Old Man and the Sea: Santiago's Approach

What ennobles a man and makes him a success is his insistence against overwhelming odds. Whether Santiago wins or loses his battle with the great fish is less important than waging a decent and honorable fight.

Author Ernest Hemingway had produced many great books, and was well known throughout the literary community. The Old Man and the Sea was published directly after a ten-year gap in Hemingway’s literary success. His last major work, Across the River and into the Trees, was condemned as unintentional self-parody, and people began to think that Hemingway had exhausted his store of ideas. The relationship between Hemingway and Santiago is tough to miss. Both are aging, capable men with a passion for something they’ve been doing their entire lives. Though they both believe themselves to be great at what they do, others beg to differ.

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For 84 days, the old fisherman Santiago hadn’t caught a fish. Deprived and facing his own mortality, Santiago is considered to be unlucky by all the other fishermen. This doesn’t daunt Santiago, however, and he continues to fish with hopes of breaking the cycle. Hemingway too faces a similar challenge. Though his break in recognition dragged on for years, he still thought of himself as an exceptional writer and continued writing despite the harsh critics.

Santiago continuously fished for three days regardless of his lack of food, energy, and triumph. Even though Santiago did leave the boat empty handed, he had gotten very close to catching a fish before it was eaten by a group of sharks. Hemingway’s situation is similar. Even after all the effort and work he put into his writing, it was a very simple task for the critics to tear his work apart. Santiago made it clear from the start that the other fishermen didn’t deter him. He knew he was the most adept fisherman around, and he understood the factors that stood in his way of proving this to them.

By writing The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway was trying to portray this attitude to the critics and to readers. He wanted people to understand the true story about his ten-year gap and hoped they would get the sense that Santiago and himself have a similar outlook on both of their situations. Because of Hemingway’s self-satisfaction and optimistic approach, we can easily see this bond between the character he created and Hemingway himself.