Saeed Momtazi M.D.
Beheshti Medical Center Zanjan Medical University
We used this exceptional story as a therapeutic aid for hopeless and depressed people who needed a powerful force for continuing struggles of life against fate. They should say as the boy Manolin, "I'll bring the luck by myself." In the story the old man tells us "It is silly not to hope...besides I believe it is a sin." Hemingway draws a distinction between two different types of success: outer-material and inner-spiritual. While the old man lacks the former, the importance of this lack is eclipsed by his possession of the later. He teaches all people the triumph of indefatigable spirit over exhaustible resources. Hemingway's hero as a perfectionist man tells us: To be a man is to behave with honor and dignity, not to succumb to suffering, to accept one's duties without complaint, and most importantly to have maximum self-control. At the end of the story he mentions, "A man is not made for defeat...a man can be destroyed but not defeated." The book finishes with this symbolic sentence: "The old man was dreaming about lions."
It is a psychological analysis of Hemingway famous story that we have used it as a psychotherapeutic aid for hopeless and depressed people and also psychological victims of war in a more comprehensive therapeutic plan.
The first sentence of the book announces itself as Hemingway's: "He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish" . The words are plain, and the structure, two tightly-worded independent clauses conjoined by a simple conjunction, is ordinary, traits which characterize Hemingway's literary style.
Santiago is the protagonist of the novella. He is an old fisherman in Cuba who, when we meet him at the beginning of the book, has not caught anything for eighty-four days. The novella follows Santiago's quest for the great catch that will save his career. Santiago endures a great struggle with a uncommonly large and noble marlin only to lose the fish to rapacious sharks on his way back to land. Despite this loss, Santiago ends the novel with his spirit undefeated. Some have said that Santiago represents Hemingway himself, searching for his next great book, an Everyman, heroic in the face of human tragedy, or the Oedipal male unconscious trying to slay his father, the marlin, in order to sexually possess his mother, the sea.
We are told that after forty days Manolin's parents decided that "the old man was now and definitely salao, which is the worst form of unlucky". This sentence proclaims one of the novel's themes, the heroic struggle against unchangeable fate. Indeed, the entire first paragraph emphasizes Santiago's apparent lack of success. For example, "It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty." And most powerfully, "The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat".
This type of descriptive degradation of Santiago continues with details of his old, worn body. Even his scars, legacies of past successes, are "old as erosions in a fishless desert" . All this changes suddenly, though, when Hemingway says masterfully, "Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated". This draws attention to a dichotomy between two different types of success: outer, material success and inner, spiritual success.. Also, Santiago's eye color foreshadows Hemingway's increasingly explicit likening of Santiago to the sea, suggesting an analogy between Santiago's indomitable spirit and the sea's boundless strength.
"The old man had taught the boy to fish and the boy loved him". Manolin is Santiago's apprentice, but their relationship is not restricted to business alone. Manolin idolizes Santiago‹as we are meant to‹but the object of this idolization is not only the once great though presently failed fisherman; it is an idolization of ideals. This helps explain Manolin's unique, almost religious, devotion to the old man, underscored when Manolin begs Santiago's pardon for his not fishing with the old man anymore. Manolin says, "It was Papa made me leave. I am a boy and I must obey him," to which Santiago replies, "I know....It is quite normal. He hasn't much faith" .
Despite the clear hierarchy of this teacher/student relationship, Santiago does stress his equality with the boy. When Manolin asks to buy the old man a beer, Santiago replies, "Why not?...Between fisherman". And when Manolin asks to help Santiago with his fishing, Santiago replies, "You are already a man" . By demonstrating that Santiago has little more to teach the boy, this equality foreshadows the impending separation of the two friends, and also indicates that this will not be a story about a young boy learning from an old man, but a story of an old man learning the unique lessons of the autumn of life.
