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Topic: Success in The Old Man and the Sea
Research Question: What does Hemingway convey about success in The Old Man and the Seaand is Santiago a successful fisherman
The term success is synonymous with feelings of triumph and victory. One can be seen as successful if they have achieved a desired goal. If an athlete’s goal was to make it to the hall of fame and they ultimately do make it to the hall of fame, they can bee seen as successful. However, if the athlete failed to make it to the hall of fame, they will most likely not only see themselves as one who was not successful, but will also be seen as unsuccessful from the people around them. For the most part, if one fails to achieve a desired goal, they will ultimately be seen as one that is not successful. Ernest Hemingway was a prominent author who was also a novelist and a journalist. He was one of the very few to receive the renowned Nobel Prize in the Literature department back in 1954. He also received the celebrated Pulitzer Prize for Fiction on one of his works back in 1953. This short story was called “The Old Man and the Sea” which was written and published a year earlier in 1952. The “The Old Man and the Sea” tells the story of an old Cuban fisher by the name of Santiago. The novel is told in the third person omniscient perspective. Just like Santiago, Hemingway was a man who enjoyed fishing in the waters of Cuba. Santiago’s adventures are relatively mundane because for the most part, he is talking to himself and complains about not catching any fish. Santiago sometimes venture with a boy called Manolin, but for the most part, he is on the boat fishing by himself. This mundane and minimalistic lifestyle is very different from Hemingway’s life before he moved to Cuba. Before living in Cuba, Hemingway served in both World Wars (LitCharts). He then pursued a career in literature and was successful in doing so. The novel starts off with some context. The narrator states that Santiago has gone 84 days without catching a single fish. The word about Santiago’s incompetence as an aging fisher has spread. The spread of rumors regarding his performance on the waters led many people to view him as one that wasn’t successful. Why? Because the society perceived it as him failing to achieve his desired goal which was to catch at least one fish. Subsequently, after 41 days, Manolin’s parents forced Manolin to leave Santiago and work for a more prosperous fisher because of Santiago’s lack of success and the lack of respect that he receives from the community. Although Santiago can intuitively be seen as one who doesn’t hold the characteristics of a successful fisherman because of the failures he’s experienced throughout his journey, it can be argued that Santiago actually is a successful fisherman. In his work, Hemingway suggests that one doesn’t need to be victorious or triumphant in order to be seen as successful, rather internal happiness is what drives one to be successful. With the use of the third person omniscient point of view, the reader is allowed to witness what is going through Santiago’s mind. Santiago is a fisherman who is battling defeat as he has gone 84 days without catching a single fish. However, this does not stop him from fishing, nevertheless, his perseverance further encourages him to catch a fish. Throughout the novel, Hemingway drops quotes that demonstrate how Santiago is successful. His work also demonstrates that there are different stances as to how people view success. This investigation aims to answer the question “What does Hemingway convey about success in The Old Man and the Sea and is Santiago a successful fisherman?”, tackling the largely disputed issue of whether certain scenes from his work demonstrate whether Santiago is successful or not in the process. The value in this essay lies in the disagreement between Hemingway and the status quo. This investigation will therefore aim to make sense out of these different perspectives. Several of Hemingway’s excerpts in “The Old Man and the Sea” will be analyzed under how the general society views success and how Hemingway himself views success.
