"Grace under pressure" and "fighting the good fight" are themes found in most of Hemingway's novels and stories.  Explain how these themes are treated in The Old Man and the Sea.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Without question, Santiago of The Old Man and the Sea is the Hemingway code hero who acts in an appropriate manner when faced with death--"grace under pressure"--and he certainly tests his prowess as a man and "fights the good fight" in challenging death with his sense of order and discipline. Here are some ways in which Santiago is a fully developed code hero who faces death bravely:

  • Life is valuable to Santiago.  

Even as an old man, Santiago dreams those dreams of his youth. The dream of the lions is symbolic of all that he ever was, puissant and independent. He retains this dream, so that he can live as a vital man until he dies.

  • Santiago has a sense of order and discipline, living life as a true man

When he catches the marlin, Santiago uses all his skills as a fisherman to be able to bring in the great fish. Meeting the challenge of a powerful foe, Santiago endures the pain on his back and the cramping of his left hand without complaint. Drawing strength from the memory of his victory as a young man when he arm wrestled with a strong black man, Santiago revitalizes himself and "fights the good fight."

  • Santiago knows that he has a duty to avoid death

As he waits for the marlin to surface, Santiago sits in his boat and talks aloud to himself,

"The fish is my friend too,...I have never seen or heard of such a fish.  But I must kill him."

The old fisherman must kill the marlin for food; for, he must survive. 

  • Santiago lives most intensely when in the direct presence of death

Even though the old man loses the great fish, he feels successful because he has faced death on the sea, and he has never been cowardly; instead he has endured fatigue, pain, and hunger and endures: "A man can be destroyed, but not defeated."

One critic writes,

Santiago does not develop into a hero because he has already attained the heroic qualities.

Certainly, Santiago, whose hero is the great Joe DiMaggio who endured bone spurs in his feet, is Hemingway's finest example of a code hero.


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The Old Man and the Sea

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