Le Coffret de santal


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Charles Cros

1. Consider the physical pain that Santiago suffers in The Old Man and the Sea. How does Hemingway use Santiago's pain to strengthen the novel, and how might this convey the author's attitude toward pain?

Physical pain provides the pressure that Santiago needs to display "grace under pressure," a phrase that doesn't appear in this novel, but was famously used by Hemingway to describe what he meant by having "guts." While Santiago's capture of the giant marlin using primitive equipment would be impressive in and of itself, it becomes downright heroic in light of the injuries he sustains to accomplish it.

If interpreted as a Christian parable, The Old Man and the Sea also uses physical pain to strengthen the comparison between Santiago and Christ. It is through suffering and seeming defeat that Santiago redeems himself as a fisherman, as Christ redeemed humanity by allowing himself to be crucified.

Santiago's claim that "pain does not matter to a man" underscores the Hemingway Code Hero's stoic stance toward suffering. A true man, as defined by Hemingway, can play baseball even with a bone spur, as the great Joe DiMaggio does. That is, to be successful, a man must first overcome his own limitations, including physical pain.

2. How do Santiago's sparse eating patterns affect how the reader views him?

Santiago's almost nonexistent eating and drinking patterns further distinguish him from ordinary humans. His ability to withstand not only hunger, but thirst, mockery, poverty, misfortune, and the elements with stoic composure are heroic feats on their own.

Combined with his devotion to traditional fishing as a lifestyle, the fact that he no longer dreams of women or allows the picture of his absent wife to distract him, the bare simplicity of his shack, and the importance he places on teaching his young disciple, Santiago's ability to survive on donated food places him in the role of an ascetic. Santiago, who draws his self-identity and conclusions about man's role in the natural world from lessons he learns at sea, might as well be a monk, with fishing taking the role of his religion.

It therefore makes sense that Santiago treats eating and drinking as a necessary nuisance he must keep up with to preserve his strength for the one thing that does matter: fishing. The old man is hungry not for food, but for the honor that comes from succeeding in the art form to which he has dedicated his life.

3. What is Joe DiMaggio's role in The Old Man and the Sea?

Joe DiMaggio serves as a role model for Santiago throughout the novel. With Santiago detached from nearly everyone in his life, with the exception of the boy for whom he serves as a role model, he finds his hero in the sports section of the secondhand newspapers he reads.

Although Santiago does not consider himself religious, he is devout when it comes to Joe DiMaggio, down to admonishing Manolin for not having faith in the Yankees. Instead of asking himself "what would Jesus do," Santiago often asks himself what would Joe DiMaggio have done in a specific situation, wondering if he would have taken the same action as Santiago himself.

What appeals most to Santiago about Joe DiMaggio is his "grace under pressure." Qualifying as a Hemingway Code Hero in his own right, Joe DiMaggio "does all things perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in his heel." That is, even when under the pressure of a painful disadvantage, Joe DiMaggio excels in competition, beating both his opponents and what would otherwise have been his own physical limitations.

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