Illustration of a marlin in the water

The Old Man and the Sea

by Ernest Hemingway
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Explain how the following passage from The Old Man and the Sea relates to heroism: "He knew he was beaten now finally and without remedy and he went back to the stern and found the jagged end of the tiller would fit. ... I never knew how easy it was. And what beat you, he thought. 'Nothing,' he said aloud. 'I went out too far.'"

In this passage from The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago shows his heroic qualities by refusing to give in mentally, preserving his stoicism and sense of gratitude even after his physical defeat.

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This passage comes towards the end of The Old Man and the Sea, when Santiago has given up the fight to preserve the giant marlin, resigning himself to the inevitability of his magnificent catch being consumed by the sharks. Immediately before the passage, he spits in the sea, a gesture of both defeat and defiance.

The old man is clearly defeated by the sea, but he is heroic in defeat. This is partly because of his stoicism. He refuses to lament or feel sorry for himself, taking responsibility as he reflects that he went out too far and must therefore accept the consequences. He has fought heroically and is now gracious, if not to the sharks, at least to the forces of destiny which have overcome him.

In the midst of defeat, Santiago forces himself to find reasons for optimism. As a land-based hero might concern himself with his horse and his men, Santiago's first thoughts are for his boat, admiring how well she sails without the weight of the marlin beside her and reflecting that she has come through this ordeal almost unscathed. After this, he thinks appreciatively of the wind and then of the bed that awaits him at home. Santiago is a hero because he refuses to be defeated mentally, even though he cannot overcome the physical challenges posed by the sea. His stoicism, optimism, and sense of personal responsibility are all qualities associated with heroism.

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