Theme & Role of Pride in The Old Man and the Sea

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine the theme of pride from Ernest Hemingway's short story 'The Old Man and the Sea'. This is the story of a once great fisherman who is fighting against his age and a streak of bad luck.

Definitions and Background

When the magic mirror tells the wicked queen that Snow White is prettier than she is, the results are catastrophic. A little pride in one's abilities can be a good thing, but taken to an extreme, pride can get in your way. Pride is the feeling of satisfaction that comes from your accomplishments. In Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago, the elderly fisherman, knows that he is a good fisherman, but he lets his pride interfere with accepting help when he needs it. Let's examine some examples that support the theme of pride in this short story.

Manolin's Help

Shortly before the story begins, Santiago took Manolin, a boy from the village, under his wing and taught him to fish. After a long unlucky streak, Manolin's parents force him to go to another boat. Still, Manolin cares for Santiago and feels badly that he is not there to help him more often. Having made some money on his new boat, Manolin offers to buy Santiago four sardines to use as bait. Santiago refuses to take that many, but agrees to take two after a bit of negotiation. The narrator writes, 'He (Santiago) was too simple to wonder when he had attained humility. But he knew he had attained it and he knew it was not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true pride.' While Santiago was humble enough to accept some help from Santiago, he is still too proud to take all of the sardines.

We see more of Santiago attempting to balance humility and pride when Santiago claims that he has a great meal of rice and fish planned for dinner, but then accepts the stew that Manolin brings for him. Manolin also offers to come back to help him on his boat now that he has made some money, but Santiago rejects it and tells Manolin he should stay on the lucky boat even though Santiago truly needs the help.


Manolin and Santiago both know that Santiago is a great fisherman. Manolin tells him, 'There are many good fishermen and some great ones. But there is only you.' Santiago knows that it is true, but he also realizes that he is getting older and can't do all the things he once did. He responds with, 'I may not be as strong as I think… But I know many tricks and I have resolution.' When Santiago sets his lines, he keeps them 'straighter than anyone did.' Other fishermen cared less about being so precise, but Santiago wanted to be ready.

The marlin that he finally catches tests all of Santiago's skills. It takes him days to reel it in close enough to harpoon it. When the time finally came, Santiago '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.' This was not an easy catch that left Santiago feeling victorious, as he really had to work hard for this one.

Bruised, but not Beaten

Still, he reflected on his motivation. Santiago thought, 'You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food… You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman.' He wonders if it is a sin as he acknowledges how much he enjoyed the challenge.

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