Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Santiago (sahn-tee-AH-goh), an old Cuban fisherman, the protagonist. He is a simple man who loves and respects the sea and all the life within it. On his search for the great marlin, his young friend Manolin fishes with him for forty days, but then Santiago fishes alone among the elements. After eighty-four days of fishing without a catch, the old man’s patience is rewarded. He hooks a huge marlin but then must engage in an exhausting three-day struggle with it. In his battle with the marlin, Santiago begins to identify with the fish, feeling a brotherhood with it and almost a sense of guilt about the idea of killing it. This feeling of solidarity and interdependence between the old man and the marlin pervades the action of the story. The old man’s heroic individualism and his love for his fellow creatures is evident throughout. After finally harpooning it, he attaches the marlin to the bow and stern of his boat, but sharks begin to devour his catch. Santiago’s next battle, with the sharks, proves impossible to win, and Santiago reaches shore with only a skeleton, worthless except as a symbol of his victory. In his struggle with the giant marlin, Santiago pushes himself to the limits of his physical and mental endurance. A man with native intelligence and a strong will to survive, Santiago bears tragedy with great humility and dignity.
(The entire section is 473 words.)
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Themes and Characters
The small cast of characters in The Old Man and the Sea consists of Santiago, the old fisherman, and Manolin, the boy who has fished with him for years. Though the old man hits a run of bad luck, Manolin still wishes to fish with him. But Manolin's parents demand that he fish with a more successful boat.
Other important characters come to life in Santiago's mind. Santiago speaks to and loves the flying fish, the dolphins, and the noble marlin. Santiago also speaks to the sharks, but he meets their malignancy with enmity. The sea is also a character, perhaps the major presence in the book. Santiago thinks of the sea as a woman, thinks of it "as la mar, which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her," while the younger fisherman think of the sea as the masculine "el mar" and consider it "a contestant or a place or even an enemy." The famous New York Yankee of the 1930s and 1940s, Joe Dimaggio, maintains a symbolic presence in the novel, often in Santiago's thoughts. Despite the pain of his bone spur, Dimaggio plays great baseball. Santiago, too, perseveres in spite of his age and "bad luck."
The book's best-known line sums up its most important theme: "A man can be destroyed but not defeated." Hemingway suggests that, although a person may be stripped of everything in the process of living, a quest conducted with skill, courage, and endurance can guarantee the ultimate triumph of the human spirit. Hemingway...
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In this short novel (or novella), the cast of characters is small. Everything centers on Santiago, and it is through his consciousness that the world of the narrative comes alive. Santiago's character is unambiguous, straightforward, as clearly and roundly realized and present as the sea. His character is revealed in his sharp, clear, "cheerful," "undefeated" eyes which are "the same color as the sea." There are many memorable formulations of Santiago's character, such as the following: "He 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." Aside from his simplicity, in the best sense of the word, and his dignity and humility, he has specific physical skills and knowledge as a fisherman, as well as discipline, determination, strength, and endurance. Also, although not all critics have grasped the point, he possesses a profound spirituality which is made evident in ways besides the obvious Christ-figure symbolism Hemingway employs. For example, when Santiago says his prayers — repeatedly — he also says, "I am not religious," even as he says his prayers. The point is not that he does not value his prayers, as some critics have concluded, but that he is a ritual-centered Catholic believer; that is to say, he may not be "religious," but he is devout.
Although Manolin is the only other important character (and a minor one indeed in terms of...
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The Old Man and the Sea gives a unique opportunity for a detailed study of one character—the old man. He appears in all but two brief scenes in the novel and, for much of the story, is the only human character. His lengthy solitude gives the reader a deep insight into his motivations and inner workings.
