In The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway describes an old fisherman and the unfortunate trials he faces as his “luck” runs out. Through the novel, the fisherman, Santiago, replicates Hemingway’s ideal man, a noble hero. Hemingway had a Code of Behavior that he himself followed. He had morals that were strict and an appreciation for instinct and human nature. He had a specific way of living life and an understanding of time. He believed in taking risks and acting upon instinct. He believed that a person who followed his Code of Behavior was a noble hero. In Hemingway’s Code of Behavior, a noble hero is a master craftsman. This means that he is not dependent on other people or on technology. It also means that he is a master at his art and he keeps practicing it in order to better himself. The second characteristic of a noble hero is that he struggles in order to remain undefeated. This means that he does anything possible to reach his goal. He struggles and suffers in order to perfect his art and therefore, himself, “No matter what kind of suffering and trial he has to go through he has to fulfill his destiny…”(Harada 270). The third characteristic of Hemingway’s noble hero is that he accepts defeat. Once he is defeated, once he can better himself no more, he should stop trying because, “He lives in time. And the goal of time is death and destruction”(Harada 276). He should accept that he is no longer useful and that he has been defeated. These three characteristics define Hemingway’s ideal man.
In The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago exemplifies Hemingway’s Code of Behavior for a noble hero. In the novel, Santiago is a master craftsman. He is only dependent on himself. While the other fishermen use motor boats, Santiago uses his skiff. While the other men have many workers and helpers who hold several lines, Santiago has three lines all operated by his own hand. He is an expert, “…the old man goes much farther out than the other fishermen and casts bait in much deeper water”(Gurko 66). Because he knows the waters and the movements of the fish, he has a better chance of catching the fish. Although he is taking a greater risk by going out deeper, he has a better chance of catching the bigger fish. Another thing that makes Santiago a master craftsman is his experience. He has been a fisherman all his life. Therefore he has had much time to master this art. Though many fishermen might doubt him, he is great. He has skill and he applies it in order to succeed. He uses his hands and he uses his instincts to master the art of being a fisherman. Santiago uses himself, his physical and mental strength to catch the fish, and by doing these things, his difficult task becomes easier. He is a master craftsman not only through his skill, but also through his determination. Determination defines the second characteristic that makes Santiago a noble hero. He is determined and he struggles in order to remain undefeated. Although he has gone 84 days without catching a fish, he does not give up. He goes out on his 85th day with the mentality that this is the day when he will catch a fish. This is what keeps him going. He knows that he still has the ability and strength to be a good fisherman. He never gives up. After catching the marlin, he states, “Fish…I’ll stay with you until I am dead”(52). This shows his determination to win the battle and the fish. He has fought these battles hundreds of times before, he suffered, but he won. Still this battle is different. He fights in a way he has never fought before and he suffers. He suffers in catching the fish, killing the fish, attempting to return home, and fighting off the sharks. But through all this suffering, he still fights, “… for he alone has to endure the sufferings to fulfill his destiny”(Harada 270).
This is his mentality, he knows what he must do and so, he does it. He never lets down his guard and he fights with consistent strength. A third characteristic that makes Santiago a noble hero is that he accepts his defeat. The fish is eaten and he has returned home with its remains. He realizes that he went out too far and that he made a mistake. He fought a tough battle and in the end, he was defeated. He even admits to himself that he has been beaten. Although through most of the novel he has great strength in fighting the fish and he is determined to succeed, in the end he knows what has happened. Throughout his life he has struggled and suffered and won but this was his final battle. And though he lost, he lost with a fight. He realized now that it is over for him. He is done fighting and it doesn’t matter anymore, “… he knew he was beaten now finally and without remedy”(119). He knows also, that it is his fault. He realizes his mistake and that he cannot change what has already happened. He went out too far and although this caught him the bigger fish, it also caused him failure. He says it to himself, he was careless and he was responsible for his own failure. He tried to do more than he was capable of doing. He has lost, “Only I have no luck anymore,”(32) he says. There is nothing he can do to change this. He has been defeated. “To be a hero means to dare more than other men, to expose oneself to greater dangers, and therefore more greatly risk the possibilities of defeat and death”(Gurko 66). Santiago fits this description perfectly. H dares more than other men do, and he strives for perfection. He exposes himself to dangers by going out much farther and casting bait in deeper waters. Because of this, he is able to catch the bigger fish. Yet still, the bigger fish is more powerful and pulls the skiff even farther out to sea. This makes it an even bigger risk. Another risk he takes is that he goes all by himself. He does this in order to fulfill his destiny using only his own resources. The problem is that he has no aid. And in the case of falling overboard or getting lost at sea, there will be no one there to help him. He proves to be a noble hero in the eyes of Hemingway as well. He is a master craftsman in his enduring strength, skill, and knowledge of fishing, “Santiago determinedly bends all his strength and accrued experience in his craft to the task of playing the fish well”(Rovit 86). He knows tricks and occupies himself with bettering his ability to fish. He struggles and suffers in order to stay undefeated.
He beats all odds and fights all battles with the thought that he can and will win. And so he does. He goes far out and acts on what he thinks are right. He does not fear his actions nor does he regret them. He fights every battle as if it is his last and therefore comes out on top. Third, he accepts defeat. This is the most honorable characteristic. No matter how hard he has fought, once it is over, he does not look back wishing he could have acted differently. He accepts his mistakes and recognizes that, “He has overstepped the boundary of man’s finite and limited nature”(Harada 275). He went out too far and this is what he gets. In these ways he is much like Hemingway, a noble hero. His actions and the consequences of them are easily notable and should not be look down upon. In the long run, Santiago answered his calling, fought his battles, and when he was finally defeated by his own pride, he recognized it and accepted it. This makes Santiago a noble hero.