Santiago of The Old Man and the Sea is the consummate Hemingway hero. For, he is the man who adheres to form despite the odds; he continues to maintain his existence with dignity and honor, and by doing so, he achieves true manhood. This is the meaning of the line, "A man can be destroyed but not defeated." Despite losing the great fish, the fish is yet conquered, as the boy points out. Thus, Santiago remains authentic; he has attained success in the achievement of his own being as a man.
The underlying meaning of Hemingway's narrative is dependent upon the definition of "defeat." Is it not having succeeded in a materislistic sense, or is it not having adhered to form and lived as a man? For Santiago "defeat" is not having acted as a man in the correct manner. Never has Santiago been defeated, therefore, because he continues to have his pride in form.
His conversations with the boy also indicate the pride that Santiago has as he appreciates the boy's compliments and affirms his self-confidence:
"There are many good fishermen and some great ones. But there is only you."
"Thank you. You make me happy. I hope no fish will come along so great that he will prove us wrong."
"There is no such fish if you are still strong as you say."
"I may not be as strong as I think," the old man said. "But I know many tricks and I have resolution."
Hemingway as narrator indicates the spirit that is in Santiago:
Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.
Santiago may be old physically; however, his spirit is young, nourished by his pride at having always followed form in his life. In this following of a code, Santiago is successful. In this Santiago has pride, and this pride saves him as he goes to sleep and dreams of the lions, an indication that he is still young at heart and has an imagination and will fish again tomorrow.