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The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea


by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea Theme of Defeat

Is the old man defeated? This is a persistent question by the end of the story. The Old Man and the Sea asks its readers to define defeat, to struggle with what it really means to be beaten. Interestingly, Santiago draws a distinction between being destroyed and being defeated. Although the text does not explain, it seems that "destruction" carries a physical connotation (the old man identifies "something broken" in his chest), but defeat implies the breaking of one’s spirit, a psychological or spiritual act.

Questions About Defeat

  1. What does "defeat" mean in The Old Man and the Sea? Specifically, what does it mean to the old man? What about to the fish?
  2. Was the fish defeated by the old man, or by the sharks? What does the old man think about this?
  3. We’re slightly obsessed with the passage where the old man thinks about how "a man can be destroyed but not defeated." Which happens to the old man? Is he right or wrong?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The old man is defeated at the end of the story.

The old man is not defeated at the end of the story.

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