Biblical Influence and Symbolism in The Old Man and the Sea

Biblical Influence and Symbolism in The Old Man and the Sea

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Biblical Influence and Symbolism in The Old Man and the Sea


Many times, stories by Ernest Hemingway have much religious influence and symbolism.  In The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway, numerous occurrences in the life of Santiago the fisherman are similar to the incidents recorded in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  The names of the characters translated from Spanish to English are just one of those many similarities.

            The characters in The Old Man and the Sea are in actuality, major figures in the New Testament.  Santiago is an old man, yet he had young eyes.  No matter how defeated he was, he would never show it and he would look on the brighter side of things.  In my mind, these traits make Santiago a god-like figure.  Manolin, which translates into Messiah, is Jesus (Stoltzfus qtd in CLC 13:280).  Santiago is the "father" who teaches his symbolic son and disciple, Manolin.  After catching the largest marlin, Manolin will leave his parents in order to follow the teachings of Santiago, his master, just as Jesus did (Stoltzfus qtd in CLC 13:280).  Pedrico is actually Saint Peter, Jesus' closest apostle and a great fisherman (Wilson 50).  Peter helped Jesus fish for souls as Pedrico helped Manolin fish for food.  Santiago gives Pedrico the head of the mutilated marlin which symbolizes Saint Peter as head of the Christian church and the first Pope (Stoltzfus CLC 280).


            In the story, there are many references to the crucifixion of Jesus.  Santiago's badly injured hands evoke the hands of the crucified Jesus and three other situations reinforce this theory (Brenner, The Old Man and the Sea, Story of a Common Man 37). First, Santiago's marlin is approached by a pair of shovel nosed sharks. "Ay', he said out loud." (Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea 107)  There is no meaning of "Ay", but perhaps it is the sound a man makes as his hands are nailed to wood (Brenner, The Old Man and the Sea, Story of a Common Man 38). 


            Next, once back on shore, Santiago climbs the hill to his shack, with the mast on his shoulder, falling several times (Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea 121).  This is an obvious reference to Christ's struggle to carry the cross up the hill Cavalry (Crossan, The Historical Jesus 163).

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            Also, when Santiago makes his way into his shack and collapses into his bed with "his arms out straight and the palms of his hands up." (Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea 122)  This is the same way Jesus was positioned on the wooden cross.

             Finally, Santiago had hooked a fish.  It was a Friday, symbolic of Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified.  The hook went into and through the mouth of the fish, just as the nail went through the hand of Jesus. On the second day, the old man anxiously awaited the rising of the fish to the top of the water.  Santiago said ten Hail Marys and ten Our Fathers. On the second day after the death of Jesus, his followers awaited his resurrection and prayed.  On the third day, the fish rose and the old man speared and killed him.  This day refers to Easter Sunday when Jesus rose from the dead, and then ascended to heaven.


            Therefore, the incidents that occurred in the life of Santiago were very similar to the occurrences in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Ernest Hemingway decided to construct his story to reflect upon the life of Jesus but did not make this too obvious to the reader.  There are many references to the crucifixion of Jesus.  This shows that the old man and Jesus suffered in many of the same ways.  They were both fishermen. The old man was the fisherman of fish and Jesus was the fisherman of souls.
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