In and vigor it was capable of in
In Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Old Man and the Sea, a Cuban fisherman named Santiago catches the fish of a lifetime. He is well past his prime, and is facing a dry spell that marks him as a sign of bad luck in his home village. Despite his age and the difficulty of the path that lies ahead, when Santiago hooks an impossibly grand fish he stubbornly decides that he will catch the fish. Santiago’s story is one of undefeated spirit amid the struggles of life.
Santiago is introduced as a man standing against hardship. He has already gone 84 days without catching a single fish. However, everyday he continues his work, even once his young assistant, Manolin, stops going with him to fish. Bad luck is not the only handicap he is standing against; his old age leaves him further behind. His body is now weak and limited, a stark contrast to the strength and vigor it was capable of in his youth. Nevertheless, Santiago remains adamant about his place as a fisherman. As Hemingway wrote, “Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were…cheerful and undefeated.” His soul is alive with a spirit and energy that shines despite his unfortunate circumstance.
On his 85th day Santiago hooks the greatest fish he’s come across in his long life, beginning what is the greatest struggle he’s faced in his fishing experience. For two nights and three days, Santiago holds on to a fishing line as what reveals itself to be a giant Marlin drags his skiff along the sea. The unbelievably strong beast tows Santiago for a length that he was not prepared for. The toll of the standoff was heavily felt by him. At one point his left hand cramped and “he looked at it in disgust.” Santiago is determined in his challenge, but is disappointed in his body. He is feeling his age and the limitations brought by it. No matter what experience and knowledge he carries, there is no stopping the physical reality of his situation. Santiago realizes the demands made on his body are outstanding, but he does not let go of the line.
Once Santiago successfully catches what is the most magnificent fish he’s ever seen, his spirit continues to be tested. The large prize that he is dragging home is attracting every shark in his vicinity. With each attack, more and more of the Marlin is lost. Santiago knows he cannot win and he admits that he is too old to club sharks to death, but he battles the sharks as long as he can, despite the Sisyphean nature of his task. “I’ll fight them until I die,” Santiago swore. And, he fought down to the last shark.
In the end, nothing remains of the great Marlin. Santiago returns home with a skeleton, and no meat to sell at the market. He is badly injured with seemingly no rewards to show for his effort. However, “a man can be destroyed but not defeated.” The old man is physically defeated, but his spirit stands intact. His will and inner strength never wavered, and that is enough.