In The Old Man and the Sea, what is the relevance of the ending to the rest of the narrative?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his short story "To Build a Fire," Jack London writes of the main character,

The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances.

In contrast to this man, who dies because he lacks the imagination to understand nature, Santiago has "a largeness of vision" that allows him to respect and love nature. For instance, as he contemplates the turtles that he sees while at sea, Santiago appreciates his commonality with the turtles,

I have such a heart, too, and my feet and hands are like theirs.

His respect for nature is such that he does not talk unnecessarily at sea as it is "considered a virtue." And, it is because of this love and respect for nature that the defeated fisherman returns home with the bravery to face life again. Before he lies down to sleep, the old fisherman asks the boy to bring him the newspapers from when he was gone. Then, the old man sleeps like a child on his face, "dreaming about the lions." Despite losing the great fish, Santiago has faced death and won because, unlike London's protagonist, he has imagination. He will rise the next day and face the "lions," the violence and disorder of life, and he will endure. Thus, Hemingway's ending offers hope for his hero, as well as reaffirming him as his "code hero," the man who will continue his struggle, proving his manhood, and retaining his pride.

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The Old Man and the Sea

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