Old Man and the Sea
One ever-present symbol in Hemingway's novel is the sea. It represents the vast, limitless stage of life and the unpredictability of the world that surrounds it. Even more so, the sea represents Santiago's eternal friend and enemy. The man is at ease with the sea and her unpredictability even though he is at her will, for she provides the opportunities that rule his existence and livelihood and he understands that. The same is true if you view the sea and the novel itself as parallels for life; those who are living have no choice but to weather the tides and storms of time, and can only learn to accept that which comes to them. The sea here in the novel also stands for nature, love and freedom. "He always thought of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they are always said as though she were a woman" (Hemingway 29). What this means is that in Santiago’s eyes the sea stands for a beautiful woman full of love and gentleness, and she is a merciful mother, who nurtures all the sea creatures, the flying bird, the fishermen as well as Santiago. But on the other hand, the sea also symbolizes cruelty and unpredictability of nature and fate. "Why did they make birds so delicate and fine as those sea swallows when the ocean can be so cruel?...But she can be so cruel and it comes so suddenly and such birds that fly, dipping and hunting, with their small sad voices are made too delicately for the ocean" (Hemingway 29). This show that people are so helpless in front of the nature and fate, the sea is so powerful that it can dominate the fate of all creatures in it. That is why the younger fishermen think of the sea as the masculine 'el mar' and consider it a contestant or a place or even an enemy. Hemingway symbolizes this through the old man, while the old man knows that the sea can be both gentle and cruel at the same time. Now depending on how you read and understand the symbolism, the old man Santiago has different symbolic meanings. First the old man Santiago I believe stands for the indestructible spirit of human beings. In the novel, the old man, living in very poor conditions, is strong for his age and has a lot of scars; and his hometown is a little fishing village in Cuba. However, he still firmly holds the belief that every moment in life is worth to live and that every day gives you new chances. "Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready" (Hemingway 32). The most important thing for Santiago is to bring home the big fish even when it's only a skeleton, which shows that he is a hopeful fighter and he keeps up, never stopping during the whole fight. "Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated" (Hemingway 10). There is a prevalent saying that the heart's letter is read in the eyes and here Santiago shows us his determination and revolt against the fate through his blue and clear eyes. He has wide and keen eagerness and activities which still keep him effective, he would not think about the merely statistical fact of the number of years he has already lived, that is to say although he is getting older and older in age, he keeps young and energetic in his heart due to his firm determination and belief. Though he has been out to fish for 84 days without catching a fish and has become the laughingstock of his small village, and his only best friend Manolin is forbidden by his parents to go out to sea with him anymore, even under all these difficulties, he doesn't lose heart. Instead, he sets out for a further area where no one has ever been to. Old Santiago suffers a lot during this long and grueling struggle with the big marlin, but he never gives up, so finally he defeats the marlin successfully. However, things are not always go the way as people wish. On his way back home he is only to see that his trophy catch is destroyed by sharks. "But man is not made for defeat, he said, a man can be destroyed but not defeated...the dsntuso is cruel and able and strong and intelligent. But I was more intelligent than he was..." (Hemingway 103). Here the sentence 'A man can be destroyed but not defeated' highlights the most important theme throughout the whole novel and has best demonstrated the old man's persevering endurance until destruction. Now there is other symbolism throughout the novel, symbolic meanings of other objects that are described in the novel such as the young man Manolin who symbolizes hope, love, fidelity and lives continue, the marlin and the shark that stands for different kind of opponents, or the lion on the beach symbolizes the youth and strength. But it is Manolin that I think that keeps Santiago motivated to continue to go out to sea, even when his only friend had left him for a time being but only to come back. "Now we fish together again...The hell with the luck, the boy said, I'll bring the luck with me" (Hemingway 125). "You must get well fast for there is much that I can learn and you can teach me everything..." (Hemingway 126). By the end of the book, the boy abandons his duty to his father, swearing that he will sail with the old man regardless of the consequences. Here the young man Manolin stands as a symbol of uncompromised love and fidelity. As the old man's apprentice, he also represents the life that will follow from death and his dedication to learning from the old man ensures that Santiago will live on forever from generation to generation especially in spirits. The lion on the beach symbolizes the youth and strength. Santiago dreams his pleasant dream of the lions at play on the beaches of Africa three times: the night