Discuss if the story of The Old Man and the Sea can be properly regarded as a tragedy.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I certainly feel that there are some tragic elements in Hemingway's novel, but I am not entirely convinced that it is a tragedy.  When I think of a tragedy, I am inclined to consider works that present a narrative of disunity, lack of totality, and fragmentation where answers are challenging to ascertain as part of the definition of tragedy.  The idea of being "Destroyed, but not Defeated" is a reflection of Santiago.  While the old man might have failed, he emerges as a unifying force, an example of how to stand in the world.  The human predicament is shown to be one where victory and triumph is present, even if not present in the final results.  I think that this is why the work is not one of tragedy, but one where the unifying force of comedy and totality is present.  With the ending of the work, the emergence of Santiago as a force that asserts his own voice, and the idea that there is a positive force within consciousness makes this work so comic in nature:

Yet the struggle to achieve one’s dreams is still worthwhile, for without dreams, a human remains a mere physical presence in the universe, with no creative or spiritual dimension. And so at the end of the story, Santiago, in spite of his great loss, physical pain, and exhaustion, is still “dreaming about the lions”—the same ones he saw in Africa when he was younger and would like to see again.
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The Old Man and the Sea

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