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Isolation in "The Old Man and The Sea"

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Isolation is a term in which it is familiar to mean to be secluded from others and or to remain alone or apart from the rest of society. In The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, isolation is a primary theme that defines who the old man is and helps with one’s reflection on the parts of life that can be considered most important. The old man is a character isolated from people – and, in a way, from the society entirely in his time on the sea. The isolation helps the author define who he is and emphasize the unique nature of the old man’s character. Isolation becomes both a flaw, as he suffers from loneliness, but also a necessary quality he may need in staying strong as he suffers through long hours by himself being pulled by a fish.

The story starts off with Hemingway introducing the old man, Santiago, as “an old man who fished alone… and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.” Isolation can be one of the hardest mental sufferings to cope with, but Santiago shows us that he still perseveres to focus on what he has to do. Hemingway illustrates Santiago like this because he wants the audience to know from the start that this was a man you could feel sorry for. Manolin, a young boy who Santiago taught how to fish, was forced by his parents to switch boats when Santiago was unable to catch a fish for the 40th day. Manolin, feeling a strong fatherly bond with Santiago, continued to help him by helping him carry his supplies back to the shack and made sure Santiago ate proper food. This loneliness could have been partly due to the old age Santiago dealt with. Throughout the book, Manolin is the only boy introduced who actually cares about Santiago and looks up to him with respect. Evidently, all the other fisherman make fun of Santiago, for his bad luck, or they pity him, because of his poor situation. The author also describes how he hides his deceased wife’s picture under a clean shirt because it makes him feel “too lonely” to see it. The impression we get from this characterization is that Santiago is an old widower barely managing a existence, through the help of a son figure. This may be one of the reasons why as to how Santiago continuously wished for Manolin’s presence to help him throughout his journey on the boat.

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Hemingway characterizes isolation throughout the boat ride when he writes about Santiago talking to himself. This shows that whenever he is on his own he misses the sound of another voice. Santiago frequently wishes that he had Manolin there with him so that he would be able to get some assistance in bringing the fish in more quickly. Santiago’s line ‘I wish I had the boy,” proved how isolated he was from the outside world while on this voyage to catch the fish, due to the way he was almost begging for someone to be with him in any way possible. However, since he was alone, he was able to think about the many different aspects of his life. He thinks, ‘No one should be alone in their old age, he thought. But it is unavoidable.’ Evidently, as the people around you start to die of old age, the remaining people are forced to live in isolation by themselves; it is something that will happen at some point. When night falls and he has still not brought the marlin in, Santiago ‘looked cross the sea and knew how alone he was now.’ He felt vulnerable and weak in that moment and wished someone was there to help him, and then he saw some birds and realized that ‘no man was ever alone on the sea.’

Santiago had the chance, when the fish was not pulling or fighting, to think about himself and what he saw as important in his life. While alone on the ocean, Santiago’s thoughts often turn to DiMaggio, the baseball player. In Santiago’s perspective, this baseball player was a symbol of strength and courage, and that could be why his thoughts went to relate with DiMaggio when he needed to reassure himself of his own strength and power. Loneliness for Santiago meant to come out on the other side with improvement of his skills and the recognition of what it was like to have pushed his limits to their maximum capacity.

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