“Hard-Fisted Sentiment” is a short story set in the rough and tumble world of seamen and boxers, illustrating the deep bonds that can form in harsh conditions. The story’s protagonist is Steve Costigan, a seaman and boxer, who finds himself in a situation that calls for both his fighting skills and his unexpected capacity for sentimental loyalty.

The story, through its depiction of rugged individualism, loyalty, and the unexpected capacity for sentiment among hard men, captures the essence of life at sea and in the boxing ring during the early 20th century.


The story begins with Steve Costigan performing a handspring in the American Bar, celebrating his return to Port Arthur on shore leave from the ship, the Sea Girl. His celebration is cut short when he accidentally crashes into a table occupied by the Sea Girl’s captain, leading to a heated exchange. The captain reveals that the Sea Girl is about to be lost due to his inability to pay off a debt. This news shocks Costigan, who had no idea the captain was in such dire straits.

Moved by the captain’s plight, Costigan decides to raise the money needed to save the Sea Girl. He concocts a plan to fight in a boxing match against Shifty Strozza, a middleweight contender, with the intention of using the prize money to pay off the captain’s debt. However, when Strozza dismisses Costigan’s request for help, Costigan knocks him out and takes his place in a boxing event at Jim Barlow’s Wharfside Arena.

Despite suffering a broken arm, Costigan fights three tough opponents one after another in a grueling series of matches. He uses a combination of boxing, resilience, and sheer force of will to defeat each opponent. In a dramatic finale, Costigan, barely conscious and severely injured, defeats the final opponent, Bill Brand, winning the prize money.

After the fight, Costigan, now heavily bandaged and in pain, goes directly to the bar where he expects to find the captain. Without seeking acknowledgment or thanks, he gives the captain the money to save the Sea Girl. The captain, moved by Costigan’s selfless action, expresses his gratitude, acknowledging the deep bond and respect between them. The story ends with a moment of reconciliation and mutual respect, highlighting the theme of hard-fisted sentimentality that defines the lives of these rugged men.


  • Steve Costigan: The protagonist, a seaman and boxer with a fierce temper and a big heart. He goes to great lengths to help his captain save the Sea Girl, showcasing his loyalty and determination.
  • Mike: Costigan’s white bulldog, a loyal companion who provides emotional support throughout the story.
  • The Captain of the Sea Girl: A crusty, aging seaman facing financial ruin, he is initially abrasive towards Costigan but is ultimately moved by Costigan’s loyalty and sacrifice.
  • Shifty Strozza: A middleweight boxing contender, arrogant and dismissive, who refuses to help Costigan, leading to a pivotal confrontation.
  • Jim Barlow: The promoter of the Wharfside Arena boxing event, initially skeptical of Costigan’s ability to draw a crowd but ultimately impressed by his fighting spirit.
  • Yat Yao: The owner of a dive where Costigan confronts Strozza. He plays a minor role in detaining Strozza to ensure he cannot participate in the scheduled fight.
  • Frenchy Ladeau, Peter Nogaya, and Bill Brand: Costigan’s opponents in the boxing event, each representing different fighting styles and challenges. Costigan defeats them in a grueling succession to win the prize money.
  • Terence Murphy: The owner of the little grog shop where the story concludes, providing a setting for the final exchange between Costigan and the captain.
  • The Sea Girl: The ship to which Steve Costigan and the captain belong. It serves as a central element in the story, symbolizing more than just a vessel—it’s the livelihood and passion of the captain. The Sea Girl is on the brink of being lost due to financial troubles, which propels Costigan into action to save it, highlighting its significance to the story and its characters.

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