One might say we are presented with two fish stories in looking at Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, a marlin in the former and a whale in the latter. However, both of these animals are symbolic of the struggle their hunters face to find dignity and meaning in the face of a nihilistic universe in Hemingway and a fatalistic one in Melville. While both men will be unable to conquer the forces of the universe against them, neither will either man be conquered by them because of their refusal to yield to these insurmountable forces. However, Santiago gains a measure of peace and understanding about existence from his struggles, while Ahab leaves the world as he found it without any greater insight.
In The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman, pits his strength against forces he cannot control. We learn from Santiago's struggles how to face insurmountable odds with bravery and courage. Though we find an indifferent and hostile universe as Santiago's stage, his unwillingness to give in to these forces demonstrate a reverence for life's struggles. Santiago's struggle is for dignity and meaning in the face of insurmountable odds. His warrior-like spirit fights off the sharks full-well knowing the fate of his marlin. Santiago loses his marlin in the end, but his struggle to keep it represent a victory because of the dignity and heroism with which he carries out his mission. However, as Santiago acknowledges, he is almost sorry he caught the marlin because he knows the animal and he have a great deal in common as fellow beings in nature. However, he only caught the marlin "through trickery" (Hemingway 99). Santi...
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... the character of Santiago. He is not as determined as Ahab when it comes to his own nature. He is able to accept that humility and love do not take away his pride and in fact they are life sustaining. Ahab cannot give up the only thing he knows, his passions. Knowledge does not come in the face of a world that remains as mysterious and evil when we leave it as it was when we entered it. For Santiago, there is some measure of relief from the indifferent universe through the interdependence of human beings. Ahab never finds this measure of relief. Yet, they both retain some measure of dignity because they know they cannot conquer the universe but they do not let it conquer them either.
Hemingway, E. The Old Man and the Sea. New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1952.
Melville, H. Moby-Dick. New York, W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1967.
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