Through ages, human beings have always been in pursuit of the perfection of everything. Not all things, however, are perfect in the world. Both Hemingway and Santiago, the hero in his famous work The Old Man and the Sea are perfectionists. In their daily lives, perfectionists have endless sadness since they always demand more and more. When a person wants more and his present situation could not satisfy him, he is bound to involve in a strange circle, which will make his mentality full of contradictories. It is uneasy for him to let himself free. Perfectionists could not be easily understood by others. Though an analysis of the tragedy of the old man and Hemingway, this thesis mainly discusses the tragic color in The Old Man and the Sea, and draws a conclusion that their perfectionism leads to their tragedy. In that way, the paper challenges perfectionism. Just like an old saying goes: “No one is perfect”. There is no absolute perfectionism in the world. In fact, pursuing perfection is a good medicine for those who are vacuous to remedy, but on the premise that they know their potential well in pursuit of perfection. If a person does not know his potential of perfection and over-pursues it, not only does he live without happiness, but he gets nothing in the end as well. The world is imperfect. Therefore, it is essential to accept the imperfection of the world and learn to abnegate some unrealistic pursuits. This thesis tries to elucidate the truth that people who over-pursue perfection cannot but hurt themselves in the end.
tragic color; perfection; perfectionism; Hemingway; Santiago
Hemingway”s life is filled with kinds of adventures, and from his rich and colorful life experiences，his life seems like an unusual book which many other people in the world admire and envy. Indeed, Hemingway is a great writer, a code man with white beard; even today he had left us for a few decades, his brave figure has still been living in people”s memory. His adventurist spirit made him create many novels, so that people always say he directs his own stories in his works. From his works and life experiences, Hemingway is indeed a perfectionist. Many of the heroes that he created in novels are represented his code man spirit---perfectionism, especially in The Old Man and the Sea. The old man named Santiago represented Hemingway”s perfectionism characteristic more vividly than other code man in his works. Hemingway left many myths to the literary world after his shocking death, more and more researchers discussed his works; a lot of discussions are talked about his writing style, life experiences and his own code man spirit. Hemingway”s name had been staying in literary world forever because of the whole world”s attention.
Perfectionism is a double-edged blade which brings both honor and sadness to Hemingway. He chose to die in the prime of his life. Hemingway left many unsolved questions to the whole world, people regret for his choice. Meanwhile, we could find a real Hemingway when we stand in his shoes, he is a complete perfectionist. He would prefer regretting for the whole world to regretting for himself, that”s a perfectionist”s choice.
Even though Hemingway chose another way to express his hero spirit and his perfectionism, some people suspect what his perfectionism brought to him. Perfectionism brought honor, wealth, wonderful life to him, but he decided to discard all honor because he had been tortured by sickness greatly, he chose to die in the end. Hemingway was involved in strange perfectionism circle. At the same time, the code man spirit made him pursuit perfection of everything. As a perfect man in people”s eyes is Hemingway”s aim. The old man who Hemingway created in The Old Man and the Sea is also a person represented Hemingway”s perfectionism spirit. He has his own sadness.
The paper focuses on The Old Man and the Sea，find out the tragic color in the novel, meanwhile, explains Hemingway”s tragedy in order to challenge the perfectionism which is held by the author---Hemingway and his creative code hero---Santiago.
A． To the Author: Earnest Hemingway
Earnest Miller Hemingway was born in a well-to-do family in Oak Park, Illinois near Chicago, on July 21st, 1899. He was an American Nobel Prize winner in literature (1954), a spokesman for “The Lost Generation”. After he got the Nobel Prize, he ended his life by himself. His life was filled with many kinds of adventures that represent in his works. He styled the particular type of the tragic hero in his novels, and his life attitude had been widely recognized and imitated in English-speaking countries and all over the world as well. Hemingway was a myth in his own time and in American literature.
