A man's struggle is the main theme of the Old Man and the Sea; Santiago has an epic battle with a swordfish, and although his prize is taken away and he is defeated physically, Santiago received what he had strived for and earned his respect. Santiago is defeated by the sea and loneliness, but his perseverance/courage earns him his respect and saves his life.
The old man, Santiago, receives the biggest catch of his life, which is taken back by the sea, and his own life almost becomes forfeit to the sea also. Santiago has many revelations about the fickleness of the sea: "Why did they make birds so delicate and fine as those sea wallows when the ocean can be so cruel? She is kind and very beautiful. But she can be so cruel and it comes so suddenly and such birds that fly, dipping and hunting, with their small sad voices are made to delicately for the sea."(p29). After he has secured his fish to his small schooner he is bombarded by the hunters of the sea: "The other shark had been in and out and now came in again with his jaws wide."(p ), "They were hateful sharks-(p107) , ~"They beat me, Manolin," he said. "They finally beat me." ~"He didn't beat you. Not the fish." ~"No truly it was afterwards." (p ).
However, Santiago is not beaten by outside forces solely, his own desire for companionship runs its trails on the old man and also has a hand in his defeat: "He did not remember when he had first started to talk aloud when he was by himself." (p39), "Aloud he said, "I wish I had the boy."" (p51), "But you haven't got the boy," he thought. "You only have yourself and you had better work back to the last line now." (p52) Loneliness took its toll on Santiago and he despairs without companionship and help from someone else.
Santiago, though, had a remarkable sense of perseverance and courage, which saved his life and brought back with him the bones of praise and dignity restored. ""Fish," he said softly, aloud, "I"ll stay with you until I am dead.