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The Symbolism of The Old Man and the Sea

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The Symbolism of The Old Man and the Sea  


In Ernest Hemingway's masterpiece, The Old Man and the Sea, he uses much symbolism to assist the readers understanding of the massage he is trying to portray. The Old Man and the Sea isn't just a book about an old man and the sea.  There are many hidden meanings to it.  Each element represents different things.  The marlin, for example, represents strength, beauty and the last challenge we all go though.  The lions in his dreams resemble youth, freedom, and also strength.  Santiago, the old man, symbolizes Christ in many ways and other people and things symbolize different things like the young boy, Manolin.

 Manolin, the young boy, that followed Santiago was not fishing with the old man because his parents forced him to, actually he was told to stay away form the old man because he was bad luck, but because he wanted too.  He liked to be around the old man and listen to what he had to say.  When the old man would look at Manolin he would see himself at a younger age, someone who cared more about the elderly and their heritage than the new ways bestowed on them.  Manolin symbolized the disciples of Jesus.  The ones who would follow him to his death and then go out and preach his ways.  He believes in the old man and takes charge and tells all the other fisherman to stay away from Santiago after his return.  He would take care of the old man when he said to him "Keep warm old man.  Remember we are in September."  Manolin only wanted good things for Santiago, he did not want anyone to hurt him or put him down for his accomplishments.  He wants to learn from the old man and to listen to what he had to say about him as a young man or of Joe DiMaggio.

 Joe DiMaggio represents many things to the old man.  Santiago sees DiMaggio as an equal.  One whose father was a poor fisherman just like he is.  When he was out fishing he thought to himself, would the great DiMaggio ever stay this long as he did and quickly replied to himself that DiMaggio is young and strong and that his father was a fisherman so of course he would stay.  This made him feel better because now he could compare himself to his hero.  Santiago thought that DiMaggio would understand him because of their background being the same.  He wanted someone like the boy that would listen to him but understood him more and  he believes DiMaggio could be that person.  Joe DiMaggio also represents hope that the old man has for Manolin.  He wishes that the boy will grow up and be like the great DiMaggio so that he will not be a poor fisher like he is.

 All of the other fisherman in the story are the people that want the newest equipment and want to do away with the old ways of living.  They were intentionally putting down the old man and his accomplishments especially when one of the fishers said to Manolin "What a fish it was.  There has never been such a fish.  Those were two fine fish you took yesterday too." Which Manolin did not like because he knew that it was the old man's day to shine and not his.  In ways the fisherman were like the people that had to choose between setting Jesus free or a murder free and they chose the murder because they did not understand him and his ways which frightened the crowd.  The fishers represent anyone who would rather think about themselves rather than others.  In ways the fishers are like the sharks wanting to take things away from Santiago while Santiago is much like the marlin

            The marlin represented many different things.  For example, he symbolized strength and durability by putting up such a struggle.  By doing this he also made Santiago a legend among the other fishermen.  This struggle would be Santiago's last challenge.  However, since Santiago would end up tricking the marlin, the marlin seemed more noble in Santiago's mind.  Santiago thought that since the marlin was fighting for his life he had a more noble cause.  Santiago thought of him as his equal, and called him "brother."  The marlin could also represent the great struggle we all go through.  We then must be careful of going out too far comparable to Santiago.  Accomplishing or obtaining something does not always end one's journey.  Once Santiago hooked the fish he still had to bring it home.  Bringing home the marlin brought further complications from the sharks.  The sharks could represent those who would tear apart anyone's successes. These loathsome, scavengers delight in tormenting and bringing about defeat or tragedy, similar to how some people react to other's successes.  Like the marlin and the sharks, the lions also symbolized different attributes.

 The lions in Santiago's dreams represented his lost youth and his decreasing strength.  For instance, when he needed strength on his long and strenuous voyage he thought of his dreams of the lions, and of them playing on the beach without a care in the world.  With this in his mind it seemed to make him stronger and gave him the endurance to continue.  The lions could also symbolize pride.  Like the lions Santiago had pride.  He was proud of his fishing skills.  He was able to keep his lines straight and at varying levels to improve his catch of fish.  He was better at this than the younger, richer, generation.  Santiago knew however, that too much pride was not good.  It could lead to feelings of arrogance and a know it all attitude.   He was humble simultaneously with being proud.  For instance he knew that he depended upon other people for food and other sustenance.  Once the weather was going to turn cold Manolin was planning to bring Santiago shoes, clothes and a blanket.

            The author chose to not only use the various animals as symbols, but seemed to compare Santiago to Christ.  Santiago had cramps in his hands from holding the fishing line all night while he and the boat were being pulled by the strong fish.  Hemingway wrote that the sounds Santiago made while having the cramps were the same as the reaction "someone would have while having a nail passed through their hand and into wood."  This was the same experience Christ had while being crucified.  Hemingway included this reference purposefully so the reader would be able to compare and understand the similarity.  After his voyage was completed Santiago was exhausted and weak.  While bringing in the mast from his boat he stumbled three times under the weight resting upon his shoulders.  This resembled Christ's walk carrying his heavy cross to the hill where he was crucified.  Also when Santiago was back in his shack he fell asleep on his bed with his arms outstretched resembling Jesus on the cross.  At this point Manolin awoke Santiago and Santiago realized he had completed his last challenge and that his time as a fisherman was up.  He passed on the sword from the great fish to Manolin for continuation of the skills he had taught his apprentice.  Manolin was comparable to a disciple left in charge of continuing the work the Master had started.  

            The importance of Hemingway's story was more than just stories of animals and characters.  However, Christ did his most effective teachings using stories so the common folk would understand and get the concepts of his messages.  Hemingway's book was not just another "fish tale."  Its' meaning was hidden among the characters and events for the reader to discover and interpret.  Hemingway proclaimed however that this was not true.  He stated that it was just a simple book with little meaning about a man, his boat, and a fish.  However, the reader can conclude that one should not go too far without thinking of the consequences beforehand.  If one does not think things through completely, the results can sometimes be worse than what was originally planned.  A beautiful prize at the end of a struggle does not always end up being worthwhile, or worth what one expected.

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