Unlike any of Hemingway's other protagonists, Santiago of The Old Man and the Sea begins the narrative as a code hero, rather than becoming one. As such, then, he provides the perfect model for the qualities of the code hero such as proving oneself in struggles and dealing with defeat and death.
- Proving in Struggle
Despite his failure of the last eighty-four days, the old fisherman Santiago sets forth upon the sea in the hope of catching a big fish in the deep waters of the Gulf Stream. When he catches a Marlin, he finds that he will have quite a struggle in his efforts to pull him in. His hands bleed, his leg cramps some, but Santiago perseveres. Furthermore, the old Cuban fights the big fish for four days, enduring lack of sleep and physical pain. Then, when the mako shark takes a bite into the marlin that Santiago has tied to his boat, the old fisherman tries to fight off this predator, but it is too late as blood spills into the waters of the ocean. This blood attracts other sharks, who eventually consume the fish; nevertheless, Santiago is determined to bring whatever he can in to the shore, and he succeeds in this effort.
You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food, he thought. You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?
Santiago admits to himself that it was his pride which has led to the killing of the great fish in order to prove to himself that he is yet a man. He justifies this slaying of the marlin as having been necessitated by both his needs and his respect for this great fish in making it his important catch, his act of authenticity in succeeding in the struggle.
- Defeat and Death
Santiago does not accept defeat:
"But man is not made for defeat," he said. "A man can be destroyed but not defeated."
How he conducts himself is most important to Santiago, for personal conduct is what makes the man. When the sharks swarm about his catch, Santiago vows to "fight them until I die." It is how man faces death that determines whether or not he is a man.
When he finally returns to the village, depleted and defeated by the sharks, Santiago returns to his shack. But, he is satisfied because he has fought the sharks and he has not died. He lies down and dreams of the lions, a dream from his youth that suggests his faith in himself. Santiago is destroyed in body, but not in mind.
For a thorough definition of what a "code hero" is, check out the question below.