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What the Hero-the Old Man and the Sea

By mattsmithin221B Jan 12, 2013 866 Words
What the Hero
In The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, heroes are portrayed as regular humans who only differ through what they understand from their failures. Santiago performs actions that any other man would execute in the given situation; however he learns from his mistakes and is willing to teach others through his failures. As Santiago tried to overcome the boundaries set on him by nature, he came to the acceptance that man does not have to accomplish the greatest goal, and ultimately understood that the greatest accomplishment was persevering through defeat. A hero is not a person who comes back on top and receives all the glory; it is a person whose commitment to their lifestyle allows them to accept and grow from their mistakes into a person more aware of his place in the world. In Santiago’s journey on the sea, he goes out to far to try and catch the greatest fish he can as a fisherman. A fisherman’s goal in life is to catch the trophy fish and to be recognized as a great fisherman. However, by trying to live up to the standards set by society, one forgets that a human cannot do everything. Santiago’s “choice [had been] to go there to find him beyond all people[,] beyond all people in the world” (Hemingway 50), rather than look for his prize fish in the safety of human limits. Santiago believed that in order to catch the greatest fish in his career, he must go out to extraordinary lengths, to places where no human would safely venture. However, once Santiago’s journey had been completed, he acknowledges that he “went out too far” (Hemingway 120). Santiago was beaten by only the problems he set out for himself; his excitement in catching the greatest fish shrouded the reality of what he was doing. Santiago realized too late that it was not worth it to kill himself and the fish in the search for self-pride. By pushing the barriers of one’s safety, Santiago understands that completing the greatest task is not worth it if you are damaging yourself and nature. As Santiago understands the limits placed on humans, he accepts that you do not have to successfully accomplish the highest standard. Man does not need to catch and kill the biggest fish in order to be respected. As Santiago said, “it is good that we do not have to try and kill the sun or the moon or the stars” (Hemingway 75). If man tried to go and kill the impossible, he would spend his whole life aiming for it and nothing would be accomplished. After all, Santiago was “born to be a fisherman as the fish was born to be a fish” (Hemingway 105). Santiago is merely a fisherman who task is to kill the fish; Santiago’s moon and stars are the greatest fish he can find. Santiago understands that man does not have to kill the impossible to be recognized as great, you have to successfully accomplish what is in your realm to do so. Man cannot be great if they do not accept everything that comes with the job they have in life. Santiago realizes that he must preserver through the challenges he created for himself, even though everything he had worked for is gone. A great man is someone who does not run from life’s problems because they are hard and not going his way, rather it is someone who accepts the challenge. Santiago knows that “a man can be destroyed but not defeated” (Hemingway 103), and he intends to stay loyal to this knowledge by killing off the sharks from his mangy marlin carcass. When a man has everything he worked for taken away from him and presented with a life or death situation, a great man will not let himself die; he sees the possibility of victory in defeat. This is the point where Manolin understands how great a man Santiago is and that he “still [has] much to learn” (Hemingway 125) from Santiago. To Manolin, Santiago’s perseverance through his defeat shows that he is a hero; he is a man who did not give up in the face of death. Manolin wants to learn from Santiago the actions he must take if he wishes to understand man’s placement in the world of fishing. Manolin understands that a hero is just a man. Santiago’s actions on going past the limits placed on man, acknowledging that a man does not have to complete the greatest task to be great, and persevering through his defeat give Manolin the knowledge needed to understand the true essence of a hero. A hero is not an undefeated man who completes the craziest of tasks; rather it is a person who accomplished great things that they are capable of doing. Through his defeat, he understands that the true victory is being able to learn from the mistakes he made. The actions that Santiago partook in allowed Manolin to recognize him as a hero, the only true way for someone to become a hero. A hero is a man who actions concerning failure set them apart from the rest of society.

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