In fact unity us one of main themes of the story.Hemingway spends a good deal of time drawing connections between Santiago and his natural environment: the fish, birds, and stars are all his brothers or friends, he has the heart of a turtle, eats turtle eggs for strength, drinks shark liver oil for health, etc. Also, apparently contradictory elements are repeatedly shown as aspects of one unified whole: the sea is both kind and cruel, feminine and masculine, the Portuguese man of war is beautiful but deadly, the mako shark is noble but a cruel, etc. The novella's premise of unity helps succor Santiago in the midst of his great tragedy. For Santiago, success and failure are two equal facets of the same existence. They are transitory forms which capriciously arrive and depart without affecting the underlying unity between himself and nature. As long as he focuses on this unity and sees himself as part of nature rather than as an external antagonist competing with it, he cannot be defeated by whatever misfortunes befall him.
This ecstatic, almost erotic, imagery stands in stark contrast to the careful art of fishing we see later in the novel. The fact the fishing requires both calm detachment and violent engagement (a kind of masculine flourish) further illustrates the unity of a world which both oppresses man and out of which the strength to resist that oppression comes.
Hemingway also peppers the novella with numerous references to sight. We are told, for instance, that Santiago has uncannily good eyesight for a man of his age and experience. When Manolin notices this, Santiago replies simply, "I am a strange old man" . Given the previously mentioned analogy between Santiago's eyes and the sea, one suspects that his strangeness in this regard has something to do with his relationship to the sea. This connection, though, is somewhat problematic as it might suggest that Santiago would have success as a fisherman.
The simplicity of Santiago's house further develops our view of Santiago as materially unsuccessful. It is interesting, though, that Hemingway draws attention to the relics of Santiago's wife in his house, presenting an aspect of Santiago which is otherwise absent throughout the novel. This is significant because it suggests a certain completeness to Santiago's character which makes him more of an Everyman‹appropriate for an allegory‹but mentioning it simply to remove it from the stage makes its absence even more noteworthy, and one might question whether the character of Santiago is too roughly drawn to allow the reader to fully identify with his story.
There is an interesting irony in the inversion of roles between the paternal tutor Santiago and the pupil Manolin. While Santiago took care of Manolin on the water by teaching him how to fish, Manolin takes care of Santiago on land by, for example, making sure the old man eats. When Santiago wants to fish without eating, Santiago assumes a parental tone and declares, "You'll not fish without eating while I'm alive." To which Santiago replies half-jokingly, "Then live a long time and take care of yourself". This inversion sets up the ensuing narrative by making the old Santiago a youth again, ready to receive the wisdom of his quest. Santiago's almost childlike dream of playful lions‹symbols of male strength and virility‹before his voyage is also a gesture of Santiago's second youth.
There is a premium placed on masculinity and the obligations of manhood. When Santiago wakes Manolin up to help him off, the tired boy says simply, "Que va....It is what a man must do" . As for what this manhood entails, perhaps the most illustrative thing Hemingway says so far is in his characterization of Santiago's humility. Hemingway says of Santiago, "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" . Humility and the acceptance of obligation, then, appear to be marks of manhood, a concept Hemingway will flesh out through the course of the novella.
Santiago's start into the sea is an excellent demonstration of Hemingway's descriptive art in its successive engagement of various senses. First, there is smell: "The old man knew he was going far out and he left the smell of the land behind and rowed out into the clean early morning smell of the ocean". Next, there is sight: "He saw the phosphorescence of the Gulf weed in the water" . And lastly, there is hearing: "...He heard the trembling sound as the flying fish left the water" . This use of different sensory imagery helps create a powerful description of the sea. As the novella's title might indicate, the sea is to play a very important role in the narrative, and Hemingway's exquisite introduction of the sea, signals that importance. As its title suggests, the sea is central character in the novella. Most of the story takes place on the sea, and Santiago is constantly identified with it and its creatures; his sea-colored eyes reflect both the sea's tranquillity and power, and its inhabitants are his brothers. Santiago refers to the sea as a woman, and the sea seems to represent the feminine complement to Santiago's masculinity. The sea might also be seen as the unconscious from which creative ideas are drawn.
