The Journey from Illusion to Disillusion in Hemingway's Old Man and The Sea In our world today we are constantly bombarded with messages of illusion and falsity, however the states in which people travel through their lives differ. Some people are suspended in a state of illusion for all their lives, only realizing their potential on their deathbed. Others have their illusions stolen from them as a child and are brought up in a world without magic and fanciful ideas. For most, we discover this passage from illusion to disillusion at a time in our lives when we need it most. Quite simply, one cannot lead a happy and productive adult life when one is oblivious to the truths of this world. This does not mean, however, that the perfect life is one free from illusions, hopes and dreams. Ideally through the process of disillusionment one will learn the importance of their dreams and hold on to the ones that make them most productive.
In Hemingway's novel, The Old Man and The Sea, the main character Santiago needs this rite of passage to define and seal his destiny, and to truly understand and believe in himself. It is through this journey that he establishes limits and boundaries on the illusions he holds onto ritualistically, and yet opens himself up to the larger possibilities of life at the same time. He goes through very obvious and specific stages in his struggle, in a world of illusion, through the sacrifice and pain of the journey and into disillusionment.
Santiago is a proud man, and the world of illusion which captivates him is the only thing that keeps him going, day after day. Sadly, Santiago does not truly have confidence in himself. He attributes much of his success and failure to luck: "'Eighty-five is a lucky number,' the old man said. 'How would you like to see me bring one in that dressed out over a thousand pounds?'"(Hemingway, 13). Santiago is so preoccupied by the idea of luck, and it seems to him that all his experiences are based on powers greater than his own. This seems to parallel Hemingway's, own illusions, as Young explains, "... both [Santiago and Hemingway] were given to remarking 'I am a strange old man.' And both men were preoccupied with their 'luck' - a kind of magic which people have in them, or do not." Santiago must believe that he is unlucky, as this illusion allows him to continue fishing, continue failing. These illusions, however, do not allow for progress. Santiago is caught in a situation he does not know how to escape from, always looking for his big catch: "'My big fish must be somewhere'" (32). Santiago must be convinced that he still has it in him to make the catch that he is waiting for, as Young clarifies: "[Manolin tells Santiago], 'There are many good fishermen and some great ones. But there is only you.'...[Santiago] musters his confidence: 'I may not be as strong as I think... But I know many tricks and I have resolution'. Santiago needs these things, for he is still out for the really big fish." Santiago's confidence in himself lies so much in his luck or lack thereof. It is these illusions of himself that create in him a unwillingness to move on and discover new life. It is only in his dreams, yet another illusion, where he can experience the happiness he wants to feel. Illusions keep Santiago constantly waiting, never acting: "It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready" (30). It is this attitude of waiting for luck which brings Santiago to the fish, and his suffering. His life of illusion has finally led him to the passage, the journey into enlightenment.
The Journey is a necessary part of life, before one can reach full potential. It entails great suffering and pain, but will lead to true happiness. Santiago experiences symptoms of pain, suffering, confusion and deeper thought in his struggle with the fish, and with himself. Santiago first begins to experience delusions, talking not only to himself, but to birds, and the fish. He begins to think of things he may never have pondered before, feeling sorry for the fish that he has caught, realizing the greatness of such a creature: "... he began to pity the great fish that he had hooked. He is wonderful and strange..." (46). Santiago seems to develop an appreciation for nature, and for the universe of which he is a crucial element. Later into his struggle when he begins to feel the pain which the struggle is causing, he even ponders the focus of his life: "Perhaps I should not have been a fisherman, he thought" (48). Santiago feels a close bond growing with the fish, as they suffer together in this journey. He feels that he is betraying the creature in some way and that what he does is wrong. He shifts between opinions quickly and sporadically, not able to decide what it is he truly wants, even whether or not he wants to catch the fish, often wishing he had never hooked him. Brennar concludes, "Santiago's remorse over the noble victims of his fishing suggests a glimmering awareness that there could be something more important to him than the productivity ethic of catch, kill and sell." It is obvious that the journey has begun, slowly putting Santiago on the track to discovering his destiny. He feels immense pain throughout the struggle, feeling often that he might die: "'Fish,' the old man said. 'Fish, you are going to have to die anyway. Do you have to kill me too?'" (91). Santiago is feeling such great pain, he begins to hallucinate, becoming greatly confused in the climax of the struggle, when he needs his wits the most: "Come on and kill me fish. I do not care who kills who. Now you are getting confused in the head, he thought. You must keep your head clear. Keep your head clear and know how to suffer like a man. Or a fish, he thought." (92). Santiago feels the pain of his journey in all the ways a man can, but he knows he must catch the fish, not only for money, food and security, but for pride. He knows he needs the catch, and he has begun to realize that it was not luck, but destiny that brought him there. Although Santiago prays to God, and ponders both religion and luck on his journey, none pertain to his situation, nor will they help him at all. Gurko explains, "Neither his religion nor his superstition are relevant to his tragic experience with the great marlin... If he succeeds... he 'will say ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys'... but these are rituals that come after the event and have no significant relationship with it." Santiago is in the process of realization, of discovering that his success is not up to luck, or God, but destiny.
