses on the imagery of the battle in the sea, it seems reasonable to think that the old man did not come back with much after all that he has suffered. To prove otherwise, Santiago is filled with determination and resilience which makes this a worthy journey. His humbleness is able to overcome the bad luck he has against the sea. In the end he did get the recognition he deserved: “Many fishermen were around the skiff looking at what was lashed beside it and one was in the water, his trousers rolled up, measuring the skeleton with a length of line” (Hemingway 122). The other fishermen were shocked to see the impossibly sized skeleton. Sometimes in life, the vividness of suffering is not enough to keep one from accomplishing a goal. Santiago represents the ideas of honor and pride. Pride can motivate a man to greatness and for Santiago, greatness was indeed achieved.

Pride makes the overall challenge worth it regardless of the outcome. Picturing the effects of Santiago’s great attempt to overcome distress helps illustrate the determinative victory against the sea’s adversarial forces. Santiago has embarked on a strenuous task but through the agony and isolated individualism, he proves that “a man can be destroyed but not defeated” (Hemingway 103). This shows Santiago’s belief that the struggle against defeat is even more significant than the end goal. In the fight with the monstrous beast, which seems unfathomable for a feeble old man to defeat, Santiago encounters many obstacles that add more misery to the unfavorable contention. Additionally when the surge from the fish pulls him down, Santiago gets cut below his eye, the pain making the battle more difficult to withstand. The old man’s pride is more resilient than all else; not even the wrenching pain of life will make him relinquish this battle because under all of these circumstances the strength of his spirit and determination is what sustains him. The sharks that lead to the destruction of the marlin tested Santiago in ways the marlin did not. Although Santiago is capable of killing a few of the hungry predators, they eventually emerge victorious by tearing down the marlin. While normally being humble during his battles with fish, he is less regretful when killing the sharks. This feeling of joy is derived from the notion of avenging the marlin and honoring its sacrifice to him. The sharks bring out the true fisherman in him. He fights them off strongly and is excited, as well as proud, with the result. Towards the end of the novel, Santiago, struck with fatigue, had a meaningful moment alongside his dignified companion: “He stopped for a moment and looked back and saw in the reflection from the street light the great tail of the fish standing up well behind the skiff’s stern. He saw the white naked line of his backbone and the dark mass of the head” (Hemingway 121). Standing in awe of his lost accomplishment, Santiago acknowledges what he had gained rather than what he had lost in his battle. Throughout the novel, Santiago never gives in to fear or criticism. He remains loyal to his abilities without complaining about his shortcomings, the marlin who challenges his strength, or the sharks who stripped him of his victory. The wise old man endures all the pain thrown at him, pressing on without complaining or boasting. He honors the marlin for its dignity and tries to protect it against the sharks who were unsparing upon their bloodthirsty vigor. Before the brutal journey began, Santiago believed he would return home that night without anticipating the long trip ahead of him. With his lack of preparations, he struggled to battle through the pain, thirst, and hunger to overcome his greatest fishing encounter only to face failure. However, while losing his prey, he gains an incomparable experience combined with pride, respect, and most importantly a great story to tell.

In The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway teaches that pride can motivate a man to greatness. Ultimately, Santiago’s honor, courage, endurance, and faith are the traits that lead to his success in overcoming the obstacles he faced without the help of others. The marlin rewarded Santiago with once in a lifetime opportunity and a new perspective on life while testing him to his greatest limits. Every individual will face challenges that will put their strengths to the test, but only a few will find honor in their approach. Hemingway has created a character whose experience can help individuals with their own battles, one that shows the audience that defeat lies only in refusing the battle, not in losing the fight. The hardships Santiago endured throughout his days at sea were all because of his pride and will to succeed. This symbolism is the connotative lesson that determination can lead to agonizing pain followed by everlasting virtue. The old man’s most notable attribute is his unceasing spirit, no matter how his body is beaten, his courageous character remains undefeated in all his past hardships. Hemingway reveals that there is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man, but true nobility is being superior to your former self. Santiago displays to the readers that they must endure great pain and go through much suffering to reach their highest goals. There is hardly any progress, determination, or success without unforgiving struggle and defeat. The road to success is a never-ending battle, but the outcomes of the challenges are rewarding and the avails are more than remarkable.

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The Undefeatable Seafarer. (2022, Apr 22). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-undefeatable-seafarer/


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