B. The Medium-Length Novel
Among all of Hemingway”s works, The Old Man and the Sea, it is a work that leads to the top of Hemingway”s career of writer and made him receipt the Nobel Prize. It is a poetic tragic novel about Santiago---an old Cuban fisherman who has gone for 84 days without catching anything. Therefore, the boy, Mandolin, who used to sail with him, is forced by his parents to leave the old man and catch in another “good-lucky” ship. The old man insists on fishing alone and at last, he hooks an eighteen-foot, giant marlin, the largest he has ever known. But the titanic fish is very powerful and disobedient. It tows the old man and his boat out to sea for 48 hours, with the old man bearing the whole weight of the fish through the line on his back. The old man, with little food and sleep, has to endure much pain and fights against his treacherous hand cramp. To his great excitement, on his third day at sea, he succeeds in catching the weakened marlin to the surface and harpoons it. On his way home, he lashed marlin alongside his boat because it is too big to be pulled into the boat. But, unfortunately, the sharks in different directions assaulted the old man and the giant marlin for four times. The old man fights to kill the sharks with as much might and many weapons as he can summon, but only to find a giant skeleton of his marlin left after his desperate defense. At last, Santiago, having lost what he fought for, reaches the shore and struggles to his shack. He falls into sound sleep, dreaming of Africa and the lions again. His struggle wins him much respect; meanwhile, he still made himself indulge in the atmosphere of tragic color, no one understands his sadness except himself.
2. The Social Background of This Work
Literature is the reflection of society. Therefore, in order to prove this novel”s tragic color, the social background is one of the necessary factors for us to appreciate this work.
Hemingway lived in the period that the World War One broke out; many young volunteers took part in “the war which also called a war end all wars”. But the harsh reality made them aware that modern warfare was not as glorious or heroic as they thought. As a young writer and spokesman of the “The Lost Generation”, and influenced by the frivolous, greedy and heedless way of life in America. Hemingway”s works all vividly recorded the life of those physically and mentally wounded soldiers, revealed the frustration, loneliness when “God is dead”. That period’s tragedy made Hemingway”s works full with tragic color, such as A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, The Sun Also Rise and TheOld Man and the Sea. The menace, the anguish dereliction, the futility and sterility expressed in these works had been afflicting all sensitive members of the post-war generation.
The other circumstances that made Hemingway wrote the novel was Hemingway”s writing capability had been questioned by people at that time. Under kinds of gossip, Hemingway decided to write The Old Man and the Sea which had been constructed in his mind for more than 10 years. At last, this masterpiece proved his writing talent.
II The Tragic Color in The Old Man and the Sea
A. Definition of the Tragic Color
In the ancient Greek, tragedy is defined as Socrates died from poison; Jesus was hung on the cross. In the eyes of westerners, tragedy is the highest art in aesthetics. Some artists even thought real art only comes from tragedy. A large number of writers and artists focus their eyes on tragedy, so that they are willing to create their works with tragedies.
There are so many explanations for the word “tragedy”. The definition of tragedy in the Dictionary of Literature Theory is: “tragedy is a story with contradictory confliction ended up with the good person”s unfortunate fate.” Aristotle, who is one of the greatest teachers in ancient educational history, has ever defined tragedy thus: “tragedy, then, is and imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude.”(王佐良，2004，29) Chinese famous literary writer Lu Xun defined the word “tragedy” that: tragedy destroys the most valuable things in people”s life in front of human beings. Generally speaking, tragedy only refers to good persons” unfortunate fate. In the eyes of this thesis” author, according to this Hemingway”s novel—The Old Man and the sea, which is a typically works that comply with Chinese tragic recognition---destroy the old man”s efforts in front of people. That is the cruelty of tragedy. In this medium-length novel, tragedy represented in many respects, such as the old man tortured by loneliness, sickness and so on, even the titanic fish has its tragedy.
B. Tragic Color Represented in the Novel
Tragic color in this novel is mainly represented in two quarters, the first respect is the titanic fish”s inborn tragedy; the second part is the old man”s tragedy.
