The Old Man and the Sea: Man Defeated

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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...
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