The first major theme of “The Old man and the Sea” is that there are always two aspects to everyone’s life – positive and negative or good and bad. If he attends to the positive aspects and is hopeful, he can try to struggle and keep busy. This is what makes society an ongoing institution. This can be analyzed by looking at the life of Santiago, the old sailor. Manolin’s parents said that he was salao or most unlucky because he could not catch any fish for many days with the boy.
They sent the boy to some other fisherman. Other fisherman made fun of the Old Man “and he was not angry”. He did not become hopeless, but started in his boat happily and hopefully to catch a big fish.
Santiago went rather too far into the sea and hooked a marlin, a huge fish. This marlin pulled his boat under the water for three days. The cord across his back rubbed it hard. All along this struggle, he remained hopeful and thought of saying his prayers if he caught the fish. His memories of the boy, his baseball tournaments, successful hand-wrestling with a Negro and his dream of the lions coming to the seashore continued to give him inner joy. He at last killed marlin with his harpoon. Then the sharks started attacking and eating the flesh of the marlin fastened to his boat. He killed one of them, but lost his harpoon. He felt that “a man can be destroyed but not killed” and went on fighting them. He dismissed the idea that he had committed a sin in killing the marlin whom he loved for its bravery. He overcame his doubts through hope and faith and finally reached Havana with the skeleton of marlin.
Santiago’s victory was physical and moral, not defeat in any sense though his marlin had been badly mutilated by the sharks. His suffering was like Christ’s crucifixion as indicated by his sleeping position at the end. He lay on his bed “face down, his arms straight and the palms of his hands up”. The second theme of the novel is that a lonely man surrounded by the dangers and problems desires to have company and likes to say prayers. Especially, in old age this need is the greatest. Santiago was sad in his loneliness as the marlin was pulling his boat. But, with time, he was happier when he saw a bird, the flying fish, hawks, green turtles, large number of dolphins and then wild ducks flying against the sky. Thus, looking at and listening to the sounds of the birds and fishes he felt that no man could be alone on the sea. Again, his remembrance of the boy and the baseball matches and his dreaming of the lions playing together in company like young cats all suggested his desire fro human company and group life. He at last returned to his village “to have someone to talk to instead of speaking only to him and to the sea”.
The third theme of the novel is that struggle and effort are more important than success and achievement. After three days of tiresome fight with marlin, Santiago had to face the fearful sharks. Knowing that his powers were limited against the unlimited number and strength of the sharks, he did the best of which he was capable. He reached the shore with the skeleton of marlin and met Manolin in a pleasant mood. He discussed with him his plan to go on another voyage to catch big fist. It showed that he was still a fighter. He believed that: “Man is not made for defeat.” The seas, then, represents life, the marlin and sharks represent the difficulties of life. Life is a struggle against these difficulties to finish them. If we cannot finish or defeat them, we should in any case go on fighting them. As the old man said about the sharks: “I will fight them until I die.” Though death and destruction are certain man should use the little time that he has in working, fighting and struggle for his aims. Thus only can life continue from one generation to another to the benefit of all, those in the struggle and those outside it.