before his three-day fishing expedition, he sleeps on the boat for a few hours in the middle of the struggle with the marlin, the very end of the book. "He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy" (Hemingway 17). Santiago associates the lions with youth, hope and strength, which symbolize that the spirit of the old man is undefeated and lasts eternally. That the lions playing happily in the dreams also suggests a harmony between the opposing forces of the nature---life and death, love and hate, destruction and regeneration The marlin and the shark stand for different kind of opponents, different opponents in life that teach us things, that we learn from and make ourselves better life. The marlin is magnificent and glorious, which symbolizes the ideal rival for one person all life. In a world in which everything kills everything else in some way, Santiago feels genuinely lucky to find himself matched against a creature that brings out the best in him: his strength and courage, his love and respect. When Santiago hooks the fish on his first day at sea, he quite obviously approaches the marlin with the attitude of a hunter, "Eat it so the point of the hook goes into your heart and kills you, he thought. Come up easy and let me put the harpoon into you. All right. Are you ready? Have you been long enough at table?" (Hemingway 44) At this point, Santiago believes himself superior to the fish, believing that despite the unbelievable weight on the line, he would reel the fish in like any other catch. As the struggle between the old man and his fish continues, their "hunter and hunted" relationship blurs and gives way to a much stronger, more meaningful connection. In Santiago's mind he and the marlin enter into a sort of brotherhood where they struggling against one another, yet undoubtedly struggling together. The fishing line serves as a symbol for the filial connection that binds Santiago to his fish. The relationship between the old man and the marlin could be compared to the connection between a soldier and his enemy, or two like-minded men forced into a kill or be killed situation. Nearing the end of their struggle, Santiago holds a great respect for the fish and even seems to believe that the fish feels the same way towards him. When Santiago finally conquers the marlin, much is suggested by his choice to bring the fish in next to the boat rather than tow him behind, "With his mouth shut and his tail straight up and down we sail like brothers. Then his head started to become a little unclear and he thought, let him bring me in if it pleases him. I am only better than him through trickery and he meant me no harm."(Hemingway) This connection is intensified with the appearance of the sharks. Santiago protects "his fish" with fierce determination. It is his trophy for attempting the impossible and winning which might symbolize the achievement of an idealistic goal, in the real world. He protects his accomplishment until he literally has nothing left to fight with, and nothing left to protect. Even though he may have caught the unmatchable fish, Santiago did not win. While the sharks are thoughtless and graceless, as opponents for the old man, they stand in bold contrast to the marlin, which is worthy of Santiago's effort and strength. The sharks symbolize and embody the destructive laws of the universe and attest to the fact that those laws can be transcended only when equals fight to the death. Because they're base predators, Santiago has no glory from battling them. The sharks in the story bring about uncertainty, struggle and strife. Hemingway portrays the sharks as scavengers who come only to tear down the old man's victory; to take away everything that he has worked for, and dull the once-brilliant glory of his triumph. When they first appear Santiago attempts to drive them away with his harpoon but his efforts prove futile, he knows that more will come. In his struggle to drive them away, Santiago loses his harpoon; this moment can be seen as a loss of power. He, however, does not back down, after fashioning a weapon from an oar and his knife, Santiago is ready to fight again. The sharks are important in revealing that Santiago simply refuses to concede defeat even when he is nose to nose with it. Time and time again, from the loss of his harpoon to the point where Santiago decides he must club the sharks despite his feeling that he is too old to do so, he stands up to his enemy with whatever courage and virility he has to offer. The guilt that mingled with his pride for conquering the fish was escalated when it was destroyed by the sharks, intensifying the feeling of victory without contentment. Hemingway's sharks symbolize the eternal "malevolent forces"; the unavoidable and undeniable purveyors of destruction and anguish. In conclusion, as symbolism is a traditional artistic form, it is also the major feature of the novel “The Old Man and the Sea”, and the various usage of symbolism in this novel makes one of the greatest novels that I have read. Despite what Hemingway says "There isn't any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know."(Cuba). Because there are tons of symbolism in the novel and so many different ways you can understand it, from what I have just wrote to taking this a step further and getting the religious aspect out of the novel. “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.” Maybe Hemingway was not trying to symbolize anything in the novel but he did and that’s what has made this such a great novel to read.
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