We first meet the old man, Santiago, as a seemingly defeated fisherman. He has not caught a fish for eighty-four days and is seen by the other fishermen as unlucky. His apprentice, Manolin, has left him to join a luckier crew (at the behest of his parents), and Santiago relies on Manolin’s charity to get baits for his fishing and food for his table. Yet despite this, his eyes are “cheerful and undefeated.” He continues to put to sea each day and believes he will live to catch more fish. The bulk of the novel follows Santiago’s quest to catch one more big fish and his struggle with the marlin he manages to hook.
Santiago is a complex, multi-faceted character. He is humble and unpretentious. His simple life and recent lack of success mean that he has nothing—he has no food, his sail is patched and he relies on Manolin for bait and other supplies. Yet at the same time he has the courage to continue to dream. He sets off on a quest not just to catch a fish but to catch the biggest fish he has ever caught. To do this, he is willing to go far beyond the limits of younger, more successful...
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Manolin is a young man, based on someone Hemingway knew in Cuba who was then in his twenties. In the story, however, Manolin is referred to as “the boy.” Like Santiago, Manolin comes from a family of fishermen and has long admired Santiago as a masterful practitioner of his trade. Although Manolin’s father has forbidden him to go fishing with Santiago because of the old man’s bad luck, Manolin nevertheless continues to visit Santiago and to help him in whatever ways he can. Manolin shows great concern for Santiago’s health, especially after he sees how Santiago has suffered in catching the big marlin. As a mark of his friendship and respect for Manolin, Santiago has given him certain responsibilities from an early age, such as fetching bait and carrying the lines. By contrast, Manolin’s own father only belittles his son’s relationship with Santiago.
Even though Manolin appears only at the beginning and the end of the story, he is an important character. Manolin’s conversations with Santiago, and Santiago’s longing for the boy’s company when he is alone, reveal the character of both men. Santiago is seen as a loving, patient, and brave man, both proud and humble, who accepts and appreciates life, despite all its hardships. Manolin is shown to be someone who loves and respects Santiago, and who realizes that he can learn things from the old man that he cannot learn at home.
Manolin undergoes an important change between the...
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Santiago is an old fisherman of undetermined age. As a young man he traveled widely by ship and fondly remembers seeing lions on the beaches of East Africa. His wife died, and he has taken her picture down because it makes him sad to see it. Now he lives alone in a shack on the beach. Every day he sets forth alone in his boat to make a living.
When the story opens, Santiago has gone eighty-four days without catching a single fish. As a result, he is pitied and regarded by the other fishermen as unlucky. Santiago is still respected by some, however, because of his age and his perseverance. He is a very experienced fisherman who knows well the tricks of his trade, including which fish to use as bait.
Santiago also loves baseball and occasionally gambles. He identifies with Joe DiMaggio, the great center fielder for the Yankees in the 1940s and 1950s. Santiago admires how DiMaggio, whose father was a fisherman, plays in spite of bone spurs in his feet that cause him pain whenever he runs. As an old man, Santiago must also cope with the physical demands of his job in the face of the infirmities of his aging body. Yet he suffers without complaining, and it is this stoic attitude that has won him much respect in the community.
Santiago is not a religious person, but he does think about the meaning of life, and his religious references show that he is very familiar with Roman Catholic saints and prayers. Through the author’s revelation...
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Although he is unnamed in the story, the bodega proprietor serves the important function of representing those in the village who show their respect and admiration of Santiago by supporting him—in this case, by giving Santiago free coffee and newspapers.
Although she has only one line in the story, the unnamed female tourist is important since in her mistaking the carcass of the marlin as that of a shark, she acts as a foil for Santiago’s extraordinary knowledge of the sea.
Manolin’s father forbids Manolin from going out with Santiago after the old man’s fortieth day without a fish. By the end of the story Manolin decides to disobey his father out of his love for Santiago.
As a friend of Santiago, Pedrico helps the old man by giving him newspapers. After the old man’s return from the sea, despite his wounds and exhaustion, Santiago remembers to carry out his promise to give Pedrico the head of the fish carcass.
(The entire section is 177 words.)