Success in the Old Man and the Sea:
A literary criticism that was came across in this investigation was written by the renowned literary critic Orville Prescott. Prescott describes “The Old Man and the Sea” as a book which demonstrates that courage is the driving force of life (Prescott). He discusses how Hemingway had overwhelm him with this piece and how it was one of a kind. The primary thing that Prescott focuses on is courage and this idea of how Santiago’s courage in such a dangerous and despairing situation led to his ultimate success (Prescott). Another literary criticism that was came across in this investigation was a source found on a website called The Guardian. The criticism was written by journalist and production editor Russell Cunningham. Throughout his article, Cunningham makes the argument that in The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway is arguing that in a world full of ups and downs, the main thing that keeps us motivated is hope (Cunningham). He argues that, although Santiago is characterized as “the worst form of unlucky”, he still has the “cheerful and undefeated” look in his blue eyes (Hemingway 1). This is all demonstrated in the context of Santiago’s 85th voyage in the hopes of catching a fish. Thus it shows how Santiago’s mode of character development is full of hope: even though it’s been over almost three months without catching a single fish, Santiago’s perseverance reinforces the key aspects of this novel. Cunningham makes the argument that in “The Old Man and the Sea”, Ernest Hemingway is arguing that in a world full of ups and downs, the main thing that keeps us motivated is hope (Cunningham). In fact, this is demonstrated several times throughout the story: in one, Santiago goes out for the 85th day without catching a fish. The narrator describes him as one who holds the status of a salao, which is “the worst form of unlucky” (Hemingway 1). Although his village rejected him, he did not doubt himself and still had that “cheerful and undefeated” look in his “blue eyes” (Hemingway 1). This raises the question of whether success needs to be seen from the outside. Santiago clearly isn’t seen as successful from the outside but his optimism and perseverance push him to continue fishing daily. This would seem to suggest that Santiago is a loser, however, he does wind up catching the marlin. It not only demonstrates Santiago’s success but it also shows that his legacy came from him maintaining his integrity. In the end, all the townspeople admire Santiago for his manhood and worthiness demonstrating how he has become successful through the respect he has gained. One reading of the final scene is that Santiago is, in fact, a successful fisherman, but more successful from the inside; he’s spiritually successful. There are several other instances where Santiago can be witnessed as one that is unsuccessful, but also (based on Hemingway’s argument) successful. On his first day out, while Santiago was talking to himself as he normally does, he brings up humility. The reader then finds out that Santiago is actually talking to God as he is a religious fisher. Santiago demonstrates his appreciation towards God by saying “Thank you” (Hemingway 3). This is followed by the narrator describing Santiago as one who “was too simple to wonder when he had attained humility. But he knew he had attained it and he knew it was not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true pride” (Hemingway 3). Here, Hemingway tells the reader that Santiago is a very minimalistic character, one who is not pensive and one who is to an extent nonchalant through the use of diction. He says that Santiago “was too simple to wonder” (Hemingway 3). The narrator states that Santiago does not think about whether he has attained humility or not and follows this by saying that Santiago is already conscious of the fact that he has already attained it. The narrator then says that even though Santiago has gone fishless for almost three months, he still kept his grace and “it carried no loss of true pride” (Hemingway 3). Here Hemingway demonstrates that you do not need to be triumphant in order to be seen as successful. Santiago, who has gone eighty four days without catching a fish, still perseveres and holds a charismatic attitude towards his situation. He knows that he is being perceived as a loser but he still holds his grace and never lets go of his true “pride” (Hemingway 3). Santiago’s portrayal demonstrates that grace, pride, and humility are not fundamentally exclusive. Here Hemingway shows that Santiago is aware of the fact that he doesn’t need to catch any fish to be seen as successful because ultimately, he knows that success comes down to how you feel internally. Whether he catches any fish or not, internally, Santiago is full of charisma and looks forward to each day of his voyage. Generally, when people set a goal and they consistently don’t achieve it, they tend to see themselves as a failure because they weren’t capable of attaining their desired objective. However, Hemingway challenges this frame of reference and argues that even if you do fail to