Masaryk University Faculty of Arts

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5.3Dignity until the end

For the people fighting in the mountains it was natural to have dignity because it was the only thing they had left. They lived a very uncomfortable life in a cave and they could be killed any time. The example of Pablo demonstrates there are also exceptions but it is important to show some contrast so the effect of one′s dignity is more visible.

Those people had purpose, it differed from the one they had before the war but they were willing to die for what they believed in, and such a death is considered brave and dignified. Robert had many reasons to live, he wanted to marry Maria and continue teaching Spanish but after he was injured he stayed behind to fight “insisted upon a meaningful sacrifice” (Sanders 140). Colvert compared Frederick to Robert and discovered that “One of the very abstractions which Henry rejects-the notion of duty-Jordan now embraces with the utmost reverence” (379). They both were strangers in a war that were not theirs and both were dignified and in love but comparing them, Robert is more masculine and therefore more dignified Hemingway′s hero for whom it is typical, according to Warren: “If they are to be defeated they are defeated upon their own terms” (29). Robert Jordan waiting to kill his enemy fits into Warren′s description perfectly.

According to Rovit and Brenner, Hemingway uses some tutor figure to manifest dignity, in this novel it is Anselmo and El Sordo (96) they are older, experienced and wise. The use of role models has a didactical effect and Hemingway is repeatedly showing the advantages of living by a certain moral code. The contrasting of characters as undignified cowards and moral heroes in a way they are perceived by other characters results in double judging, once they are judged by fictional characters who carry Hemingway′s opinion and secondly by the readers.

Another interesting instruction given by Hemingway is the notion of suicide in case of capture. Robert remembered the time when back in the hotel, Karkov showed him where he keeps poison and how it is used. Robert′s predecessor Kaskin always talked about his wish, if he would be injured to be killed and it was Robert who in such occasion shot him (160). Even Maria keeps a razor blade on her and knows from Pilar where to cut herself (183). It is important to them to die with dignity instead of being tortured. I think that this principle should be valid not only in war but even in ordinary life and would allow people to choose their own way to die instead of prolonging their suffering which can be often compared to torture.

6.The Old Man and the Sea

The Nobel Prize winning novel, about an old fisherman, Santiago, and the hardship he had to endure while far out on the sea waiting for the biggest marlin he ever saw, is Hemingway′s masterpiece and cannot be omitted from this study. Not only is it a brilliant book but it deals with dignity at great length. David Timms said “The Old Man and the Sea deals with a single theme: the possibility of creating significance through dignity and courage in a natural and social world devoid of inherent meanings” (88).

It portrays the humble life of a poor fisherman who had no luck in fishing for too many days and his friendship with his young apprentice who was forced by his family to leave him because of the bad luck. Santiago has hardly any food and goes full of hope everyday to try his luck again. Unexpectedly he catches a huge marlin which carries him to the open sea and he is forced to wait for it to get tired. Finally after he kills it, he must paddle all the way back, fighting the current and sharks. At the end he at least gets back into his harbour but of the catch of his life there is only a skeleton left.

6.1Ingredients for a masterpiece

According to Waldhorn, Ernest Hemingway was fishing for marlins since 1932 with a great enthusiasm (189). He also speaks of Hemingway′s essay published in 1936 which deals with a story of an old man who was found (on the sea) crying and half crazy after two days and nights with a huge marlin half eaten by sharks (189). Hemingway brought this matter up once again and created his ultimate novel. He also argues that “The secret about the novel, . . . was that there wasn′t any symbolism. Sea equaled sea, old man was old man, the boy was a boy, the marlin itself, and the sharks were no better and no worse than other sharks” (Baker 505)

6.2Dignity of the locations

The old man lives on a hill in a simple shack consisting of one room where there is “a bed, a table, one chair, and a place on the dirt floor to cook with charcoal” (10). His home does not provide much comfort and he sleeps using his trousers filled with newspapers as a pillow. He never complains that the only purpose of the shack is to be a shield against bad weather.

Santiago spends the majority of his time in his skiff on the sea. His boat is not big and does not have a motor so he must row. The sea brings Santiago a lot of pleasure and he does not see it as a place but as a woman. He calls it “la mar” and in describing it he says: “She is kind and very beautiful. But she can be so cruel . . .” (23). He acknowledges nature with all its attributes, cruelty and dignity.

The third setting is the beach in Africa which Santiago sees in his dreams. He said to Manolo about his work on a boat sailing to Africa where he saw the lions on the beaches (16) and now this experience turned into magic, making Santiago happier and stronger. Young dignified lions, kings among animals, allow him to escape back to his youth, to the time when death and nothingness were not that apparent.


Santiago is an extraordinary old man. He did not catch anything for a long period of time. He has basically nothing to eat and had to sell parts of his tools but when he is offered sardines as bait he asks only for one - “His hope and his confidence had never gone” (8). It had been forty days since he had luck on the sea and “many of the fisherman made fun of the old man and he was not angry. Others, of the older fishermen, looked at him and were sad. But they did not show it. . . (6) Santiago′s eyes were undefeated” (5). Wirt Williams observes that “he maintains a ritual of dignity against his poverty and hunger; he insists he is still strong enough for a huge fish” (34). When Manolo offers him coffee or bait he is not unreasonable and accepts his help “He 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” (9).

Manolo has very small role in the novel. His love and youth keep Santiago alive. When Santiago is alone on the sea he wishes to have Manolo with him. He does not want to die: “The boy keeps me alive, he thought” (91). It shows that even though dignity is a very strong motivation, sometimes love is stronger. Manolo shows dignity when says that he prefers Santiago to wake him up because the man who would wake him up instead makes him feel inferior (18). In addition he decides to stand up against his parents and join the old man again, disregarding money, he prefers loyalty and the presence of somebody who he can look up to and learn from.

The fish is not a character in the same sense as Santiago, but it has some qualities that make it equal to Santiago, at least in his eyes. Santiago talks to it, they suffer together and he considers it to be a “friend” (63). The fish is so great that Santiago feels sorry for it and states that “There is no one worthy of eating him from the manner of his behaviour and his great dignity” (64). As Gregory S. Sojka points out “The marlin’s fighting spirit and great dignity elevates him beyond the level of a “game” or “food” fish” (76).
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