Illustration of a marlin in the water

The Old Man and the Sea

by Ernest Hemingway

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I need to compose an analytical essay on The Old Man and the Sea applying moral theory to critique the novel's ethical dimensions.

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The Old Man and the Sea, written by Ernest Hemingway, is ripe with material for a moral theory analysis. Here are some key points you could consider:

  1. Duty and Honor: Santiago, the old man, is a fisherman who hasn't caught a fish in 84 days. Despite this, he goes out to sea each day. This can be analyzed through the lens of Deontological moral theory, which posits that it's the intention and duty behind an action, rather than the consequence, which determines its moral value. Santiago's commitment to his profession and his determination to catch a fish, despite the hardship, can be seen as a moral act of honoring his duty.

  2. Respect for Nature: Santiago's relationship with the marlin he catches is one of deep respect and admiration. He sees the fish not just as a prey, but as a worthy opponent. This can be examined in the light of Environmental Ethics, a branch of moral theory that deals with human beings' ethical relationship with the natural environment. Santiago's respect and empathy towards the marlin, and his remorse after killing it, could be seen as a moral stance of recognizing and respecting the intrinsic value of nature.

  3. Endurance and Suffering: The old man endures physical suffering and hardship throughout his struggle with the marlin and the sharks that follow. This could be discussed in terms of Virtue Ethics, which emphasizes the role of character and virtues in moral philosophy. Santiago's endurance, courage, perseverance, and humility in the face of suffering can be seen as virtuous acts that contribute to his moral character.

  4. Humility and Pride: Santiago’s humility is evident in his interactions with others and his respect for the sea and the marlin. Yet, his determination to catch the marlin also stems from his pride as a fisherman. This interplay of humility and pride can be analyzed in the context of moral theory, particularly in understanding how these virtues contribute to Santiago's moral decision-making and actions.

In writing your essay, remember to provide examples from the text to support your analysis. For instance, you could cite the old man's conversations with the marlin, or his reflections on his own actions and motives.

Expert Answers

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Yes, the response generated is correct. The themes identified are key elements in the story. However, you might want to include analysis that also shows moral themes through the  old man's relationship with the boy. We see ethical aspects of both characters. Hemingway tells us:

It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast.

The boy no longer works with Santiago but still feels empathy for him and helps him even though it is no longer his job. Yet, despite his loyalty to the old man, the boy must obey his father because that is the ethical way to behave. 

There are multiple moral lessons to be learned from their relationship, including the boy's loyalty, how the old man's treatment of and respect for the boy generated such loyalty in the first place, as well as the old man's pride and strength of character. When the boy insists on supplying a meal, knowing that Santiago has not caught a fish in 84 days and therefore has no money, he tells the old man, "You'll not fish without eating while I'm alive." The boy feels a moral responsibility to watch out for the old man. 

The relationship between the old man and the marlin is critical but the relationship between the old man and the boy is also important and should probably form a part of your analysis. 

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