Comment on Hemingway's famous quote: "Courage is grace under fire."  How has Santiago displayed courage in The Old Man and the Sea?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Santiago displays courage in his tireless efforts to endure and to continue to fight against the nothingness that exists if one does not strive to "live correctly."

Hemingway himself wrote that his code hero is

...a man who lives correctly, following the ideals of honor, courage and endurance in a world that is sometimes chaotic, often stressful, and always painful.

Indeed, Santiago is the code hero as he displays perseverance, courage, and honor. He ventures out to sea each day, even though he has not caught a fish for eighty-four days. When he finally catches a marlin, he must fight to bring it in; his hands are bloodied and the one cramps, but Santiago perseveres just as his baseball hero Joe DiMaggio ran with terrible bone spurs in his feet. Truly, Santiago exerts himself bravely: 

But I have had worse things than that....My hand is only cut a little and the cramp is gone from the other. My legs are all right....The fish is my friend....But I must kill him. 

Even when the sharks attack and eat his catch, Santiago continues to battle. When he can no longer talk to the fish because it has been so badly ruined, Santiago becomes philosophical, telling the mangled fish he is sorry that he ventured too far out to sea, and caused the ruin of them both, still demonstrating courage,

But we have killed many sharks, you and I....You do not have that spear on your head for nothing....

Fight them, he said. I'll fight them until I die.

This courage, this willingness to remain a man even in defeat, is what Hemingway refers to as grace under pressure. When Santiago returns, enervated and with nothing but a skeleton for a catch, he retains this quality of humility:

His hope and confidence had never gone....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.

Santiago leaves the skeleton of the great fish tied to his boat, and the other fisherman measure it at eighteen feet. Destroyed in body, but not in mind, the courageous Santiago returns to his shack and lies face down on his cot to sleep and dream a memory of his youth: "The old man was dreaming about the lions."

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timbrady's profile pic

timbrady | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

Hemingway doubted that we would ever be able to find a reason why things happened; he is reputed to have said something to the effect that he didn't want to understand life, just wanted to know how to live it.  Santiago's behavior is an excellent example of how to "live it."  He respects the fish, fights it honestly, and beats it as a man.  He does all he can to land the fish; that doesn't mean that he will get him home in one piece.  As you know, the sharks attack him on the way home and deprive him of the prize that he has won; but do they?  They can never take away the fact that both he and the fish did what they do honorably; you have no control over what may happen after that.  Santiago doesn't whine about his fate, because he knows that there are things that he has no control over; those he can control he does well --- he behaves with grace under pressure.

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