The elderly sometimes come across as grouchy, grumpy, and even mean, but their distress in the face of their diminishing life perhaps justifies them to act defensively and unhappily. Years pass, and they lose the things they care about. The world moves on, but their bodies grow crippled, their sources of enjoyment become more difficult, and the people care about begin to pass away. As an aging man himself, Santiago has many doubts and shortcomings with which he must learn to deal. Having no other significant relationships in his life aside from Manolin, a young an from the village, Santiago’s loneliness and isolation impacts his behavior.
He chooses to ignore the things he has lost rather than dwell on them. He “once… had… a tinted photograph of his wife on the wall but he had taken it down because it made him too lonely to see it” (Hemingway 3). This implies that he cared so very much for his wife, his companion, that he could not even see an image of her because it upset him. He hid the picture because he focused only on the loss of his wife, not her memories, showing that he sees the negatives in his situation. Tied in with struggling emotionally, Hemingway describes Santiago’s physical aging.
Manolin describes the old man’s shoulders as “powerful although very old, and the neck was still strong too” (Hemingway 17). Perhaps both a physical observation, as the old man spent his livelihood fishing and developing a strong neck and shoulders, or an observation of the man’s stubbornness and strength of will. This shows the way Manolin looks up to Santiago for his multiple facets of power and strength, though the old man does not see them himself. When out at sea, his body fights against him in its unwillingness o do as he wants.
At critical points, Santiago’s hand gets a cramp, which he believes “is a treachery of one’s own body,” that “it is humiliating” (Hemingway 17). He feels embarrassed and ashamed as his physical capabilities, which implies that at some point Santiago found great pride and confidence in his physical abilities and that aging has caused a dramatic change in his physical capacity. He feels his body has betrayed him, committed a treachery, illustrating that it once performed to a higher capacity, but then stopped. Filled with regret and frustration, Santiago has difficulty dealing with his failing aculties, especially on his own.
Also when out at sea, his body becomes “stiff and sore” and his body parts “strained” and “hurt” (Hemingway 33). Whether he mentally wants to or not, Santiago’s aging body can not continue on the way he wants it to. His mental perception of himself lags behind the physical reality. He struggles with this newfound challenge of an incapable body. This additional emotion of inadequacy isolates him from people that do not understand his frustration. Santiago claims that “no one should be alone in their old age.. but it is unavoidable” (Hemingway 12).
He logically nderstands the situation, but desires something else altogether. He realizes the tragedy of aging. He has lost the people that depend on him, making him feel valued and useful, and he has lost people he depends on for mental and now physical support in his last years. He feels the need to redeem himself and prove that he can perform to the best of his abilities. Santiago deals negatively with loss and in his isolation he begins to lose confidence in his masculine abilities such as his own strength and survival. (FIGHTING AGAINST THE LONELINESS OF AGE)))
The old man searches for and creates elationships to fill the the void of loneliness that he feels in his old age. He still feels vulnerable from his previous losses, and specifically choses companions and relationships that make him feel secure in himself. Isolated and in denial of his insecurities, Santiago interacts with Manolin, the young boy from the village, who serves as Santiago’s only true friend. Manolin “loved [Santiago]” because “the old man had taught the boy to fish” (Hemingway 1).
Beyond a partnership or friendship, the relationship between the old man and the boy appears almost familial. While at sea Santiago frequently comments on his feelings of isolation and mentions several times that Manolin would make the journey easier and more enjoyable. At his loneliest, he wishes for Manolin, the person he depends on, yet will not admit that he needs the boy, only that he wishes he had his assistance and company. Manolin takes care of Santiago in simple and caring ways, such as when he “took the old army blanket off the bed and spread it over the back of the chair and over the old man’s shoulders” (Hemingway 4).
He sees Santiago struggling, but carefully plans his kindness so he does not offend Santiago or assume the old man’s incapability. The men obviously feel very familiar and comfortable with each other. However, William Cain argues that because of Santiago’s self imposed distance from the rest of society, he has cut himself off from meaningful relationships, including Manolin. Believing that “the old man would take to the sea whether Manolin existed or not” seems plausible, but it does not refute the idea that Manolin plays a role or comfort in the old man’s otherwise isolated existence (Cain 5).
The old man may care for the young man, but he has no familial obligation to him and the old man as the right to live the way he wants and behave as he sees fit. While at sea, Santiago makes many efforts to create relationships with nature that he has lost with humanity. Santiago turns the sea itself into a companion. He personifies the sea as a woman and describes that he “always thought of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her” (Hemingway 7). This shows the turn of the sea from an object of nature to a characterized entity, specifically a woman.
He also inserts his feeling of love towards the sea, connoting a positive relationship, though not a flawless one. He attempts to fill the feminine voids in his life, mainly his mother and his wife, both his previous caretakers. In Kemen Zabala’s “Hemingway: A Study of Gender and Sexuality” she also finds that the personification of the sea shows that the sea plays the role of caretaker, because Santiago associates women with caretakers and imagines the sea similarly, as kind, yet willful. The perception of the sea as feminine also conveys Santiago’s respect for the sea, the same way he respected his wife and mother (Zabala 40).
Hollenberg follows the same idea path to nterpret the sea feministically, even a “female protagonist” as a “beautiful subject to stand in for the wife Santiago has lost and provide an outlet for Santiago” (31). As a fisherman, Santiago has spent a large amount of time at sea, and subject to the will of the ocean. His livelihood depends on the sea, so it makes sense that he fills the place of his mother and wife in the sea that he loves so much. However, beyond the sea, the extent of Santiago’s substituted relationships show the depth of his loneliness and confusion, Santiago develops relationships with he fish as wellI.
The second half of the novella focuses on the great battle between the old man and the marlin. However, instead of a task or a job, as part of the life of a fisherman, he sees it as a conquest or a challenge against an equal creature. Gregory Stephens even terms their interaction with “a sense of interspecies kinship” (48) due to Santiago’s use of the name “brother” (Hemingway 16) for the marlin and other fish. In his desperation for interaction, Santiago talks to himself and personifies all aspects of the sea so that he feels justified in interacting with them.