1. Titanic Fish”s Tragedy
The first tragedy is existed in the giant marlin”s tragedy. Fish is born to be defeated, it”s an immutable fact.
It was defeated by the old man, and then it was destroyed completely by four fierce sharks” continually attack. A fish is born to be defeated, its fate is bound to be defeated and shared by human beings or other stronger animals. That”s a fish”s tragedy. It”s an inborn loser.
2. The Old Man”s Tragedy
The titanic fish”s tragedy is one of tragedies in the novel, but the old man”s tragedy is the main tragedy in it.
From the very beginning of this novel, Hemingway depicted the sad tone that a poor and lonely man with shabby boat, deep sea as background is also symbolizes a kind of sad tone, these sad tones last at the end of this novel.
The old man”s wife has been dead for many years, without leaving any descendants, he misses his wife very much, in order to not miss his wife, he puts off all of his wife”s color photos, because he feels so lonely once he sees those photos.
The old man”s tragedy is also represented in no one care about him except his good friend, a little boy named Mandolin. However, the little boy could not always stay with him and take care of him. During the days the old man sails into deep sea with his outsized dream, no one company with the old man, he feels so lonely. He misses his beloved wife and his good friend---the little boy, he wants the little boy to help him and speak to him, but he can only speak to himself, the giant marlin, little tired bird and the deep blue sea. During those days, with little food and sleep, he endures much pain and fights against his treacherous hand cramp, no one helps him, the old man says to himself again and again: “that”s great if the little boy is here”.
The result of his sailing is also one of tragedies in the novel. After he has caught the giant marlin, and returns to shore, he only takes a big fish skeleton, people respect his capability but he dissatisfies with the result and he still feels frustrated. He expresses his loneliness to the little boy. There are no more words for him, the fatigue and his tortured heart made him feels so tired, he sleeps deeply in his shabby boat. He dreams of a group of lions which symbolizes success, but this sailing is not thought as a successful one by himself.
All of old man”s tragedies come from himself at heart. There is a contradiction existed in his mind. His whole life depends on the sea and of course he has become an old experienced fisherman for he has been living in the sea for many years. But at this time he catches nothing for 84 days. Other people or fisherman starts to suspect his ability and joke about his decreased capabilities of fishing. Gossips made the old man determine to sail into the deep sea, which leads to his tragedy, because sailing to the deep sea has surpassed his capability in his old age. He still wants to become a successful fisherman in people”s eyes; but his outsized dream”s destruction made him feels so sad. In the end, the old man becomes more silent, he only wants to sleep in order to refresh his body, and he only expresses his sadness, but not his ambition to conquer the sea any more. At that time, he has realized his dream could not be fulfilled any more. Even through he knows his ability could not realize his outsized dream completely, this dream could not vanish in his mind. At the last paragraph of this novel, words from a female traveler made readers give more pity on the old man, the female traveler points the titanic skeleton and asks a waiter what it is. Not until the waiter explains, she thought it is a shark”s skeleton and cries out “I has never saw such a beautiful shark”s tail”. The old man”s dream completely shattered, his fruit has been mistakably regarded as a shark”s skeleton. People around the shore don”t understand what the old man strives for in his old ages. No one understands his sadness besides himself. If he doesn”t want to become a successful fisherman in his old age, he could enjoy himself till the end of his life.
Throughout the novel, all of the old man”s tragedies come from his ambition, his outsized dream. He is too old to sail into the deep sea and he should stay in peaceful harbor; enjoy himself in his little boat although life may be poor, however, he needn”t prove his ability to other people. In one word, perfectionism leads to Santiago”s outsized dream which caused his tragedy.
If a person with a character who always compares himself or his achievements with perfect things, this kind of person is a perfectionist. Oxford Advanced Learner”s English-Chinese Dictionary explains “perfectionist” as the following two meanings: one: person who is not satisfied with anything less than perfection; two: person who insists on perfection in every detail even when it is not necessary. Famous psychologist Burn pointed out:“perfectionist is a person who determine to get higher aims, and compel himself to pursuit their aims excessively. In the process of pursuing those aims, they are easy to hurt themselves”.
