Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea: Character Analysis, Traits & Description

Instructor: Joe Ricker

Joe has a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.

Santiago, the main character of 'The Old Man and the Sea,' is a formidable protagonist despite his age. In this lesson, we'll explore how his determination in each aspect of his life helps to establish his character for the reader.

A Different Breed

The Most Interesting Man in the World has little on Santiago, the protagonist of Ernest Hemingway's novella The Old Man and the Sea. Santiago is not some geriatric struggling to best other people his age in shuffleboard. Despite his appearance and age, Santiago has the stamina of a thoroughbred race horse and the courage to match. He is humble, yet deserves recognition for his feat of landing a 1500-pound fish after killing off numerous sharks armed only with a knife and a club.

Santiago's Determination

The most compelling aspect of Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea is his determination. Despite his age and the fact that he has gone almost three months without catching a fish, Santiago continues to go out on the water by himself and do what he's done his entire life. Even when he is dizzy and severely injured, Santiago continues to summon the strength to bring in the largest catch of his life. And after he has successfully brought in a marlin so big that his small boat can barely handle its size, Santiago spends the rest of the day and night fighting off sharks with whatever weapon he can manage. To say that Santiago is determined is almost an understatement.

Much of how Santiago summons his determination is seen through his internal dialogue. For example, the following line shows just how Santiago encourages himself to continue. ''I am not good for many more turns. Yes you are, he told himself. You're good for ever.'' Through Santiago's relentless encouragement of himself, Hemingway presents a major theme in the novella, which Santiago also shows to the reader through his dialogue. Santiago states, ''A man can be destroyed but not defeated.''

With his actions, Santiago makes this statement true. If a man can be destroyed but not defeated then he must be destroyed because he never gives up. A man can only be defeated if he quits. Even though it would be easier for him to pack it up and go take a nap, Santiago continues to push forward. And he doesn't do this to impress anyone. Santiago is alone in the middle of the ocean with nobody around. He pushes forward solely for the sake of his own character, because he is not a quitter.

Looks Aren't Everything

Certainly, Santiago's determination is important to understand, but since he is the primary character in The Old Man and the Sea, it might be beneficial to the reader to have a physical description of the determined fisherman as well. Hemingway writes, ''Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.''

Hemingway goes a little further with his description and sears the image of the hero of his novella into the reader's mind, especially with a line that gives tremendous insight into Santiago through his physical appearance: ''The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck. The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection on the tropic sea were on his cheeks.''

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