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Ernest Hemingway's - The Old Man and the Sea and the Theme of Isolation

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The Old Man and The Sea’s Theme of Isolation

Lonely is defined as without companions; solitary. Isolation and loneliness go hand in hand, as loneliness can be caused by isolation and isolation can be caused by loneliness. Isolation’s causes, reactions, and importance are intertwined with The Old Man and the Sea’s characters, especially Santiago. Santiago is the protagonist of The Old Man and the Sea, a story in which Santiago goes fishing and pursues a fish for many days. Throughout the story, Santiago suffers from terrible misfortune. This forces Santiago, who like many who are isolated and do not choose to be so, feel lonely and sorrowful. Even though Santiago deals gracefully with and copes well with his forced isolation, it is completely unfair to him.

In The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago has been struck with an enduring bout of bad luck. Unfortunately for him, the fishermen that live in the same village as him are extremely superstitious, which causes them to shun Santiago. Santiago has “went eighty-seven days without fish”(Hemingway 1) while all the other fishermen have had great luck and “caught big ones every day for three weeks”(Hemingway 1). Fishermen are extremely superstitious, and would do almost anything to keep bad luck away from them “but after forty days without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally Salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat”(Hemingway 1). Salao means that he has the worst form of luck with fish and that anything he catches will be small or he will lose anything on his hook. Since fishermen are so superstitious, they avoid him to avoid catching Salao. Salao is also the reason why the parents of Manolin take him away from Santiago, to which Santiago comments “he hasn’t much faith”(Hemingway 1) to the boy, referring to the boy’s father. The superstition from the fishermen and the villagers have even taken the boy from him, his only friend in the world. Because of the misfortune that Santiago suffers from, he is doomed to be isolated from the rest of his people. Santiago had faced this kind of isolation before though when he lost his wife. Santiago had come to cope with his loneliness and became accustomed to it. However, the loss of the boy is one of the only things that affect him anymore.

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Santiago is both hindered and assisted by his isolation, however Santiago often “wishes he had the boy”(Hemingway). Santiago says this and claims that he needs the boy to help catch fish, but It’s easy to see that the old man just uses this as an excuse to himself, and really want the boy for his company because he is so lonely. However, it could be argued that the old man is given an advantage fishing without the boy. This is because “they usually spoke only when it was necessary…. It was considered a virtue not to talk unnecessarily at sea and the old man had always considered it so and respected it.”(Hemingway) Talking at sea increases the risk of saying unlucky words at sea, and talking at sea can also scare away fish, so it is considered a virtue when one is silent at sea. Though the old man yearns for companionship from the boy and sometimes considered his misfortune a hindrance, it can also give him an advantage when looking to catch fish.

Santiago’s isolation affects him greatly, and is important to both him and the book. He thinks to himself “no one should be alone in their old age”(Hemingway), and him being alone causes him sadness, however he knows that it is “unavoidable.”(Hemingway) Though Santiago married and happy at one point, she died, leaving him to live an isolated life which no one should have to do. He cannot even look at pictures of his wife without feeling sad, so at his house, he covers up her picture. At sea, Santiago tried to keep himself busy in order to distract himself. At sea he says “I must remember to eat the tuna”(Hemingway) and other menial things that are meant to keep himself distracted. By focusing on what he’s doing at the moment, Santiago can distract himself from his loneliness. Even though Santiago does feel lonely, he has found ways to cope with his loneliness.

Overall, Santiago’s loneliness, the effect it had on him, and the reason isolation has been forced upon him are resoundingly unfair. The reason that Santiago is so lonely is that the superstition of the fishermen and Santiago’s misfortune has forced him into isolation. However, this isolation is not all bad, and even though Santiago misses the boy’s company it does give him an advantage while fishing. The isolation that Santiago experiences when the boy is absent is well known to Santiago, however he has developed ways to try and cope with the loneliness. When reading between the lines, however, it is easy to see how much the old man suffers from his isolation. Santiago’s loneliness can be used as an example of how being isolated can cause one great sorrow, but there are ways to cope with the sorrow.

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