In the last moments of Santiago's ordeal, he meets the point of disillusionment and enlightenment, being forced to realize that his illusions were no longer useful and could not help him. Santiago had developed a relationship with the fish, in that all his pride and hope were concentrated in that creature: "When the fish had been hit it was as though he himself were hit" (103). The pain Santiago began to feel was that of defeat, of realization that he could not win, that he would lose all that he had worked to gain. Santiago was at once forced to realize his own defeat, however, he was confronted by the fact that he still held hope that he would make it to shore, confessing, "It is silly not to hope" (110). Santiago must go on fighting, for his dignity and for his fate. Though the fish - and his pride - are badly mutilated, he must go on, continue fighting. He battles the sharks all throughout the journey back to shore, defending his prize long after it is ruined. The most defining point of the journey, the novel and of Santiago's disillusionment is when he realizes that he retains the dignity of catching the great fish, and though he lost the small battle, he still won in the long run. Hemingway said it better than anyone else can: "'But a man is not made for defeat,' he said. 'A man can be destroyed but not defeated'" (103). Santiago realizes that he does not have to lose his pride or dignity because of his loss, because he still caught the fish, and had proof. Goth summarized Hemingway's purpose, "Hemingway, he was thinking of ultimate issues when he wrote this story of human endurance and courage. There are lessons for us in this tale of defeat, will and purpose. First, we learn the value of character and purpose which transcend every defeat. Of course, the old man was disappointed. He needed that fish. But he refused to be broken in defeat." Santiago reaches the shore with his skiff and his fish, and leaves it there, heading for home with his dignity in tact. He sleeps, dreaming again of the lions, however, now they are more than illusions. These dreams are a part of him, the part of him that knows the truth of life and fate, and that eventually, he will be there again. Gurko explains Santiago's enlightenment, "The mysterious, inscrutable, dramatic Nature into which their heroes plunge themselves in search of their own self-realizations supplies Hemingway with the scaffolding for The Old Man and The Sea... Santiago is pitched into the dangerous ocean, for only there, and with only himself to fall back on, can he work out his destiny and come to final terms with his life." It seems that after months of suffering in his illusions of pride, wealth and luck, Santiago can finally realize that he no longer needs these things, so long has he has knowledge, pride and the path of his life straight ahead.
Through the short period of time in which Hemingway's novel The Old Man and The Sea takes place, the main character, Santiago, experiences a life-changing struggle which takes him from his life of illusion, through the suffering of the journey and into the dignity and calm, centered attitude of enlightenment. He is spared the illusions which trap him and given instead new life, which lends to him any opportunity imaginable. This journey is experienced by all people, at one time or another, and without this rite of passage, one can never find true happiness in our world. Though our society is filled with illusions, it is only when we know the truth, can be happy with what we see in the mirror and realize that our mistakes don't change who we are. We all must come to the realization that we are never truly defeated, so long as we learn from our lessons and come out as better people.