But Man is Not Made for Defeat.
What Hemingway’s Santiago can teach us about overcoming hardships.
There comes a point in every person’s life where they believe they are “salao” or the worst form of unlucky, by Hemingway’s standards.
In The Old Man and The Sea, Hemingway explores the story of an old fisherman named Santiago who has not caught a fish in 84 days; a feat so discouraging most had lost hope that he would ever catch a fish again. Santiago’s apprentice Manolin was instructed by his parents to fish with another group of fisherman to improve his skills, rather than stagnate under the old man’s supervision. The boy continues to help Santiago anyways, hearing stories from the old man’s youth such as when he would watch lions play on a beach in Africa.
On the 85th day, Santiago goes out to sea as he did the previous 84 days of his life to fish once more, ever confident that soon his unlucky streak would be over. Alone on the open water, Santiago finally hooks a huge marlin, one that would be big enough to command top dollar on his return to town. Santiago, weakened by age, nevertheless fights against the beast with the same passion he had carried with him since his youth.
“You are killing me, fish, the old man thought. But you have a right to. Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than you, brother. Come on and kill me. I do not care who kills who.”
Days pass as Santiago recounts times in his youth, his favorite baseball player, and of the sea while struggling against the marlin. Describing the marlin as a friend, he respects the beast and continues to struggle on against it until finally, it’s will is broken.
Santiago celebrates the victory to himself, tying the grand fish up to his boat, only to be forced to defend the fish’s carcass from sharks. Santiago musters all his strength, killing shark after shark, first with his harpoon, and then with his oar and knife. The sharks assail the marlin mercilessly, stripping away it’s valuable meat and devaluing it significantly.
Reaching shore after his hard-fought battle with the marlin and the sharks, Santiago was exhausted. While his catch was ruined, he tells the boy they will fish again another day. Falling asleep, he rests in his bed, dreaming only of the lions he saw playing in his youth.
Santiago’s story is a valiant one. Against his unluckiness, the beliefs of all those people in the town, and his own body, he continues on, triumphing over not just the marlin and the sharks, but his own old age as well.
“Only I have no luck anymore. But who knows? Maybe today. Every day is a new day.”
For 84 days, Santiago was luckless. But for 84 days, Santiago was hopeful.
After all the hardships Santiago endured, with his marlin ruined and his body injured and sore, was his journey out on the sea a success, or a failure?
Many would say he failed, but I would say he was successful. Like many situations in life, it is all a matter of perspective.
Santiago’s story shows us that against all logic and reason, one should remain hopeful against all the misfortunes the universe has thrust upon them.
Although life may not always be fair, in Santiago’s words, every day is a new day, and we should be thankful for that.