Illustration of a marlin in the water

The Old Man and the Sea

by Ernest Hemingway

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What is the function of the code hero in The Old Man and the Sea?

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Ernest Hemingway's novella The Old Man and the Sea is the quintessential Hemingway work that informs the reader of the definitive Code Hero. This Code Hero can be used as the prototype against which to understand and measure the protagonists in Hemingway's other works. 

Whereas the other stories and novels written by Hemingway have protagonists who can be defined as code heroes, these are all ones who must develop into this hero as the narrative develops. But, Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea is already a code hero at the beginning. 

In Hemingway's works a code hero is a strong individual who adheres to a "code" of conduct which demands ideals of courage, honor, and endurance amid a life of disorder, difficulty,and even violence. Often the violence and disorder conquer the hero, but he displays "grace under pressure," nevertheless.


Certainly, Santiago is courageous when he endures the pain of his hands as he clings to the fishing line to which his great fish is attached. Further, he proves himself in the struggle, never giving up until he reaches home. Further, Santiago does not accept defeat:

"But man is not made for defeat," he said. "A man can be destroyed but not defeated."

While Santiago vows to fight the sharks who come to his boat and eat from the marlin he has tied to it, he yet vows to "fight them until I die." And, although he returns home defeated in sharks' taking of all the flesh of the great fish, Santiago has endured, displayed courage and honor, and not died.

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