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In The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway presents the fisherman Santiago as the ideal man--independent in his action, eager to follow his calling, and willing to take chances in life. The old man's most notable attribute, however, appears to be his unquenchable spirit: no matter how his body is beaten, his spirit remains undefeated, undefeatable, through all trials. In Santiago, the central character in The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway has created a hero who personifies honor, courage, endurance, and faith. (Thesis Sentence)
No amount of pain or physical abuse can quench Santiago's honor and pride, which remain invincible. (Topic Sentence 1) Even in his squalid existence, the old man is proud, saying that he will have fish to eat at home, even though he knows he hasn't any. He prefers hunger to shame. Also, Santiago faces risk by choosing to go “too far out.” Ignoring the hardships involved in his duel with the great fish, Santiago catches the marlin, thus justifying his pride and reliance upon himself. His attitude toward this great fish shows the true extent of his honor, for he takes pride in the strength and endurance of his opponent, calling it his brother. To die battling such a powerful fish would not be dishonorable. In a strange way, Santiago loves the fish even as his kills it. The carcass of the fish is devoured by sharks, much as Santiago's body is torn; but the skeleton, along with the old man's inner spirit, remain unconquered.
Santiago's courage is inseparable from his honor. (Topic Sentence 2) As Hemingway once wrote, “Courage is grace under pressure,” and this definition suits Santiago's courage perfectly. Santiago never gives in to fear or recriminations. He does not whine about his bad luck, nor does he blame the hand which temporarily betrays him, the marlin who challenges his strength, or the sharks who steal his catch. Instead, he does the best he can, without complaint or boasting. He honors the marlin for its dignity and tries to protect it against the sharks who would ravage it. To Santiago, it takes little courage to strike the sharks with his harpoon, with his oar, with his knife. He wishes only that he had brought a stone so he could keep fighting. For one brief moment, Santiago accepts defeat, saying, “I never knew how easy it is when you're beaten.” But, of course, Santiago is not beaten. He has the courage left to return home, to drag himself to his hut, to face Manolin, and to accept the loss of his greatest catch. This, too, takes courage.
Santiago's ability to endure the harsh life he lives is largely a result of his resignation to the belief that “Pain does not matter to a man.” (Topic Sentence 3) If DiMaggio can endure his bone spur, if the great fish can bear to pull the weight of his boat, then a simple old man can at least endure the discomforts of his existence. To Santiago, his hands, unwilling to open, responsive only to pain, have minds of their own and are traitors to his will. Even when his ordeal at sea is over, the old man, by himself, must carry home the mast of his ship, a symbol of his burden and suffering. He may be old, but he still has the endurance of El Campeon.
In spite of hunger and pain and 84 days of bad luck, Santiago keeps the faith he has in himself. (Topic Sentence 4)He dreams of days long gone by--of hand-wrestling and of golden lions on the beach of Africa. He tries to be like Joe DiMaggio who overcame pain (a bone spur) and believes the baseball player would be proud of him. Santiago has faith that he can be like the sea turtle whose heart keeps beating even in death, and so the old man will never give up. At the end “something is broken inside,” but the old man's eyes remain alive. The body may be weak, temporary,vulnerable; the spirit is enduring, invincible, eternal. Although he prays and promises to say hundreds of Hail Mary's, Santiago's faith is in himself, not in God. When anyone else would give up, Santiago and Manolin have faith in each other and make plans to fish together. The very last line foreshadows the old man's renewal in his dreams about the lions of his youth.
Ultimately, Santiago's honor, courage, endurance, and faith are what make him a symbol for the best in any of us. (Restated Thesis Sentence) Our battles are not with marlins, with sharks, with poverty, or even with old age; yet we all struggle against some foe at some time in our lives. Hemingway has created a character whose experience can help us in our own battles. Santiago shows us that defeat lies only in refusing the battle, not in losing the fight.