The Old Man and the Sea Questions and Answers
by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea book cover
Start Your Free Trial

The old man (of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea) says, "A man can be destroyed but not defeated"—so, is he defeated at the end of the story?

Expert Answers info

Marietta Sadler eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2019

write1,410 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Science

At the beginning of the story the old man's eyes are described as "the same colour as the sea . . . cheerful and undefeated." The eyes are often considered to be the windows to the soul, and so this description of the old man's eyes suggests that he has a strong, hopeful soul. When later in the story he tells the boy that "A man can be destroyed but not defeated," I think this alludes to the old man's view that the human soul (or spirit) will always endure.

At the end of the story, the old man lies facedown, sleeping in his shack, while the boy watches over him. The last time we see him awake he tells the boy that he is "Not lucky anymore" and that the ordeal at sea "truly beat" him. Thus, at the end of the story, it does seem that the old man feels defeated.

The last sentence of the story reads, "The old man was dreaming of the lions." The old man had referenced, several times throughout the story, the lions he saw in Africa when he was young. They can be thought of to symbolize the strength of his youth and also his pride.

The fact that he dreams of them once more while lying facedown in his shack suggests that he is not as entirely defeated as he seems. He still has the lions on the beach to dream of and to make him happy. He also has within him (at least the memory and possibly of) the strength and pride of his youth. As long as he has these traces of pride and strength inside him, he can, theoretically, never be completely defeated.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

parkerlee eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2008

write854 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Science, and History

I suppose this citation is from Hemingway's 'The Old Man and the Sea.'

In terms of hauling his fish back home, the old fisherman Santiago is indeed defeated by the sharks in that by the end of his journey, all the flesh from it has been devoured, leaving nothing but the ribs and backbone.  However, in light of the theme of the story, the old man has not been defeated in that his spirit has not been broken; also, the old man has maintained the respect of his village in that the fish's skeleton is proof enough that he had indeed caught the "big one," and that it didn't get away.

The conflict of the story deals with more than just the art of fishing; it portrays the old man's perserverence even in failure and his pride in doing his best even when "best" is not good enough.  The essence of the story lies here and not in the actual events of the story themselves.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial