Santiago says nothing beat him except that he went too far out. Hemingway's message is that his protagonist is destroyed but not defeated.
Do you think Santiago is a tragic hero who brought about his own destruction? (I do think he is one.)
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Wow. You have a lot going on here for such a short story. Destroyed and defeated seem to be the essential words in The Old Man and the Sea, and they probably hold the key to answering your own question--is Santiago a tragic hero. When I look at the general criterion for a tragic here, Santiago does not quite fit. Almost, but not quite. One, he does suffer his loss, at least in part. by his own doing. Santiago goes out alone and he goes out too far. There is a natural consequence of bringing is such a fish alone so far away from land and other fishermen. He could have cut the line and cut his losses and been better off than he was in the end. Two, he does not seem to have the thing commonly referred to as a fatal flaw, at least not to the degree most other tragic heroes have it. His one glaring show of pride in the midst of his amazingly humble life is his pride in being a good fisherman. This is a man who allows Manolin to provide him fresh baits, who owns next to nothing, who wouldn't eat much of the time if it were not for the boy. Yet, he is convinced he is still a good enough and strong enough fisherman to catch this big fish.
Third, a tragic hero generally loses more than he should--his punishment exceeds his crime. Not so here. Santiago's hands and body are worse for the wear, for sure, but he has literally lost nothing more than a few days of fishing. It's true that this incident undoubtedly broke his spirit (thus the reference to destroy); however, we understand Santiago will go on to fish another day. He has not been defeated. Most tragic heroes do not have that luxury; the consequences of their actions generally keep them from participating in the life of their choosing again. Often, the punishment, the price they pay, is death. Not so for Santiago. Fourth, does he learn from his mistake, as most tragic heroes admit to doing--often right before they die. I'll leave this one for you to decide. Finally, the audience must feel pity and awe. That we certainly do.
In short, then, Santiago is perhaps a kind of tragic hero, one who is, indeed, destroyed but not defeated. According to the traditional definition of the term, though, he does not fit the entire description. That doesn't make his loss any less profound, though, it seems to me. Rather, it makes him a relatable figure who battled and lost but will live to battle again.
An interesting thing to think--and write--about!
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