Can Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" be considered a tragedy in the classic sense of the word?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When considering whether Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" can be categorized as a tragedy, it is appropriate to first arrive at common ground on the definition of "tragedy" in the context of literature.  For purposes of discussion, the definition of "tragedy" from the Encyclopedia Britannica will be used:

"tragedy: branch of drama that treats in a serious and dignified style the sorrowful or terrible events encountered or caused by a heroic individual.  By extension, the term may be applied to other literary works, such as the novel."

Using that definition, "The Old Man and the Sea" can most definitely be considered a tragedy.  An elderly, exhausted fisherman named Santiago struggles with a prize catch, a large marlin, finally prevailing against that fish only to lose it to sharks: that constitutes a tragedy in most any literary definition used.  Hemingway's description of Santiago is such that the reader can only view his protagonist in somewhat sorrowful ways, for example, in the way that the young Manolin's parents forbid him from accompanying Santiago on a fishing expedition, preferring instead that the boy work with successful fishermen.  When Santiago's victory over the marlin turns to defeat because of the sharks, he can do nothing but go to bed and dream of a better life.

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The Old Man and the Sea

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