Sacrifice and Endurance in the Old Man and the Sea and Night

Though the novels Night by Elie Wiesel and Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea were written decades apart in different original languages, they both share similarities. Besides the relatively short length and critical acclaim of both books, they share some central themes. The theme of sacrifice is a major part of both novels, though not really with physical objects as much as memories, optimism, and innocence. In the same vein, the theme of endurance is shown in the central events of each.

In the case of Night, the theme of sacrifice is much more pronounced than in the Old Man and the Sea. The author describes having to sacrifice his childhood home, calling it an “open tomb” when he left. (Wiesel 17) He loses his father, a source of strength and optimism for him, after seeing him beat up and disrespected - but he doesn’t cry. The author remembers not being able to, being “out of tears”. (Wiesel 112) These two sacrifices, along with several other things he witnesses and goes through, show the ultimate sacrifice of the novel - the innocence and optimism of his youth. The author doesn’t even recognize himself in a mirror after he survives - calling his reflection “a corpse”. (Wiesel 115)

Perhaps the clearest evidence of his loss, however, is when the author pledges to never forget his “first night in camp”, “the smoke”, “those flames”, “that nocturnal silence”, “those moments which murdered” his God, his soul, and turned his “dreams to dust”. (Wiesel 34) These are not the words of a person who is optimistic - and they were written long after he was freed from the camps. To live long is to be “condemned”, the author continues - because he will never even be able to forget the events that ruined his youth.

The Old Man and the Sea doesn’t have themes of sacrifice that sting so deeply. The only real thing Santiago, the main character of the novel, sacrifices is the meat of the marlin he spends the majority of the book catching. But though Santiago doesn’t sacrifice as much, his sacrifices represent a lot more. One of the most prevalent symbols in the Old Man and the Sea is Santiago being a Christ-like figure. Most of this comes from his struggle catching the marlin, but his sacrificing it can also be seen as Christ-like. At the end of the novel, the remains of the marlin are admired while Santiago sleeps peacefully. This can be seen as a parallel to Christ dying for sin because in both cases their sacrifice was only rewarded when they weren’t present.

When it comes to themes of endurance, both books have it in droves. The plots of both rely on this theme, with Night detailing the author’s struggle of surviving the camps and the Old Man and the Sea describing Santiago’s epic struggle against the Marlin. Night, however, expands on the theme of endurance by describing the alternative, death. “Deep inside”, Wiesel explains, “I knew that to sleep meant to die. And something in me rebelled against that death… It would seize upon a sleeping person, steal into him and devour him bit by bit.” (Wiesel 89) As easy as it might have been for Wiesel to crawl up and die, he refuses to do so in the novel. His endurance isn’t because he wants to take back a trophy or to claim honor, as in the Old Man and the Sea, but as a necessary part of survival. This gives Night a lot more emotional weight, as unlike in the other novel, the main character could not have simply gone back home at any point. There was no reasonable alternative to Wiesel’s endurance.

Which isn’t to say that Santiago’s endurance is worth little. He endures copious amounts of pain in his efforts to keep the marlin steady and to get back home in one piece. On page 83, “The speed of the line” cut “his hands badly.” One page later, Santiago says to himself, “...pain does not matter to a man.” (Hemingway) Going back to the religious imagery, this is a parallel to Christ’s endurance during his crucifixion. Santiago also struggles to keep his head clear, relying on personifying the elements and animals and speaking out loud to not go completely insane. “...now he said his thoughts aloud”, the novel goes, “ many times since there was no one that they could annoy.” (Hemingway 39) Unlike Night, Santiago consciously pushes himself to endure, not because there is no other option, but because he is willing to struggle to redeem himself, to bring back a fish after months of failure.

In conclusion, though the novels explore them in different ways, the themes of sacrifice and endurance are prevalent in Night and the Old Man and the Sea. Night is an example sacrifice and endurance in very literal and emotional ways, with the author losing the joy of his youth while he forces himself to survive. The Old Man and the Sea, on the other hand, uses heavy amounts of imagery and symbolism to make the relatively paltry sacrifices and endurance much more meaningful. Santiago’s epic fight with the marlin and his eventual sacrifice of the meat parallel the endurance and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, presumably on purpose. Above all else, these two themes connect the novels.