Is Santiago of The Old Man and the Sea a tragic hero, an Anglo-Saxon epic hero, or a code hero? If possible, please provide proof.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Without question, Santiago is the Hemingway code hero as he is defined by this author himself,

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.

In fact, Santiago is the paradigm for the code hero as since from the beginning of the novella, the old fisherman is instilled with all the requisite qualities:

  • A free-willed individual

Santiago lives his life as he chooses. Although he has gone without catching a fish for eighty-four days, the old man persists, modeling himself after his idol Joe DiMaggio, who continued to play baseball despite suffering from terrible bone spurs. Santiago ventures out each day until the ultimate defeat stops him.

When he finally catches a fish, Santiago exerts himself to the fullest, encouraging himself by thinking,

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. I am glad that I do no have to kill the stars.
Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination never relaxed in his sorrow for him.

Even though Santiago fights a losing battle, he returns with the skeleton of the fish as evidence that he has finally caught something.

  • Grace under pressure

Santiago exhibits endurance and courage. Although he is poor and has caught no fish for so long, he only accepts one fish when the boy offers him four.

His hope and confidence had never gone. But now they were freshening as when the breeze rises....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.

Truly, Santiago exhibits much "grace under pressure" while he is on the boat alone, struggling against the great fish, overcoming his fears of his hand becoming numb and his losing the fish, as well as enduring much pain.

My hand is only cut a little and the cramp is gone from the other. My legs are all right. Also now I have gained on him in the question of sustenance.

Santiago is patient in his battle against the fish.

The line went out and out and out but it was slowing now and he was making the fish earn each inch of it.

The old man talks to himself, building his confidence while assessing his situation. He puts his cut hand in the water, and tells himself that it does not matter that it hurts. Further, Santiago talks to himself to keep his head clear, and he prays for endurance.

  • Facing death with courage

"He felt faint again now but he held on the great fish with all the strain that he could." Nevertheless, the great fish is able to still swim away. Santiago says, "Fish, you are going to have to die, anyway. Do you have to kill me, too?" Continually, he encourages himself to keep his head clear and "know how to suffer like a man."

After the fish has been mutilated by the Mako, Santiago tells himself, "A man can be destroyed, but not defeated." Later, when the sharks come to feed on the fish, Santiago believes they have beaten him, but he tells himself he will try as long as he has control of his boat. "'Fight them,' he said. 'I'll fight them until I die.'" Then, after he returns, defeated with only a skeleton of the great fish, Santiago is hurt, but his mind is yet strong. As he lies face down, he dreams of the lions of his youth.

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The Old Man and the Sea

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