One of perfectionist”s main features is their eagerness to prove their ability. Psychologist Karen Harney has already given these explanations for perfectionist”s eagerness: “the meaning of perfectionist”s life is not existed in his happiness and enjoyments, but focus on his accomplishments about his own responsibilities and compulsory. In terms of their motivation of life, they are not willing to acquire happiness but pursue right and perfect things in all of their life.”The other main feature of perfectionist is their self-contradictory characteristic; many perfectionists struggled in their self-contradictory minds. Generally speaking, perfectionist”s character is always stubborn, straitlaced, and inflexible. They always plan a high standard for themselves and try their best to achieve it, if they failed, they will feel so sad and hard to accept the result. This could explain why perfectionists are easy to involve in depression, once they fall into the sadness, they also can not make them catch up again.
B. Santiago”s and Hemingway”s Perfectionism
Santiago and Hemingway both belong to the same kind of people with a character which been called perfectionism. From the old man”s characteristic in The Old Man and the Sea, the author of the thesis could catch a glimpse of Hemingway.
1. Santiago”s Perfectionism
In the novel The Old Man and the Sea, the old man”s eagerness to prove his capability is the best evidence which could prove the old man”s perfectionism. He has gone for 84 days without catching anything. His code man”s character leads him to prove he can catch giant fish. He has ever said to Mandolin that he is a strange man and different from other fisherman. In the story, the old man always hopes his outsized dream could satisfy himself and other people. His outsized dream is that one day he will catch giant fish to prove his ability. In order to catch giant fish, he has to choose to sail into the deep sea, but that is out of his capability, in the end of the story even he has got giant fish, his rough tools made his giant fish could not return safely to his shore for the deep sea is dangerous and full with obstacles. The old man should consider these obstacles before sailing but as a perfectionist he only pays more attention to prove his capability. So his achievement is destroyed by sharks again and again, and only leaves that giant fish”s skeleton. At last, Santiago recognizes he is still a loser, he feels sad but no one understands him. All of his sadness and loneliness is caused by his perfectionism.
Meanwhile, Santiago is a self-contradictory man, the miracle sea is dangerous, but he is a man loves sea very much, he even willing to regard sea as a woman, thinking that even if she do something imprudent or naughty, that”s because she can”t control herself, that”s not her fault; the old man loves the deep sea, but the sea destroyed his outsized dream indirectly; he also loves animals which live in the deep sea, the birds, fly fish and dolphins, he thinks they are all his friends which could company with him in the lonely sea; He feels happy when he saw all the sea animals live peacefully, but he has to struggle with the giant and beautiful fish; although he feels sad and regrettable for the giant fish, he still determines to kill it; he thinks marlin is beautiful and divine; however, he holds his spear and stabs into its body.
2. Hemingway”s Perfectionism
The Old Man and the Sea is always regarded as Hemingway”s biography. Hemingway”s own experiences made him become a perfectionist by degree..
Hemingway”s perfectionist”s life was greatly affected by his family. He was born in a contradictory family. His father, a successful physician, also committed suicide, enjoyed hunting and fishing. His mother, a musician, who wanted Hemingway could stay and study music and art in family. Hemingway”s parents wanted him become a perfectionist from his childhood education. Hemingway had a dream to be a strong and versatile man from his little age because of his family background. When he was a little boy, he went out frequently with his father, in the process, he developed a series of consideration about life and death, and meanwhile he learned such virtues as courage and endurance. He had a whole happy childhood though he did run away from home twice. In the school, he was also an outstanding student. Therefore, Hemingway”s early childhood experience and his natural temper made him becomes a perfectionist little by little. After leaving school, he joined in the army as a war reporter, like other young people lived in that period, he was disillusioned by the senseless slaughter of the First World War. In the war, Hemingway got short period praise because he saved a solider, during those days he was seemed as a hero by people, even the honor disappeared soon, his code man characteristic lasted. Hemingway paid all his life to write, create and remain his code man spirit to memory the honor that he had ever had, this represented whatever in his life or his works. Experienced so many adventures, his life were filled with depression and physical sickness, after got the Nobel Prize which Hemingway always pursuited, and underwent shock treatment for depression, Hemingway ended his life with his loved shotgun that his father ever used to committed suicide.
