The Philosophy of The Old Man and the Sea and Ernest Hemmingway
Ernest Hemmingway often portrayed his general beliefs about life and his pursuit of purpose in life through his characters. More specifically, Hemmingway used Santiago, the protagonist in The Old Man and the Sea and his (often illogical) fervor to represent his own moral code. Hemmingway’s life philosophy according to Critic Nemi D’Agostino is portrayed throughout his novel through Santiago’s actions, thoughts, and beliefs during his long battle to be the best fisherman there is, specifically, when he fishes much to far out in the sea and hooks a marlin he knows his own boat cannot handle. Santiago also embodies the characteristics in which Hemmingway includes in his code when he looks up to Dimaggio for his perseverance through unbearable pain. Dimaggio also embodies these very same characteristics. They both represent Hemmingway’s belief in the conscious having no sense or reason beyond itself. This is clear when Santiago does things such as blame his failures on ‘luck’ and believes things to happen that have no chance. Santiago’s die or die trying attitude and it’s correlation to his pursuit of pride & praise is a direct representation of Hemmingway’s life code as D’Agostino describes it, “a solitary struggle … conscious of having no sense or reason beyond itself.” Santiago often discards logic in the pursuit of success. He no longer believes in himself, considering himself to be ‘unlucky.’ Santiago even denies the help of the young boy who looks up to him for his unusual strength in his old age and his undying determination. When the boy asks to go fish with Santiago he replies, “no… you’re with a lucky boat. Stay with them”(10). Immediately, Santiago puts himself down when Manolin tries to commend him on his fisherman’s abilities. Santiago shows us through this action that similarly to Hemmingway, he desires to conquer life as a “solitary struggle.” Hemmingway alludes to his beliefs about the important of senseless determination through Santiago when Santiago says, “… I hope no fish will come along so great that he will prove us wrong”(23). Another telling moment in which Hemmingway shows Santiago’s undying determination is when Santiago has realized the size of the fish and the reality of the situation on his hands. Santiago sees how huge the Marlin is and how small his boat is yet does not give up his stubborn desire to succeed even in the face of death, “The old man had seen many great fish. He had seen many that weighed more than a thousand pounds and he had caught two of that size in his life, but never alone. Now alone, and out of sight of land, he was fast to the biggest fish that he had ever seen and bigger than he had ever heard of, and his left hand was still as tight as the gripped claws of an eagle”(63). This passage clearly demonstrates Santiago’s dedication to succeeded regardless to circumstance.
Santiago consistently compares himself to the Great Dimaggio, exclaiming things similar to, ‘what would the great Dimaggio do?’ Santiago sees Dimagio as a hero for his great perseverance. Santiago uses him to reassure himself of his own abilities. Dimaggio is another example of Hemmingway’s life code because he too represents Hemmingway’s idea that man must struggle to succeed regardless to means that even may be considered impossible. Santiago praises Dimaggio’s determination, “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. What is a bone spur? He asked himself…” (68). Santiago does not even know what a bone spur is or what exactly it may feel like, he has no idea what it feels like in comparison to the pain and struggle he is enduring to catch this fish, but he is imagining it as something equally challenging or worse in order to encourage himself. This is representational of “a desperate fever of action, conscious of having no sense of reason beyond itself.” Santiago clearly knows he may be facing more of a battle than Dimaggio but out of pride he convinces himself he is not.
Consistently throughout the novel you witness Santiago support a huge part of Hemmingway’s life code according to Critic Nemi D’Agostino, “Nothing in it can be justified, bettered or saved, no problem that can really be set or solved.” Santiago really cannot justify his desire to fish out so far he could possibly never return. He claims he has bad luck on multiple occasions but all evidence points to the fact that Santiago is simply being a stubborn old man and fishing in the wrong places. None of the other fisherman fish anywhere near Santiago which he believes to be bad luck but if he were to ignore his stubbornness and face the facts he would see that he was simply using the wrong tactics and blaming his every failure on ‘luck.’ Santiago clearly chooses to ignore his reality and even Manolin, the young boy who once fished with Santiago, notices and realizes his reality but knows telling the stubborn old man will do no good. Manolin even humors Santiago’s imagination asking him to borrow his cast net and the exclaims, “there was no cast net and the boy remembered when they had sold it. But they went through this fiction every day. There was no pot of yellow rice and fice and the boy knew this too” (16). Santiago most definitely relates to Hemmingway’s code when it come down to the part in which D’Agostino states, “Nothing in it can be justified, bettered or saved, no problem that can really be set or solved.” No matter what the boy says, what advice Santiago may receive or what facts may be directly in front of his nose, life’s struggle continues to go unexplained, a battle of mysterious hardships. In conclusion, Santiago and Dimaggio both embody many similarities to the code that summarizes Hemmingways life’s beliefs. Hemmingway very clearly portrayed his own characterstics through Santiago and his struggle against the huge marlin that is a representation of life or a smaller example, Dimaggio and his great hardship with a bone spur that is also representative of life and it’s countless challenges. His code peaks through his writing with his endlessly pessimistic nature towards realistic goals presented to his characters and his tirelessly unrealistic ideas of possibly attainable challenges presented to Santiago such as catching a fish that was, as Santiago said, “two feet longer than the skiff” (63). All of the characters presented in Hemmingway’s Old Man and the Sea see life as Hemmingway does, a struggle in which needs to be endured and survived alone, regardless of any circumstance; especially Santiago and Santiago’s hero, the Great Dimaggio.