In The Old Man and the Sea, they say "a man can be destroyed but not defeated," explain this quote.

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I think the best way to explain this quote is to think of a person as a physical being as well as a spiritual/emotional being. A man (person) can be physically destroyed. That person's body can go through trauma that breaks that person down bit by bit. Ironman triathletes are...

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I think the best way to explain this quote is to think of a person as a physical being as well as a spiritual/emotional being. A man (person) can be physically destroyed. That person's body can go through trauma that breaks that person down bit by bit. Ironman triathletes are a good example. By the end of the race, their bodies have been absolutely destroyed regardless of winning or losing; however, that competitive spirit that drives the athlete is still present. Even though that athlete may have lost the race, their spirit to push harder and try again is never defeated. It is similar with the old man in this story. His gear is broken, his hands are wrecked, he hungers and thirsts as his rations run out and his body is forced to start feeding on itself; however, the old man never gives up the fight. He is still looking for ways to win.

He knew quite well the pattern of what could happen when he reached the inner part of the current. But there was nothing to be done now.

“Yes there is,” he said aloud. “I can lash my knife to the butt of one of the oars.”

Even at the end of the story, the old man's dreams suggest to the reader that he is absolutely going to keep on going out and fighting for his right to fish, survive, and earn a living. He is physically destroyed, but he is never defeated.

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As the old man battles to first bring in the fish he has hooked and then to try and get it to the shore without exhausting his last reserves of strength, he is repeatedly destroyed in small pieces.  First he is worn very thin and weary by the long chase and all of the actions he must take in order to draw the fish to the boat.  His hands are torn to pieces and he grows very hungry and thirsty as he runs out of provisions.  The sharks soon begin to tear at the very fish that he spent so much time and energy bringing in.  Eventually they have basically taken everything of value, destroying the man and his boat and the fish in the process.

Yet the struggle and the will of the man to continue are not defeated, he has gained a victory even as the thing for which he fought was destroyed, even as he was destroyed.

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