The Old Man and the Sea | Themes of Solidarity and Inter-dependence

The Old Man and the Sea | Themes of Solidarity and Inter-dependence

The Old Man and the Sea Themes

A Realization of Solidarity and Inter-dependence

The relationship between individualism and inter-dependence has been one of the important concerns of Hemingway (especially after 1937). The Old Man and the Sea marks the climax of the development of this concern This novel shows in an emphatic manner that life is impossible without a realisation of solidarity and inter-dependence, but it shows also that this realisation must come to man through the agony of active and isolated individualism in a universe which dooms such individualism.

Santiago’s Friendliness Towards All Creatures

In searching for, and in catching, his big fish, Santiago gains a deepened insight into himself and into his relationship to the rest of created life. As he sails far out on the sea, he thinks of it as feminine and as something that gives or keeps back great favours. For the bird which comes to rest on his fishing-line and for other creatures who share with him such a capricious and violent life, the Old Man feels friendship and love. And when he sees a flight of wild ducks, he knows that “no man was ever alone on the sea”.

His Love And Respect For The Marlin

Santiago comes to feel his deepest love for the creature that he himself hunts and kills. He feels the urge to conquer this great fish not only for the sake of his physical need but even more for his pride and his profession. The great marlin is unlike the other fish which the Old Man catches the marlin is a spiritual more than a physical necessity. The marlin is, too, a worthy antagonist for the Old Man, and during his long ordeal Santiago comes to pity, and then to respect and to love, the marlin. In the end he feels that there can be no victory for either in the equal struggle between them. The conditions which brought them together have made them one. And so, though he kills the great fish, the Old Man has come to love it as his equal and his brother. He shares with it a life which is a capricious mixture of beauty and violence and in which all creatures are both hunter and hunted.

Feelings of Guilt

Throughout the story Santiago is given heroic proportions. He fights the great fish with epic skill and experience. “A man can be destroyed, but not defeated,” he says in the course of his fight with the sharks. But beyond Santiago’s heroic individualism and beyond the love and brotherliness which he comes to feel for the marlin, there is a further dimension to the Old Man’s experience. In killing the great marlin and in losing it to the sharks, the Old Man realizes the sin into which men fall by going far out beyond their depth or beyond their true place in life. In the first night of his struggle with the marlin, the Old Man begins to feel a loneliness and a sense almost of guilt for the way in which he has caught it. After killing the marlin he feels no pride of accomplishment, no sense of victory. Rather he seems to feel almost as if he had betrayed the marlin: “I am only better than him through trickery, and he meant me no harm.”

The Sharks: A Punishment For The Old Men

When the sharks come, it is almost as an event expected, almost as a punishment which the Old Man brings upon himself in going for out “beyond all people in the world. The coming of the sharks is not a matter of chance or bad luck. It is a direct result of the Old Man’s action in killing the fish the smell of whose blood attracts the fierce marauders. In other words, in winning his struggle with the marlin and in killing it, the Old Man sets in motion the sequence of events which take away from him the fish which he has come to love and with which he identifies himself completely.

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The Old Man’s Regret

Before killing the marlin, Santiago had been glad because “we do not have to try to kill the stars”. It was enough to have to kill our fellow creatures. Now, with the sharks attacking, the Old man feels that in going too far out he has in effect tried to kill the sun or the moon or the stars.”. For him it was enough to live on the sea and kill ‘our true brothers”. In his individualism and his pride, he went far out “beyond all people” beyond his true place in the world. By doing so he brought on himself as well as on the fish the forces of violence and destruction. “I shouldn’t have gone out so far, fish………I am sorry that I went too far out. I ruined us both,” the declares.

The Pervasive Theme

The Old Man’s realisation leads him to express his regret to the dead fish: “I’m sorry, fish.” This realisation and its implications are emphasized symbolically throughout the novel. From beginning to end the theme of solidarity and inter-dependence pervades the action. This theme provides the structural framework within which the Old Man’s heroic individualism and his love for his fellow-creatures appear and function and which gives them their ultimate significance.

Santiago’s Dependence Upon The Boy

Having gone eighty-four days without a catch, Santiago has become dependent upon the young boy, Manolin, and upon his other friends in the village. The boy keeps up his confidence and hope, brings him clothes and such necessities as water and soap, and sees that he has fresh bait for his fishing. Martin, the restaurant-owner, sends the Old Man food, and Perico, the wine-shop owner, gives him newspapers so that he can read about baseball. All of this the Old Man accepts gratefully and without shame, knowing that such help is not degrading. His humility prevents him from thinking such aids to be below his dignity.

Thoughts of The Boy During The Voyage

Santiago refuses the young boy’s offer to leave the boat his parents have made him work upon, and return to his, but soon after he hooks the great marlin he wishes increasingly and often that the boy were with him. Later. when he tells himself that fishing kills him exactly as it keeps him alive, he remembers that it is not fishing only but the love and care of another human being, that keeps him alive. “The boy keeps me alive, he thought”.

The Need or Someone To Talk To

As the sharks tear more flesh from the great marlin, and as the boat gets closer to the sea-shore, the Old Man’s sense of his relationship to his friends and to the boy deepens. He wonders whether anyone is worrying about him. There is the boy who will worry, of course. But the boy has confidence and may not worry much. Many of the older fishermen will worry, and many others too, he thinks, because he lives in a good town. In the end when he awakens in his shack and talks with the boy, he notices “how pleasant it was to have someone to talk to instead of speaking only to himself and to the sea.” This time he accepts without any real opposition the boy’s insistence on returning to his boat, and he says no more about going far out alone.

The Use Or Symbols To Reinforce The Theme Of Solidarity And Interdependence

Human solidarity and inter-dependence thus constitute a dominant theme of this novel. The theme, it is to be noted, is reinforced by the use of a few symbols of whom the most important are baseball and the lions. The baseball champion, DiMaggio, is a constant source of inspiration to the Old Man. The thought of the African lions is, likewise, a source of strength to him. Yet another symbol reinforcing the theme is that of the crucifixion. The image of the crucifixion, which is prominently employed towards the close of the story, links Santiago with Christ. All these symbols imply solidarity and inter-dependence, not isolation or alienation.

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