Hemingway pursuited perfectionism in all of his life, his perfectionism represents not only in his life, but also in his works. All of his works refer to war and tension, all his life full with adventures which represented his notion of a perfect life. Hemingway always wanted to finish his hero role completely, which is defined in other people”s eyes as a hero should be. Because his pursuit of everything”s perfection, he always had high expectation, if the things didn”t process according to his plan, he would lose his mind. The old year”s sickness made Hemingway could not realize his perfect dreams any more; he was tortured by sickness day by day which was created by early war experiences and kinds of adventures.
Hemingway”s contradictory mind is another expression of his perfectionism. He had ever joined the Communist Party, but he was also a member of Catholic Church; he had four wives but he divorced finally; people always thought he was a play boy, at least a man could not concentrate on love, but he admitted to the public that “he loved all his wives and sons”; The day when Faulkner won the Nobel Prize in 1949, Hemingway was quoted as these saying, “no son of bitch who ever won the Nobel Prize ever wrote anything worth reading afterwards”, but when he got Nobel Prize in 1954, he accepted that prize happily.
If Hemingway is not a perfectionist, he could live happily than any one else. Nevertheless, everyone has their own living way, he chose to live in a perfectionism way.
3. Sum up
Both Hemingway and the old man are representation of perfectionism. Indeed, in the process of pursuiting perfection, they have got the most valuable things in life, because their pursuing the perfect things made their life full of energy and motivation. However, life is not always perfect. In our life, pursuing perfection is approved but we must recognize the truth that life is imperfect, no one is perfect. It is the rule of nature. Hemingway and the old man pursuit their perfect outsized dreams, the results of their pursuits are not good. Take Hemingway and the old man for example, the results of their perfectionism are Hemingway felt depressive for the whole world and chose committed suicide; while the old man, his pursuit disappeared in several seconds, he feels sad because he realizes he is still a loser.
C. Dealing with Perfectionism
The most important way to deal with perfectionism is to realize the notion that the world is far from being perfect, like an old saying goes, no one is perfect, the absolute perfection is never existed in the world. Under the condition that we know we could not get two perfect things at the same time, in order to get something more important, learn to give up something will help us pass some difficulties.
If the old man-- Santiago realized his outsized dream is unreasonable, he should not be sad. He should abnegate his outsized dream; enjoy himself only by fresh fish, although life may be poor, no food, and no milk. He can still live happily with Mandolin”s company.
The prototype of the old man in the novel The Old Man and the Sea is a Cuban fisherman who had ever saved Hemingway who is in danger and at last he became one of Hemingway”s good friends. After Hemingway”s committed suicide, a hot topic had been discussed on the Internet, people start to doubt why a poor fisherman lived happily until his 101 years old, while Hemingway ended his life by shotgun after he got the honor of Nobel Prize. In fact, the reason that leads Hemingway”s death is his perfectionism. There are two ways to deal with perfectionism.
1. Comprehension of the World”s Imperfection
People living in modern times bear more pressure than their forebears, on the grounds of the fast pace of the society. Especially those with higher credentials than others, they always express their ideas that some day they could become perfect and get admiration from others. But they always blindly chase high targets without considering their own potentials. It is not an easy thing to be perfect. Comprehension of the world”s Imperfection is one way to solve this problem.
Some true stories tell us that we should realize the imperfection in the world. There was a manager of a famous franchise auto-manufactory company who was a typically perfectionist. He is a successful manager in many people”s eyes, but he dissatisfied with his success once he thought his company is far behind his high aims, although in fact his franchise company operated very well even surpass many high-level auto-manufactory companies. The manager could not bear pressure, at last, he chose death like any other perfectionists did.
