Ernest Hemingway’s novel: The Old Man and the Sea depicts man’s capacity to withstand and get over hardships of time and circumstances. The protagonist, Santiago is subjected to physical struggle, fatigue, old age, solitude and impending death. He manifests his courageous response as well as physical energy to counter the forces that work against him. Hemingway has ‘transcended all limitations of bodies, sexes, relationships, friendships’1. He gets broken and destroyed but remains undefeated. The ‘for-itself’ is always characterized by ‘the being in situation’. It is in the midst of other existents that man can define himself or can prove his authenticity. What required is his making choices and to remain committed. Santiago has grown old. He goes for fishing and remains without catching a fish for eighty four days. The boy, Manolin, who used to help him, also leaves him. But Santiago remains unbroken and undefeated. He doesn’t get disappointed or despaired. He does not feel loneliness or alienation. The other fishermen consider him as ‘salao’ which is the worst form of unlucky’2.
Jean-Paul Sartre explains: ‘Man, first of all exists, encounters himself surges up in the world and defines himself afterwards…. Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself3. By making choices, Santiago turns to be a real hero.
The objective of this paper is to prove existentially that Santiago, in spite of many avenues of flight from his reality or freedom, shows commitment and proves his authentic mode of living.
In the beginning of the novel, Hemingway describes the situation into which the old fisherman, Santiago finds himself. Here being in the situation is presented something like the bleak trap in which the protagonist is doomed to struggle, suffer and die. But the protagonist struggles daringly, making choices and gains rich emotional rewards out of it. Physically, the old man is thin and gaunt. He has deep wrinkles in the back of his neck. In fact, “everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same colour as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated” (p.5).
After such a long gap of being without a fish, Santiago starts feeling a threat to his existence as a fisherman. It was on the eighty fifth day that Santiago resolves to do something to make his existence meaningful. He decides to go far out into the depths of the sea in the hope of catching a usually big fish. On the eve of his great journey, he tells Manolin of his intentions to go “Far out to come in when the wind shifts. I want to be out before it is light.” (p.9) In the morning the old man rows beyond the familiar ones and into the unknown regions of the sea. As the story progresses, he loses sight of the land gradually and sees “nothing but the sea and sky.” (p.35) It is his commitment. It is a journey into a new experience in order to gain new insights so that the circumstances, that have befallen him, may be changed. “My choice” reflects the old man, “was to go there to find him beyond all people. Beyond all people in the world.” (p.41) As the story opens, Santiago’s existence is under threat due to his inability to catch some fish. He is to give meaning to his existence. He is to validate his existence. After eighty four days of unproductiveness, he undertakes a hero’s voyage of discovery. The old man’s suffering starts when the fish, he hooks on the eighty fifth day, starts jerking the line. This increases gradually with the progress of the story. His hands are cramped and start bleeding. He becomes deadly exhausted and desperately afraid that his strength will fail before he kills the fish. But he never broods over his pain or suffering. He suffers without groaning or complaining. He tries ‘not to think but only to endure’ (p.37). In every new position, he makes himself believe that he is comfortable. “He was comfortable not suffering, although he did not admit the suffering at all.” (p.54) Whenever the marlin begins jumping, he remains well prepared for it.
He knows that the pain does not matter to him. What matters is what lies beyond it. An understanding of the aim, the object beyond, makes his path clear and meaningful. His object is to prove “What a man can do and what a man endures.” (p.55)
As the fish begins circling, the old man seems to be exhausted to the point of collapsing. But he goes on encouraging himself by saying again and again. ‘You think too much’ (p.90). or ‘now you are getting confused in the hand’(p.89) or ‘Don’t think old man…. (p.89) For bringing the fish nearer, “ he took all his pain and what was left of his strength and his long-gone pride and he put it against the fish’s agony and the fish came over onto his side and swam gently on his side…” (p.80)
Finally, the old man kills the fish. But that is not the end of his suffering. The second, more torturous, phase indeed begins when the sharks start attacking the dead fish. Santiago is ‘tired’ more than he has ever been fights till the last of the sharks has left with the last morsel.
“One came; finally, against the head itself and he knew that it was over.. That was the last shark of the pack that came. There was nothing more for them to eat” (p.102-3) As the old man reaches back the harbor, he past suffering or feeling of any kind. Once on shore, he realizes the extent of his tiredness and had to sit five times on the way before he reaches his shack. The following morning, when Manolin asks him how he has suffered, his reply is ‘plenty’ and he goes to discuss enthusiastically their future plans together.
Committed to his work like Robert Jordan of For whom the Bell Tolls, he again and again reminds himself not to think of anything else but of his work or mission. His such statements as “I will kill you dead before this day ends”(p.45) and “ I will stay with you until I am dead”(p.43) manifest his resolution and strong determination to endure chosen existence.
The courage to be oneself is essential for authentic existence. It is through courage that man puts his existence into risks and hazards to make his essence. According to Sartre each man makes his essence as he lives, because essence is that something which is not given beforehand. The old man with his courage and endurance is able to live as a true subject who expresses his freedom through his actions without any trace of duplicity. He believes in facing, the situation. He believes in ‘to do or die’. Though he had not caught any fish in the last eighty four days, yet he does not feel discouraged. There is not even slightest hint in the novel that Santiago is evading his situation or responsibility. He feels sorry for the great fish but his determination to kill it is never relaxed:
Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him….(p.64)
The old man realizes his situation. He projects himself into action. It is this in him that makes his freedom a reality for him.
When a man or being for itself makes what he becomes without references to any external or divine force, his existence is authentic. An existential man himself “ invents his road and realizes his own project”4. Santiago makes choices and seeks possibilities and then makes efforts. He does not seek any avenue of flight away from his responsibility. It is through his effort that Santiago actualizes his possibility.
Santiago makes a choice to try the unknown and that leads him to a meaningful experience of existence. He does not get afraid to venture into the unexpected vastness of the sea. His ever enlightened hope and confidence lead him throughout the story and bring him to point where his ‘loss’ becomes a ‘gain’. He transcends such human weaknesses as pain, anger, anguish, alienation and identifies himself with the fish he has hooked. Throughout the story there is an affirmation of the making essence through authentic existence and recourse to action in the situation he has been put into. The old man reaches back after his painful journey, but he is least traumatized by the loss or ‘nada’ and starts thinking of his continuous commitment to his existence. His physical weakness or his old age does not come in his way in encountering the challenge. He believed in facing his situation and realizing his freedom through commitment. Page Layout
 Narayan Sharma, The Novels of Ernest Hemingway: A Reappraisal (Ghaziabad: Indo-Vission, 1988) (p.174).
 Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and The Sea, 1952 (New Delhi: Indus, 1991) (p.5) Subsequent references from the novel are from this book and carry only the page number at the end.
 Jean-Paul Sartre, “Existentialism and Humanism in Mentor Philosophies: the Age of Analysis (New York: The American Library of World Literature, 1955) (p.124).
 Rene Lafarge, Jean-Paul Sartre: His Philosophy trans. Martin Smythkok (New York: Macmillan, 1967) (p.134)