Santiago muses about the fragility of the birds he sees. He says, "Why did they make birds so delicate and fine as those sea swallows when the ocean can be so cruel? She is kind and very beautiful. But she can be so cruel..." . This dichotomy in the sea's temperament is further illustrated by Santiago's gendered explanation of the sea's many faces.
According to Santiago, people refer to the sea as a woman when they love her. When they view her as a enemy and rival, though, they refer to her as a man. Santiago "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" . Despite the chauvinism characteristic of Hemingway, this view of the ocean is important in that it indicates that while the sea may bring fortune or ruin, the sea is unitary. It is not sometimes one thing and sometimes another. The good and the bad, or what people perceive as the good and the bad, are all equal parts of this greater unity.
The gendered view also suggests an alternative conception of unity, unity between the masculine and the feminine. As the descriptions of those who view the sea as a man are cast in a negative light, one might argue that the story is repudiation of a homosocial world of competitive masculinity. Man and man will always yield strife; man and woman, Santiago and the sea, complement each other and create a peaceable unity. The representation of the feminine, though, in so abstract a context problematizes this judgment, especially when the only flesh and blood woman we see in the story, the tourist at the very end, is supposed to upset us.
"...I keep them with precision. Only I have no more luck anymore. But who knows? Maybe today. Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready" .. . He had maintained the precision and exactitude of his previous works in the work. That this was not appreciated was a matter of luck or, one might assume, the caprice of literary tastes. In light of this interpretation, The Old Man and the Sea is frequently read as a symbolic fictionalization of Hemingway's own quest for his next great catch, his next great book.
Santiago's statement that his eyes adjust to the sun during different parts of the day furnishes another example of the importance of sight and visual imagery in the novella. Santiago says, "All my life the early sun has hurt my eyes, he thought. Yet they are still good. In the evening I can look straight into it without getting the blackness. It has more force in the evening too. But in the morning it is just painful" . Given the likening of natural time cycles to human age, e.g. September as the autumn of life, it is plausible to read this passage as a statement of the edifying power of age. While it is difficult to find one's way in the morning of youth, this task becomes easier when done by those who have lived through the day into the evening of life.
About the turtles, Santiago says "Most people are heartless about turtles because a turtle's heart will beat for hours after he has been cut up and butchered. But the old man thought, I have such a heart too and my feet and hands are like theirs" . This identification is important as it corroborates our understanding of Santiago's indomitability, the quality of undefeated-ness Hemingway noted early in the novella; with his body destroyed, his heart, his spirit, will fight on. This foreshadows the harrowing task Santiago is about to face with the marlin. Also, Hemingway tells us that Santiago eats turtle eggs for strength and drinks shark liver oil for health. In this way, he internalizes the characteristics of the sea and adopts them as his own.
The episode in which Santiago talks to himself on the ocean can be taken to corroborate the autobiographical interpretation of the novella. Santiago's speech is really Hemingway's thought; the old fisherman figuratively sails the author's unconscious, represented in Freudian symbolism by the sea, in an attempt to pull forth the great story from its inchoate depths. According to this view, everything takes place within Hemingway's mind, a self-referential allegory of the heroic artist‹"Now it is time to think of only one thing. That which I was born for" ‹searching for greatness in a world which seeks to deprive him of it.
That the fishermen call all the fish tuna and only differentiate between them when they sell them is at once a statement of the theme of unity and a repudiation of the market. It is not ignorance the underlies this practice, but rather a simplifying‹though not simplistic‹appreciation of the unity of the sea. There are fish and there are fisherman; those who are caught and those who catch. This distillation of parts heightens the allegorical quality of the novel. The market forces the fisherman to forget this symbolic binary relationship and focus on differentiation, requiring a multiplication of the terms of difference. As the novella stakes out a position of privileging unity, this market-driven divisionism come across negatively. This makes sense in light of Hemingway's previously mentioned anger at the unappreciative literary audience for his previous effort.
