Symbolism in “The Old man and the Sea”
In “The Old man and the Sea”, we can discover rich meanings beneath the simple narration of a fishing adventure. Hemmingway has used many symbols in the novel.
The ocean itself has symbolism behind it. To Santiago, the sea is not just a field for exploitation but has a personality, which he considers in terms of feminity, ‘la mar’. Being a woman it is changeful and shows both kindness and cruelty. It is deep enough to hide a never-heard of and never-seen of great fish that Santiago meets. It is wide enough to make it possible for Santiago to travel into a region where the unknown secrets of reality can be known and experienced. The ocean becomes a sacred field where Santiago searches his own identity through the act of pursuing the fish.
The lions which fill Santiago’s dreams are a symbol of solidarity, love and humility. The young lions stand for strength and nobility. They give a purity to his purpose and a sense of vitality that drives him toward the goal “that which he was born for”. It is significant that he dreams not of a lonely lion but a group. He does not want to stand apart from the common human stream.
Dimaggio, the baseball champion, is another being often in Santiago’s waking thoughts. When his hand is cramped and strength is failing him, Satiago tells himself that he must be worth of “the great Di Maggio who does all things perfectly even with the pain of the bone-spur in his heel”. The bone-spur is a reminder to Santiago of the nobleness of action of “what a man can do and what a man endures.
Manolin is another individual present in Santiago’s memory. He stands for youth that refuses to give up bright hopes. The boy helps him to re-live in memory his own days of youth and strength.
The great fish Santiago catches is symbol of the great unknown, he is born to pursue and realize. The sharks, representing the evil, prevent Santiago from taking the prize of his fighting out of the secret region.
Santiago can be associated with Christ. On seeing the sharks, he cries ‘Ay’, in a manner similar to the cry of Christ when crucified. After reaching the harbor, Santiago carries his mast on his shoulders, which is like Christ carrying the Cross to Calvary.
He stumbles several times before reaching home, as Christ did before reaching His destination. The several wounds he receives in the course of fishing remind us of the wounds inflicted on Christ. The marlin and the sharks represent the evil that Christ fights against. Santiago symbolizes Christ when he lies on his bed face downwards and arms stretched out, with the bleeding palms upwards. This is the crowning symbol of all in “The Old man and the Sea”.