In society, everyday there are people who strive, sweat, and bleed so that they can fulfill certain shallow ambitions in life in order to acquire acceptance as a result of achievement and to avoid humiliation due to failure. Then, there are others who refuse to demean themselves by not matching their perspective of accomplishment to the outlook of achievement set by the shallow standards of society. Ultimately, an individual has the power to determine his own means of self-satisfaction. Also, one can agree that with goals comes challenges, and one of the most challenging parts of life is the spontaneity that dominates every day. In the story, Santiago is a fisherman facing the ultimate battle between reality and his life's passion. Despite what society thinks of this old man, he learns the distinct difference of doing what he wants to do and doing what he needs to do. In addition, he grasps the understanding that there is not always a clear distinction between attainment and failure. However, sometimes the effort put behind the task is what truly awards gratification. Analyzing Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, the reader realizes through symbolism, imagery, and irony that when dealing with difficult challenges in life, Santiago must have pride and determination in order to acquire self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.
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Noticing the painful obstacles that the old man must endure, the reader can conclude that Santiago symbolizes Christ because they parallel each other since both suffer intense aguish. For instance, Santiago's battle with the fish with his "calloused [hands]" (Hemingway 83) that are cut from the "line [slipping] into the palm" (Hemingway 83) is similar to the pain suffered by Christ when he is nailed to the cross. Like Christ, Santiago proves that a worthy task can be mixed with "doubt and the 'inseparability of suffering and Grace (Hamilton 141)'" (Waggoner 88). Also, Santiago must deal with evil when it presents itself. In an attempt to annihilate Santiago's determination for achievement, sharks arrive and violently meddle with the intensified situation (Hemingway 100), symbolizing the ancient battle between good and evil. However, even though the sharks eat the marlin, the Christ form of thinking shines through the problematic situation (Waggoner 88). Rather than manifesting scorn towards the brutal sea creatures, Santiago "recognizes the 'rightness' of events [and] does not cry for loss" (Waggoner 99). Moreover, in a religious sense, "spiritual satisfaction [is] inevitably bestowed" (Waldmeir 161) upon Santiago because his belief that the sharks act on a natural sense mirrors Christ's forgiveness of the people during his crucifixion. Overall, Santiago is the ultimate Christ symbol as he struggles in the water and later to his hut. As he reaches his destination, he lies on the bed "with his arms out straight and the palms of his hands up" (Hemingway 122), which is symbolic to Christ "struggling up the hill" (Pratt 91) carrying out his life's duty with a destiny of being nailed with his arms stretched on the cross. With this symbolism is the connotative lesson that determination can lead to agonizing pain followed by everlasting virtue.
By focusing on the descriptive imagery in the story, the reader is able to unveil the lesson displayed by Santiago of how possessing self-admiration can lead to fulfillment. Through detailed descriptions, the reader is able to visualize the wrinkled old man with "brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer" (Hemingway 9) out at sea, battling an enormous marlin with a "sword as long as a baseball bat" (Hemingway 62). Picturing the effects of Santiago's great attempt to overcome distress helps illustrate the "determinative victoryâ€¦ [against] the sea's adversial forces" (Eddins 71). Clearly, Santiago has embarked on a strenuous task but "through the agonyâ€¦and isolated individualism" (Burhans 447), he proves that "a man can be destroyed but not defeated" (Hemingway 103). For example, in addition to fighting with a fish that is so "unbelievably heavy" (Hemingway 43) and will not quit, the "cramping down his forearm" (Hemingway 103), which is a result of strain and old age, adds more misery to the unfavorable contention. Also, when the surge from the fish pulls him down, Santiago cuts below his eye causing the "blood [to run] down his cheek" (Hemingway 52). At this point, the reader is completely aware of the old man's pride and not even the "wrenching pain of life" (Cain 122) will make him relinquish this battle because under all of these circumstances, "the strength of his spirit and determination sustain[s] him" (Eddins 70). However, the only souvenir that the old man brings back besides his pain is the skeleton that measures eighteen feet from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail (Hemingway 122). After one focuses on the imagery of the battle in the sea, it seems reasonable to think that the old man did not come back with much after all that he has suffered. To prove otherwise, William E. Cain states that Santiago is filled with determination and resilience which makes this a worthy journey (116). Sometimes in life, the vividness of suffering is not enough to keep one from accomplishing a goal.
Analyzing the intense struggle between Santiago and the marlin, the reader notices the irony existing among the old man and nature. Examining the events of despair and pain that Santiago endures, rather than becoming completely infuriated, he fells a sense of love and humility for an "indifferent universe which [attempts to defeat] him" (Burhans, Jr. 447). For example, learning that the fish will not die easily, the old man manifests respect instead of rage as he says "I love and respect you very much" (Hemingway 54). Also, by trying not to jerk the line because it can "widen the cut the hook makes" (Hemingway 54) reveals further implications of the sympathy that Santiago feels for the marlin. According to Clinton S. Burhans, Jr., what motivates the old man to continue with the ultimate fisherman's strife is the "deepest love for the creature" (448), who is also his brother because through nature's eyes, they are "bound together in [this] primal relationship" (448). Identifying with the fish as his brother reveals that a newer and deeper bond has evolved, and relating to the creature in such a sympathetic sense also creates a grand venue for tragedy (Cain 121). Capturing and killing this marlin should have a rewarding challenge with no sentimental strings attached. According to William E. Cain, obviously, this objective does not last because the killing of the fish is heartbreaking for Santiago making him feel destroyed because he not only takes life, but he "[experiences] what it is like to die" (122). Ironically, when the fish finally dies, Santiago is not flooded with joy because his heart is sinking over the fact that he has "killed this fish which is [his] brother" (Hemingway 95). Also, "catching the fish is ironically cut down" (Halliday 70) because the ravaging sharks enjoy "ripping on the big fish" (Hemingway 102). Living on "isolated individualism and pride" (Burhans, Jr. 452), the old man is subject to a few great occurrences in life. Now the one trophy that can proudly display his worldly efforts is completely picked apart. Physically, he has not only ruined himself, but he also pulled the life out of the fish. What Clinton S. Burhans, Jr. mentions in his article is that this situational irony expresses that even though Santiago goes against the odds to perform something amazing and memorable, he brings violence and destruction on himself and the great marlin (453). Overall, one can agree that irony is a significant element because it helps focus on Santiago's diligence and endurance during the continuation of his strife with nature.
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With the main focus of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea being self-satisfaction being ultimately determined by effort and resilience, true and absolute fulfillment exists only within the self. After witnessing what the poor old man has gone through because fishing and the sea is his passion, the reader can wonder if this epic adventure is completely fair. Sometimes life can throw some overbearing and non-understandable obstacles that people are forced to deal with in order to keep on living. Fortunately, some of these challenges can define an individual. In some occasions, reality is not always what people want it to be. Nothing really makes since in this world, and maybe that is the complete idea of living in this whirlpool because no really knows where they will end up. A person can come home with the prize-winning catch or with simply a memorable experience to recite. There are many lessons to be learned in the story. Obviously, one should never give up his true passions and goals in life even if the dreams that are yearning to be reached seem so astronomically unreachable. Another is to make the best in a situation. This does not mean to conform to something that goes against certain principles, but to be true to the final decision in any given situation. Of course, society can be cruel and unsympathetic at times, but whenever faced with adversity, one should find a way to play on.
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