Data which was responded by the researchers who worked in the problems on college students” committed suicide is another example. At present, the rate of committed suicide on campus is higher than several years ago, which has caused attention around the society. Some psychologists and sociologists start to research this problem. The result of their research is college students” pressure which is the main killer that leads to students” high rate of committed suicide, especially the undergraduates who face with more pressures from the society, family, boy-friends or girl-friends, than several years ago. When students with perfect dreams suddenly find their dreams disappear in one second, they would fall into the circle of depression more easily. Many of them choose death to resolve the unhappiness. Some sociologists suggest that psychology should be one of the most important lessons in college in order to educate more eligible students. Only graduate students learned how to face the music, how to find the balance of their mentality, they could adjust themselves to the complex society.
If the auto-manufactory manager opened his heart and mind, compared himself to other inferior company, he would feel happy because of his achievements. If the college students understand they are still too young, their future must be brighter than they thought, they may get more and more success in future. Sometimes, choosing to live in a happy or unhappy way is only a choice which is made in one second by ourselves.
2. Learning to Abnegate
The other way to deal with perfectionism is to learn to give up. In the far-away African thicket, there is one way to capture lively monkey, but the tool is only boxes with small holes. Workers put some fruit in the box, cover it and only leave a small hole from which fruit could not be gotten. Monkeys have observed the works action and know delicious food in those boxes. When they stretch their hands into the holes to get food, they find their hands could not be pulled out. In fact, their hands are smaller than the holes, but the fruit is bigger than the small holes. All monkey been cheated and captured by workers, they don”t know to give up. If the monkeys learn to give up the fruit, they still can live freely in the thicket, but they forget life is more important than one time”s food. This is the monkey”s tragedy.
In Chinese ancient fables, one fable name “Kua Fu Zhui Ri” tells us a story that a man called Kua Fu, he believes and insists on catching the sun, of course, he doesn”t catches the sun in the end of the story, and he dies from thirst and fatigue. His tragedy is also existed in he doesn”t learn to give up. If he stopped to drink water, he would not die of thirst.
Sometimes, imperfection is another kind of beauty. Life likes Venus with broken arms, it”s worthy of pursuiting. Lives or all things in the world, however, come to the world and appear in front of us with something imperfect like beautiful Venus with broken arms. When we appreciate Venus” beauty, we have to accept her imperfection. In another words, while we make our mind to choose the things that we want, we must learn to accept its imperfection.
In Chinese educational history, there are two wise men that have had a great influence upon our nation, especially the youth. They are Confucius and Mencius. Confucius holds the idea of “humanity”, Mencius holds the idea of “moderate way to deal with everything”, both of them are the marrows of Chinese education. Confucius and Mencius teach us that we should do everything with a humane heart in a moderate way. Don”t over pursue something, and don”t under do something. Only do things in a moderate way, do we made our life happily.
Through the analysis of the tragic color of the work The Old Man and the Sea, it can be found that the old man”s tragedy comes from his perfectionism which is the character also held by its author, Hemingway. At the same time, this thesis explains the reason why a person should avoid perfectionism, especially for young people. They always think they are the essence of their time. Because of their youth and being proud, they are more easily indulged in their outsized dream and made them encircled in a strange circle. Young people are facing with such a complex and competitive society that they have to abnegate their self-egoism. In the thesis, the author thinks that young people should not plan for themselves with high standard that surpasses their capabilities. Sometimes learning to abnegate is a good way to relax. But the most important thing is to realize oneself clearly, and accept their defects. Life is imperfect. One could get nothing after he/she tries his/her best. It”s important to keep balance of their inner heart and not involve in the depressive circle.
The tragic color of The Old Man and the Sea and its author Hemingway”s tragedy teaches us: life is imperfection. Over-pursuit perfection in life is bound to hurt someone himself.