achieve your goal, it does not mean that you are unsuccessful. He proclaims that internal happiness is what drives one to be successful. On the eighty-ninth day (the fourth day after the book starts), Santiago gains the possession of a marlin. He struggles to get the marlin on his deck because the marlin was resisting. The perseverance of the two parties made it harder for either side to win the battle. After a couple hours of tug of war, both parties begin to get real bloody. This became a significant complication for Santiago because blood attracts sharks. In a matter of minutes, sharks were taking bites out of the marlin that Santiago had caught. Santiago eventually kills some of the sharks with his harpoon but ultimately loses the marlin to the sharks. The narrator states that Santiago “could hardly breathe” and “felt a strange taste in his mouth” (Hemingway 45). What he tasted in the back of his throat turn out to be blood and “he was afraid of it for a moment, but there was not much of it” (Hemingway 45). The narrator goes on by saying that Santiago spat the blood into the ocean and exclaims “Eat that, galanos. And make a dream you’ve killed a man” (Hemingway 45). This is another instance where Hemingway shows that you do not need to be victorious in order to gain pride and be perceived as successful. Here, Santiago caught a fish but ultimately loses it to the sharks. This, however, doesn’t cause him to be pessimistic. In fact, he was “afraid of it for a moment” but Santiago actually maintains his charming attitude towards the situation because he has confidence in the fact that he was not beaten (Hemingway 45). Santiago understands that his folks in the village will be disappointed in him but he still seems to be appreciative, even after the sharks entirely ate his marlin. Here Hemingway demonstrates that Santiago knows about the way that he doesn’t have to get any fish to be viewed as successful on the grounds that eventually, he realizes that success boils down to how you feel inside. Regardless of whether he gets any fish or not, inside, Santiago still brims with charm and anticipates every day of his voyage. By and large, when individuals set an objective and they don’t accomplish it, they will in general consider themselves to be a disappointment and unsuccessful due to the fact that they weren’t equipped for achieving their ideal target. Nonetheless, Hemingway challenges this point of view and contends that regardless of whether you do neglect to accomplish your objective, it doesn’t imply that you are a failure. He declares that inward joy is the thing that drives one to be successful. On the morning of the ninetieth day (the fifth day after the book starts), Manolin finds Santiago sleeping. Manolin was one of the few characters who had a great amount of respect for Santiago from the beginning of the book. While Santiago was sleeping, Manolin made the decision to take a minute and observe Santiago’s body. When he scanned Santiago’s hands, he started to tear up. This demonstrates Manolin’s compassionate attributes as he knows that Santiago is an old man; despite the factor of age, Santiago still went out in the ocean for eighty-nine days, taking part in one of his most admirable pastimes which is to fish. Manolin began to feel even more pitiful because of the fact that even though Santiago dedicated an extensive amount of time in the ocean, he came back home without a single fish. Once Santiago wakes up, the two discuss their future and their plans on fishing together. Although Santiago failed to catch and keep the marlin, his perseverance propels him to want to venture out into the ocean and go fishing again. This can be seen when he tells Manolin “now we fish together again” (47). This is another instance where Hemingway shows that failure does not equate to one being unsuccessful. Here, Santiago returns home crippled which subsequently brings Manolin to tears. However, his bloody hands don’t cause him to relinquish his goals of bringing a fish back to his village. In fact, his optimism and perseverance cause him to discuss his future plans with Manolin regarding going to “fish together again” (Hemingway 47). By returning to the village on a note of resilience, and wanting to get more, Hemingway demonstrates that Santiago remains to sustain his pride despite the fact that he endured defeat. Here Hemingway exhibits Santiago’s characterization and how he thinks about the manner in which he doesn’t need to catch any fish in order to be seen as successful in light of the fact that in the long run, he understands that achievement comes down to how you feel inside. In spite of whether he catches any fish or not, internally, Santiago still overflows with appeal and envisions each day of his voyage. All things considered, when people set a goal and they don’t achieve it, they will generally believe themselves to be a failure because of the way that they weren’t prepared for accomplishing their optimal target. Nevertheless, Hemingway challenges this perspective and insists that whether you succeed or fail to achieve your goal, it doesn’t infer that you aren’t a