A man can be destroyed but not defited
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It means that a man can fight to the end never relinquishing his honour or ideals. Even though he may be destroyed his ideas and values were never defeated. In Santiago's case, he would not have minded dying at the hands (of fins?) of the great marlin. The fish was a worthy opponent and Santiago died like the man he remembered himself rather than a man defeated, old and feeble.
'A man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.' Ernest Hemingway means a man can be destroyed physcially, die even but his spirit and mental strength remain. Santiago refused defeat at every turn, he was destroyed but is till going to fish again. Defeat is a man's decision.