The next section begins Santiago's pursuit of the hooked marlin, and there is a good deal of simple description of the mechanics of catching such a fish. This helps create a sense of narrative authenticity, the clean conveyance of reality for which Hemingway assiduously strove.
For instance, Hemingway's description of the marlin's initial nibbling on the bait utilizes the same phrases again and again, e.g. "delicate pulling." While this may express the actual event perfectly, the repetition creates a distancing effect, pushing the prose more toward poetry and less towards realistic objectivity. As noted before, this heightens the allegorical quality of the narrative, which, at least explicitly, Hemingway denied.
The unanimous response with which Santiago's thoughts of loneliness are met is another expression of the theme of unity in the novella. Santiago thinks to himself, "No one should be alone in their old age....But it is unavoidable". As if in response to this, Hemingway introduces a pair of friendly dolphins in the very next paragraph. "They are good," says Santiago. "They make jokes and love on another. They are our brothers like the flying fish".
Then, as if on cue, Santiago begins to feel sorry for the marlin he has hooked. This pity for the great fish is intensified when Santiago recalls seeing the misery of a male marlin after he had caught its mate. Saddened deeply by this demonstration of devotion, Santiago and Manolin, with whom he was fishing, "begged her pardon and butchered her promptly".:
This heroic angle is played up even more when Santiago ends these reflection by thinking, "Perhaps I should not have been a fisherman....But that was the thing I was born for" Again, this emphasis on fate is typical of heroic stories, especially tragedies.
Interestingly, one might also read this statement of fate as an expression of Santiago's own place in a symbolic story about the writing process itself. Santiago, a product of Hemingway's authorial imagination, was born to play the role he has in the narrative. In this way, the character's succumbing to fate is a comment on the creative process by which the author controls the destiny of his or her characters.
Santiago's identification with and affection for the marlin increases the longer he is with the fish. In order to convince' the fish to be caught and to steel himself for his difficult task, Santiago says, "Fish,...I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you before this day ends" . Soon after, Santiago tells the bird that has landed on his boat that he cannot help because he is "with a friend" . And later, Santiago goes as far as to wish that he could feed the marlin, calling it his brother.
The cramping of Hemingway's left hand is interesting First, it creates tension by debilitating the protagonist even more, making failure more likely and so his triumph sweeter. Second, if we accept the autobiographical reading of the novella, it can be a symbol for writers block. This is importantly different from Hemingway's previous attempts to blame the readers for his recent lack of success. Now, suddenly, the fault is his own. But not fully. The hand reacts in spite of its possessor's intention, and Santiago speaks to his hand as if it operated independently of himself. This certainly makes the question of who is responsible for Hemingway's failures more complicated. In addition, Santiago's response to the cramp also affords us an opportunity to investigate Hemingway's conception of manhood. As Hemingway writes, " It is humiliating before others to have a diarrhea from ptomaine poisoning or to vomit from it. But a cramp, he thought of it as a calambre, humiliates oneself especially when one is alone" . A man's sense of humiliation does not depend exclusively on the presence (or imagined presence) of others who would look upon him with disgust or disdain. It rests on an internal standard of dignity, one which privileges above all control over one's self. It is not only inconvenient or frustrating that Santiago's hand cramped, it is, as Santiago says, "unworthy of it to be cramped". This concern with worthiness is a important to the novel. Santiago's concerns about his own worthiness come to a head when he finally beholds the fish he is tracking. When Santiago finally catches a glimpse of the great marlin, he imagines he is in some sort of aristocratic feud, with each participant needing to demonstrate his prowess to the other before the fight. Not, though, to intimidate the opponent, but rather to demonstrate his own status, to show the other that he is a worthy antagonist. "I wonder why he jumped, the old man thought. He jumped almost as though to show me how big he was. I know now, anyway, he thought. I wish I could show him what sort of man I am. But then he would see the cramped hand" . This