The Old Man and the Sea is a masterpiece of literary art and craft by Ernest Hemingway. Here he has selected a common man as his hero – Santiago, an old fisherman. He is the most honourable and finest example of the code hero. This central figure has specified characteristics. This ordinary man is invested with the qualities of bravery, resolution and endurance. We are moved by his solitary, dignified and self-sufficient valour. The story of the novel is the study of the mind and temperament of Santiago’s mind.
Santiago is an old fisherman. He is lean and thin. There are deep wrinkles in the back of his neck. His face has brown blotches. He handles heavy fish on the cords. Thus his hands have deep creased scars. None of these scars are fresh. Except his eyes everything about him is old. His eyes have the colour of the sea. They look cheerful and undefeated.
The old man’s name has specific meaning. In Spanish Santiago means Saint James. Saint James was originally a fisherman who ultimately became martyred. Thus the name of the protagonist of this novel has mythological touch. He is a lonely person. He is poor and unfortunate. Though he is an able fisherman but he is not lucky. Thus he has been called a ‘Salao’. It is the worst form of unfortunate. He is called ‘Salao’ because he remains without a fish for eighty four days.
A young boy named Manolin used to fish with him. But when Santiago remains without a fish for forty days, his parents withdrew him from Santiago. Santiago remains without a fish for another forty four days. Like a superstitious fellow he believes that eighty fifth day will be lucky for him. But his superstition is full of optimism. Santiago goes out far into the sea and ultimately hooks a big fish. After great struggle he succeeds in harpooning Marlin, a monster fish. During his homeward journey the giant sharks attack and reduce his great Merlin to the skeleton. He struggles hard but it becomes difficult to save his Merlin. Though he has been defeated, but he has contentment.
Santiago is a great optimist. He has faith in God and in himself. Though he does not get a single fish for eighty four days but he does not lose his heart. He has faith in himself and so he does not listen to the comments against him. He has practical wisdom, skill, experience and humility. He has more faith in being exact than in being lucky. He does not know how to compromise. In short, he is a man of extraordinary determination and will.
Santiago is poor but compassionate. He has very tender feelings about the fish, the bird, his fellow fishermen and the sea. He calls the fish his brother. He loves it and admires its beauty, its strength and its nobleness. He compares with turtle. He himself says that he is nit religious but like an ordinary simple man he prays. Though he is lean and thin but he is very strong physically and psychologically. This old man is not a fatalist and dreamer. He is a true realist. He knows his strength and weaknesses. He is wise and intelligent. During his struggle against Merlin he shows his wisdom, will power and endurance. Santiago’s struggle against Merlin and sharks shows his strength and his capacity to endure pain and suffering. He assumes nobility and grandeur even after defeat. His suffering and endurance make him a superhuman. His physical pain leads him to sublime virtues of endurance. In many cases he resembles Christ. Thus Ernest Hemingway’s Santiago is a great character. One can easily find many similarities between Santiago and his creator. He is the finest example of the code hero.