Dignity is honor, respect, self-pride, and high status. Santiago retains dignity throughout the novel. He exhibits the wisdom, humility, and patience of a saint. Not only that, but he takes on a Herculean task worthy of many men half his age, and had it not been for the sharks, he would have succeeded.
Here are the ways he shows dignity:
- In the arm wrestling match, he shows respect for his opponent.
- While openly being taunted by the younger fisherman, he does not retaliate
- He honors his profession, even though in a slump, not not wallowing in self-misery or quitting
- He takes the boy as a disciple and teaches him dignity
- He respects all of nature: the fish in the sea, the birds in the air; granted, he hates sharks, but who doesn't?
- He achieves status by going far out and hooking the great fish, thereby ending his bad luck streak; he is akin to the great DiMaggio
- He does not lose hope after the sharks have dismantled his great fish. We know he will fish again and will regain his respect among the fisherman and his luck among the fish
In Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago is an old fisherman ravaged by life, but he maintains his dignity by sharing his wisdom with the younger man, Manolin. Santiago’s efforts to catch and return with the marlin serve as metaphors relative to life’s hardships and struggles. The courage and persistence that Santiago exhibits demonstrates that he can be kicked and beaten up by life but not kept down. He continues his struggle to get the fish back home even when he is met by one crisis after another. His self-pride and consistency at following through as a true fisherman results in his own evidence of self-dignity. He returns with cuts and bruises after a three day ordeal, but he can still demonstrate that he can hang-in for the long haul.