necessity to be seen as worthy in the eyes of a perceived equal or superior complicates the internal standard of manhood which Hemingway seems to elucidate elsewhere .From the time Santiago sees the fish to the end of the book, he seems obsessed with the idea of proving himself a worthy slayer of such a noble beast. This obsession, more often than not, is couched in self-ascriptions of inferiority. Santiago thanks God that marlins "are not as intelligent as we who kill them; although they are more noble and able" . And he thinks to himself, "I wish I was the fish....with everything he has against only my will and my intelligence" . The dissociation between intelligence on the one hand and nobility and ability on the other is very interesting, as it amounts to an exaltation of the natural and animalistic over the human, if we accept intelligence as the mark of humanity. This heightens the stakes of the struggle between the marlin and Santiago, and almost necessitates the long battle that ensues, for Santiago's eventually victory can only be seen as deserved if he has proved his worthiness and nobility through suffering. In the end, though, we might still ask, according to the novella's own terms, whether Santiago's victory over the fish amounted to a triumph for humanity or a miscarriage of justice, in which an ignoble human brute defeats the sea's paragon of nobility. Santiago continues his obsession with proving his worthiness to the hooked fish. He says, "I'll kill him....in all his greatness and glory. Although it is unjust. But I will show him what a man can do and what a man endures" . Again, the fish is construed as a noble superior, the death of which would be unjust. The last sentence foreshadows the intense struggle to ensue. Also, because of the particularities of traditional English usage, the last sentence of the quote can be read two ways. A man can refer to a human being or a male. As Hemingway is usually understood to conflate the noblest qualities of human beings with the noblest qualities of the male sex, I think it is best to read the statement both ways at once. Making Santiago a representative for all humankind serves primarily to heighten the allegorical nature of the novel.
In the next paragraph, Santiago makes some very interesting comments about the nature of worthiness, emphasizing its curiously fragile nature. Having told Manolin on several occasions that he was a strange old man‹strangeness here is synonym for nobility, something which normal people apparently lack‹he must now prove it; "the thousand times he had proved it mean nothing. Now he was proving it again. Each time was a new time and he never thought about the past when he was doing it" . This is a difficult passage to interpret as it could be read as an expression of Santiago's particular psychology, as a matter of fact, he never thought about the past and always needed to prove himself as each new situation arose, or as a broader statement about nobility, one which holds that nobility is not a really a quality of character but of actions. Given the novella's aforementioned emphasis on allegorical generality, it seems safe to accept the latter reading. As with the necessity of having one's worthiness recognized by others, this alienation of nobility from the person to his deeds complicates Hemingway's internal standard of manhood.
Worthiness and being heroic and manly are not merely qualities of character which one possesses or does not. One must constantly demonstrate one's heroism and manliness through actions conducted with dignity. Interestingly, worthiness cannot be conferred upon oneself. Santiago is obsessed with proving his worthiness to those around him. He had to prove himself to the boy: "the thousand times he had proved it mean nothing. Now he was proving it again. Each time was a new time and he never thought about the past when he was doing it" .And he had to prove himself to the marlin: "I'll kill him....in all his greatness and glory. Although it is unjust. But I will show him what a man can do and what a man endures". A heroic and manly life is not, then, one of inner peace and self-sufficiency; it requires constant demonstration of one's worthiness through noble action
He even concludes that "man is not much beside the great birds and beasts. Still I would rather be that beast down there in the darkness of the sea" . Again, Nature, and the marlin especially, is privileged above even the greatest exemplars of human greatness .In order to counteract these feelings of inferiority, Santiago recalls an almost mythic arm wrestling match he had in his youth. . Given that this match lasted a full day and night with blood flowing from beneath each participants' fingernails, it seems reasonable to read it as hyperbole, underscoring the fable-like quality of the novella.