success. Instead, Hemingway argues that internal euphoria is what drives one to be successful. Following the discussion he has with Manolin, up the road and in his shack, the narrator states that Santiago was sleeping again. Hemingway writes “He was still sleeping on his face and the boy was sitting by him watching him” (Hemingway 48). Here, Hemingway uses connotation and diction of the word “still” (Hemingway 48). The word still is a perpetual word. Santiago was found “still” sleeping on his face (Hemingway 48). This can connote that Santiago will continue to endeavour into the ocean and try to catch fish. It adds to his persevering characterization. Without the use of the word still, the reader could have foreshadowed that Santiago may have never ventured out to catch fish again. Nevertheless, Hemingway’s use of the word “still” adds this aspect of perpetuity which can make it seem to the reader that this lifestyle that Santiago is living will be one that he will live in for the rest of his life (Hemingway 48). The aspect of perpetuity can then foreshadow that Santiago may never catch fish again on his many ensuing endeavours, however, he will always prolong his perseverance and determination. Hemingway continues and says “The old man was dreaming about the lions” (Hemingway 48). Throughout the novel, Santiago has persistently compared himself to lions. At one point, Santiago tells himself that he wish he “could sleep and dream about the lions” (Hemingway 25). Lions are often representative as animals that are made of courage and pride. Santiago comparing himself to the lions demonstrates that he sees pride and determination in himself, just like he does in the lions. At the end of the novel, Santiago is found talking to Manolin, lying down on his bed in his shack, crippled. Although he has been vanquished in a manner relative to his body, the reader can argue that he is still spiritually healthy and optimistic because of the very fact that he is dreaming of the lions. This can be seen as successful because Santiago achieved a goal that he strongly wished for earlier in the book. Furthermore, it can also be seen as successful because internally, he feels that he holds characteristics that resemble the qualities of a lion. Here Hemingway displays Santiago as one who considers that he doesn’t have to catch any fish so as to be viewed as successful because of the fact that over the long haul, he recognizes that success boils down to how one feels within. Regardless of whether he caught any fish or not, internally, Santiago still floods with euphoria and looks forward to his future endeavours. Traditionally, when individuals set an objective and they don’t accomplish it, they will for the most part think of themselves to be a washout on account of how they weren’t set up for accomplishing their ideal goal. However, Hemingway denounces this vantage point and asserts that whether you triumph or fail to achieve an aspiration, it doesn’t automatically make you a failure. Rather, Hemingway professes that internal joy what moves us to become successful. This show how Santiago is a successful fisherman.
Intuitively, one may assert that “The Old Man and the Sea” is simply a book about an old man who struggles to catch fish. However, the novel has is much deeper than that. As critics have put it, “The Old Man and the Sea” tells the story of a man with “courage in the face of defeat and personal triumph won from loss” and what Hemingway does is he transforms those perpetual themes “into a magnificent twentieth century classic” (Goodreads). More often that not, in the face of defeat or personal loss, people are susceptible to being viewed as failures. Hemingway confronts this interpretation and argues that one can be vanquished and still be successful. Despite the fact that Santiago can instinctively be viewed as one who doesn’t hold the attributes of a successful fisherman as a result of the disappointments he’s accomplished all through his voyage, it can still be argued that Santiago is a successful fisherman. In his work, Hemingway proposes that one shouldn’t be defeated or triumphant so as to be viewed as a success, rather inner joy is the thing that drives one to be successful. This is what Hemingway conveys about the theme of success in The Old Man and the Sea and this demonstrates how Santiago is a successful fisherman.
- Cunningham, Russell. “Books to Give You Hope: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 24 Aug. 2016,www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2016/aug/24/books-to-give-you-hope-the-old-man-and-the-sea-by-ernest-hemingway.
- Goodreads. “The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.” Goodreads, 1 Jan. 1996. www.goodreads.com/book/show/2165.The_Old_Man_and_the_Sea.
- Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952.
- LitCharts. “The Old Man and the Sea Study Guide.” LitCharts, www.litcharts.com/lit/the-old-man-and-the-sea.
- Prescott, Orville. “Books of The Times.” The New York Times, The New York Times, movies2.nytimes.com/books/99/07/04/specials/hemingway-oldman.html.
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