How is Santiago a hero in Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The protagonist of The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway, is an old fisherman named Santiago. At first there does not seem to be much about him which one might consider heroic; throughout the course of the novel, however, Santiago demonstrates many heroic qualities.

First, he is a man who takes pride in what he does. He is not a boastful man, full of excessive pride; in fact, he is quit humble. For Example, when Manolin says Santiago is the best fisherman, the old man humbly disagrees with the boy. Santiago does demonstrate pride in his fishing. He refers to the sea and the fish in loving terms *using the feminine name for the sea), unlike the other, younger fishermen who see the sea and the fish as nothing but profit. When he is unable to bring the marlin home intact, he is not depressed; on the contrary, he is content with the personal pride of accomplishment, knowing he is still good enough and strong enough to catch a great fish.

Most importantly, though, it is Santiago's perseverance which makes him a hero. He is old, he no longer has the boy (or any other apprentice) to help him fish, and he has gone out fishing for the last eighty-four days without catching a fish. He goes on the eighty-fifth day and spends three days bringing in a giant marlin despite every adversity. “I may not be as strong as I think, but I know many tricks and I have resolution.” He is resolved and he accomplishes his task; we somehow know that even if he had gone another eighty-four days without catching a fish, Santiago would still have gotten in his boat every day and tried.

While Santiago is a poor old man in the eyes of the world, he is a heroic figure because of the pride he takes in his profession and his perseverance.