At one point in the novel, Santiago's concern about worthiness takes on an added dimension. Instead of concerning himself solely with his own worthiness to kill the marlin, he now concerns himself with whether the people who will buy and eat the meat of the marlin will be worthy to do so. "How many people will he feed, he thought. But are they worthy to eat him? No, of course not. There is no one worthy of eating him from the manner of his behavior and his great dignity" . This extension of unworthiness from the killer to consumer underscores how truly inferior Santiago thinks people are with respect to great beasts such as the marlin. If he truly believes this, though, why would he continue. He may prove his own worth by enduring his struggle, but there is no way for the people in the fish markets to prove themselves. Indeed, the exalting the nobility of his prey too much seems to exclude commercial fishing for marlins altogether.
The theme of unity comes out in this section as well. Whereas this theme had previously taken the form of Santiago's identification with the sea and its creatures, Santiago expands the scope of his identification by including the celestial bodies as brothers. He claims fraternity with the stars on several occasions and justifies his need to sleep by considering the behavior or the moon and sun and ocean. He says, "I am as clear as the stars that are my brothers. Still I must sleep. They sleep and the moon and the sun sleep and even the ocean sleeps sometimes on certain days when there is no current and a flat calm" . This broader identification underscores the unity of human life with all of nature.
When he finally does fall asleep, Santiago has a very interesting dream. He dreamt of "a vast school of porpoises that stretched for eight or ten miles and it was in the time of their mating and they would leap high into the air and return into the same hole they had made in the water when they leaped" . The imagery here is obviously sexual, emphasizing the feminine character of the sea which Santiago spoke about in the first section. Santiago's final confrontation with the fish after he wakes further develops Santiago's equality with the fish and the operative conception of manhood which Santiago works to uphold. Pulling in the circling fish exhausts Santiago, and the exasperated old fisherman exclaims, "You are killing me, fish....But you have a right to. Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than you, brother. Come on and kill me. I do not care who kills who". As before, the marlin is Santiago's exemplar of nobility. It is very interesting that Santiago does not seem to care who kills whom. This, like so much of Santiago's relation to the fish, seems to recall an aristocratic code of honor in which dying by the hand of a noble opponent is as noble an end as defeating him. Indeed, it might even be a preferable end because one does not know under what conditions one will die. Santiago's obsession with valorizing his opponent seems to a far cry from our common idea that one must devalue or dehumanize that which we kill. To view a victim as an equal is supposed to render killing it a sin, and make oneself susceptible to death: the golden rule, if you don't want to die (and who does?), don't kill others. Santiago defies this reasoning, thought he accepts the consequences of its logic of equality. Instead of trying to degrade his object, he elevates it, accepting with it the equalizing proposition that his death is as worthy an outcome of the struggle as the his opponent's death. He is only worthy to kill the opponent if he is worthy to he killed by him: two sides of the same coin.
That this relates to Santiago's (and we might suppose Hemingway's) conception of manhood is likely obvious. The connection between the fish's behavior and masculine behavior is brought out most powerfully when Santiago tells himself, "Keep your head clear and know how to suffer like a man. Or a fish....". Comporting oneself with grace (or calmness as Santiago's quote in the previous paragraph indicates) in the face of pain is central to the novella's idea of manhood. Santiago himself says "pain does not matter to a man," and it is only by ignoring his pain that he can sustain the effort to capture the fish. Withstanding pain, then, handling it as a man, is the essence of proving himself worthy to catch the marlin.
This last section of the novella constitutes the tortuous denouement of the plot. Caught out far at sea with a dead, bleeding marlin lashed to the side of his boat, Santiago is asking for trouble and trouble he receives. Everything he has worked so hard for slowly but surely disintegrates, until he arrives back on land in worse condition than he left. Triumph over crushing adversity is the heart of heroism, and in order for Santiago the fisherman to be a heroic emblem for humankind, his tribulations must be monumental.
