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Hemmingway's Old Man and the Sea Analysis


There are some things that when put to ink are impossible to describe, such things overflow with beauty, with the duality of nature, and with the precision with which a rose being blind to the outside world blooms in-between the weeds in the midst of spring by providence. It is difficult if not impossible to write of life, which being impossible to describe is familiar to all of us, oh I am not talking about the routines of getting up to go to school and getting in the shower at a certain time each day, for such petty existences are easy to put down on paper. Life as Santiago from Hemmingway’s Old Man and the Sea lives it is of a higher level of existence, of pride, of faith, of compassion, of love, and of determination, and in being associated with true life, is impossible to put down in ink. Hemmingway must therefore accommodate his style of writing, which is much like life itself, with vivid images which can be related to by such audiences as are not already familiar with the true intentions of the beauty and flow of life in his novella. Such an enormous feat can only be accomplished through the use of allusions to concepts of life with which all audiences are familiar; such references, depths, and images are included in the religious bible. And despite Hemmingway’s lack of religion, biblical allusions are present all throughout the novella. In Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, the concepts which he wishes to teach mankind are ones we all know and love, yet they remain concepts that are impossible to describe on paper, and so Hemmingway alludes to the bible to show depth and to give us an image of the main point of his novella, which is that pride and faith are greater allies than good fortune, and in the times when fortune plays us false, pride and faith being our last reserves are the strongest of our fortes, the energy source upon which we draw power from the day we are born to the day we die.

Santiago knows that the chance of bringing his fish home even half intact is so small it becomes negligible, but it is this precise chance that can be multiplied exponentially by pride, faith, and determination, which when combined with a little bit of luck, gives Santiago a chance incomparable to his previous one. This new chance spawns from the reserves of pride, faith, and determination that Santiago clearly possesses in addition to his cunning, for he clearly adheres to his principle that, “Man is not made for defeat… A man can be destroyed but not defeated” (Hemmingway, 103). The reason man is not made for defeat, is because defeat can be eluded, it can be prolonged indefinitely by hope, pride, and faith, such a task is the one set for Santiago, who unarmed must fight the sharks, who unarmed increases his chances exponentially. Although he lacks luck and therefore stops short of his goal, conquered and destroyed by the sharks, he remains undefeated for on the morrow he sails again. Hemmingway alludes to the bible in order to strengthen his already made point, for when Santiago returns from the ocean, he talks of the boat, which still sails well. His spirit pushes him on to sail on the morrow, yet as he disembarks, he has to “Put the mast down… He picked the mast up and put it on his shoulder and started up the road. He had to sit down five times before he reached his shack” (Hemmingway, 121). Immediately comes to mind the image of Jesus whose spirit was pure, yet still his body failed him as he was walking with his cross to Golgotha. Faith, pride, and determination allow Santiago to get up, to walk towards the goal of the lions that will come to him in his sleep. When Santiago’s reserves of faith fail to rejuvenate his broken body, he will be destroyed, but just as the Christ, his spirit will not be defeated and will remain unbroken. Hemmingway conveys this difficult law of mankind with ink, yet gives depth to it with allusions towards the bible.

Hemmingway creates a new motif of man in nature in which man can only survive, or rather avoid defeat, by the use of the three core virtues, faith, pride, and determination. But pride has a price, and Santiago thinks, “Perhaps it was a sin to kill the fish… You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food, he thought. 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” (Hemmingway, 105)? Hemmingway purposefully forces the image of Cain and Able to appear, helping him to steer the reader in the direction of his meaning, yet after much thought an even clearer picture of the Apostle Peter, whose internal love for Jesus was clear, yet because, “the spirit is willing but the body is weak” (Mathew xx.xx), Peter denounces Jesus in public. This betrayal is half justified in Peters case, and just as half justified in the case of Santiago who kills his brothers of the sea. Through the allusion to “the spirit is willing but the body is weak” (Mathew xx.xx), Hemmingway more convincingly proves that defeat can be prolonged indefinitely by faith, pride, and determination. So strong are these virtues that they can force the body to submit to the will of the spirit.

The spirit cannot be defeated, due to the three core virtues, yet there is the other side of Hemmingway’s “Man is not made for defeat,” which is, “A man can be destroyed.” It must first be understood that Hemmingway is in no way trying to relate Santiago to Jesus for he is not a religious man, and the moral lessons he teaches throughout his novella, although they may be strengthened by alluding to the bible, are so general, that they are found in life and nowhere else in particular. Santiago’s spirit is as pure as his eyes, which are of the ocean. Yet when seeing the Galanos, he cries, “ay… There is no translation for this word and perhaps it is just a noise such as a man might make, involuntarily, feeling the nail go through his hands and into the wood” (Hemmingway, 107). One word above all shows that Santiago has not forsaken his virtues, and that he still fights the battle of the strong, this word is involuntarily. It is the body that is not made to endure, and the pain may seem overwhelming and unbearable at times yet the spirit remains strong, unbroken, and undefeated. But this passage is incomplete without the clear allusion to the crucifixion of Christ, whose spirit is willing to take on the sins of mankind, yet just as Santiago, Jesus’ body, or rather his mortality, is too weak. The pain in Santiago’s hands and his lack of a weapon prevents him from saving his glorious and noble fish, but his spirit remains undefeated, for nothing, “beat [him], he thought… Nothing… [he] went out too far” (Hemmingway, 120). The spirit can only force the body to endure so much, and so in the end he is destroyed, but remains undefeated which is only made clearer by the crucifixion of Christ.

Hemmingway has captured the very essence of life with allusions that can be understood by audiences who otherwise would not have been able to comprehend such pure life in ink. The Old Man in the Sea is just a simple novella, about a simple fisherman’s battle in nature, but it is the chance that he has, the chance to bring home the grandest and most noble of fish, it is this chance that is worth fighting for. It is this chance that makes the avoidable battle worth the fight, and it is this chance that forces us to draw upon the reserves of the three virtues that prolong defeat indefinitely.




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