Hemingway vision of heroism is Sisyphean, requiring continuous labor for quintessentially ephemeral ends. What the hero does is to face adversity with dignity and grace, hence Hemingway's Neo-Stoic emphasis on self-control and the other facets of his idea of manhood. What we achieve or fail at externally is not as significant to heroism as the comporting ourselves with inner nobility. As Santiago says, "Man is not made for defeat....A man can be destroyed but not defeated".
Hemingway accentuates Santiago's personal destruction by reiterating his connection with the marlin he has caught. Soon after he has secured the marlin to the boat and hoisted his sail, he becomes somewhat delirious, questioning if it is he who is bringing in the marlin or vice versa. His language is very telling. "...If the fish were in the skiff, with all dignity gone, there would be no question....But they were sailing together lashed side by side" . The more the marlin is devoured, the less strength Santiago has until, when the marlin is simply a bare skeleton, Santiago "had no thoughts or feelings of any kind".
The sharks are interesting creatures. While this may have some credence, I think the sharks are better read as representations of the negative, destructive aspect of the sea and, more generally, human existence. As we have seen, the theme of unity is very important in the novel, but this unity does not only encompass friendly or innocuous aspects of the whole. While he battles against them, the sharks are no less creatures of the sea, brothers if you will, than the friendly porpoises Santiago encounters earlier in his expedition.
Reflecting on his victory over the mako, Santiago says the shark is "cruel and able and strong and intelligent. But I was more intelligent than he was. Perhaps not....Perhaps I was only better armed" . The other shovel-nosed sharks are not positively described‹"they were hateful sharks, bad smelling, scavengers as well as killers‹but they are certainly part of the ocean environment.
On a psychoanalytic reading of the novella, the sharks might be seen as representations of a guilty conscience. The son has killed the father, the marlin, to possess the mother, the ocean, and now suffers for his transgression, an inversion of Orestes whom the Furies pursued for killing his mother.
Santiago's discussion of sin is very significant in a novella about man's resistance against fate. He wonders if it was a sin for him to kill the marlin. "I suppose it was even though I did it to keep alive and feed many people. But then everything is a sin". Santiago attempts to assuage this doubt by recalling that he was "born to be a fisherman as the fish was born to be a fish" . Ignoring the invalid inference made in the first quote‹if killing X for reason Y is a sin, it does not hold that all actions performed for reason Y are sins‹this is an important point. According to this reasoning, Santiago is fated to sin and, presumably, to suffer for it. This seems to express Hemingway's belief that human existence is characterized by constant suffering, not because of some avoidable transgression, but because that's just the way it is.
Thinking more, Santiago reasons that he did not only kill the marlin for food. Speaking to himself, he says, "You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?".
Hemingway's treatment of pride in the novella is ambivalent. A heroic man like Santiago should have pride in his actions, and as Santiago shows us, "humility was not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true pride" . At the same, though, it is apparently Santiago's pride which presses him to travel dangerously far out into the sea, "beyond all people in the world," to catch the marlin . While he loved the marlin and called him brother, Santiago admits to killing it for pride, his blood stirred by battle with such a noble and worthy antagonist. Some have interpreted the loss of the marlin as the price Santiago had to pay for his pride in traveling out so far in search of such a catch. Contrarily, one could argue that this pride was beneficial as it allowed Santiago an edifying challenge worthy of his heroism. In the end, Hemingway suggests that pride in a job well done, even if pride drew one unnecessarily into the situation, is a positive trait.
Adding to his guilt about killing the marlin, Santiago then recalls his enjoyment of killing the mako. As noted earlier, the mako is not a unconditionally wicked creature. As Santiago says to himself, "He lives on the live fish as you do. He is not a scavenger nor just a moving appetite as some sharks are. He is beautiful and noble and knows no fear of anything." Why then could he enjoy this killing and not the marlin's? Santiago offers two short responses, though neither one really answers the question: "I killed him in self-defense....And I killed him well". The second response seems to more significant, but this would mean that killing the marlin was not a sin since he killed it well too. This suggests Santiago's sin, if it exists, must be interpreted differently.
Throughout this final section, Santiago repeatedly apologizes to the marlin in a way that provides another way to read Santiago's sin. He says, "Half fish....Fish that you were. I am sorry that I went out so far. I ruined us both" . According to this and similar passages ("And what beat you, he thought. Nothing, I went out too far ), Santiago's transgression is no longer his killing the fish, but going out too far in the ocean, "beyond all people in the world" . While the former sin helped account for the inescapable misery of the human condition, the latter focuses instead on escapable misery brought about by intentional action. Santiago chose to go out so far; he did not need to do so, but in doing so he must surrender his prize, the marlin, to the jealous sea.
This understanding of Santiago's sin is strange because it seems to separate man from nature in a way which contradicts the rest of the novella. Going out too far is an affront against nature similar to the hubristic folly of Greek tragedy; he has courted disaster through his own pride. Nowhere previously in the novel was this apparent, though. The sea seemed to welcome him, providing him company and food for his expedition. There was no resistance from nature to his activities, except perhaps the sharks, but these were never made to be nature's avengers. This reading of Santiago's sin thus seems very problematic.
Santiago's discussion of luck after the second shovel-nosed shark attack is interesting dramatically, as it once foreshadows Santiago's misfortune and offers the slightest illusion of hope for the reader as the novella approaches its end. He wonders to himself, "Maybe I'll have the luck to bring the forward half in. I should have some luck. No....You violated your luck when you went too far outside" . This clearly foreshadows the loss of the entire marlin. Later, though, Santiago remarks that "Luck is a thing that comes in many forms and who can recognize her?" . This statement certainly suggests that luck may be with Santiago even if it is not apparent to him or to the reader. Of course, there is no luck for Santiago, but suggesting there might be makes Santiago's eventual misfortune more powerful.
That Santiago completes the novel undefeated and still in possession of his dignity, is demonstrated by his conversation with Manolin. His first words to the boy are "They beat me. They truly beat me," referring to the sharks . Immediately, though, he moves to mundane matters such as what to do with the head of the marlin and what Manolin has caught in his absence. When Santiago refuses to fish with Manolin because of his own lack of luck, the boy says he will bring the luck. Soon, Santiago is talking about how to make a new killing lance in preparation of their next voyage. Finally, in the last sentence of the novel, we are told that "the old man was dreaming of lions," the same symbols of strength and youth which he enjoyed before his voyage . True to Hemingway's formula for heroism, Santiago, for all this trials and tribulations, remains the same unsuccessful but undefeated soul as before.
Hemingway draws a distinction between two different types of success: outer, material success and inner, spiritual success. While Santiago clearly lacks the former, the import of this lack is eclipsed by his possession of the later. One way to describe Santiago's story is as a triumph of indefatigable spirit over exhaustible material resources. As noted above, the characteristics of such a spirit are those of heroism and manhood. That Santiago can end the novella undefeated after steadily losing his hard-earned, most valuable possession is a testament to the privileging of inner success over outer success.
Triumph over crushing adversity is the heart of heroism, and in order for Santiago the fisherman to be a heroic emblem for humankind, his tribulations must be monumental. Triumph, though, is never final. Hemingway vision of heroism is Sisyphean, requiring continuous labor for quintessentially ephemeral ends. What the hero does is to face adversity with dignity and grace, hence Hemingway's Neo-Stoic emphasis on self-control and the other facets of his idea of manhood. What we achieve or fail at externally is not as significant to heroism as the comporting ourselves with inner nobility. As Santiago says, "Man is not made for defeat....A man can be destroyed but not defeated" .