the lions represent the strength, poise and nobility that Santiago (the old man) wishes he could have.
Hemingway just about sums it up when the old man asks: "Why are the lions the main thing that is left?" What a fantastic question. The old man, we are told, "no longer" dreams about people – just the places, and namely the lions. You can go a few directions with this. First, the lions are a memory from his youth. Much of his struggle with the fish is about proving that he’s still there. The old man has a statement to make: he’s still around, and he’s still rocking the boat. In other words, his past, including the lions, isn’t just a distant memory.
The other question is, why lions? Why not geese or alligators? To start off, lions are strong creatures, predators, hunters, just as the old man hunts the marlin. They’re also the head honchos. Even though they’re at the top, they have to go out every day, hunt, and prove that they’re, well, still the head honchos.
Where are we getting this from? Take a look at paragraphs 76 and 77 on day three (right before the memory of arm wrestling). The old man says he needs to prove that he is a strange man. "Strange" doesn’t mean weird here, rather unique, different. It is the old man’s strangeness that enables him to be alone on the sea doing battle with a marlin for three days, just as he calls the marlin "strange" for not being tired. But back to the proving part. The old man has to prove, in a sense, his strength, his prowess, his abilities. And he talks about having to prove it rather elegantly for a paragraph. The very next paragraph is about the lions. See the connection?
Santiago dreams his pleasant dream of the lions at play on the beaches of Africa three times. The first time is the night before he departs on his three-day fishing expedition, the second occurs when he sleeps on the boat for a few hours in the middle of his struggle with the marlin, and the third takes place at the very end of the book. In fact, the sober promise of the triumph and regeneration with which the novella closes is supported by the final image of the lions. Because Santiago associates the lions with his youth, the dream suggests the circular nature of life. Additionally, because Santiago imagines the lions, fierce predators, playing, his dream suggests a harmony between the opposing forces—life and death, love and hate, destruction and regeneration—of nature.
Both in his bed in the village and in his boat, Santiago dreams of lions on the beaches of Africa, which he saw when he was a boy on a ship that sailed and fished the coast of Africa. The lions symbolize Santiago's lost youth as well as his pride (a group of lions is called a "pride"). Santiago's love for the lions, which are fierce predators, also mirrors his relationship with the marlin, whom he loves but whose death he feels is necessary to his survival. In this way, the lions as also symbolize Santiago's affinity with nature. Now that Santiago is no longer young, and has lost his friends, family, and strength, he sees the lions only in his dreams. Santiago's dreams of the lions at the end of the novella suggest that in triumphing over the marlin, he has undergone his own rejuvenation.
When he was younger, Santiago sailed ships to Africa and he remembers seeing lions playing in the surf on the beaches. As he grows older, these memories become dominant in his mind, even more than his late wife. He is somewhat confused about this, but when he dreams about the lions, it brings him comfort: ...he began to dream of the long yellow beach and he saw the first of the lions come down onto it in the early dark and then the other lions came and he rested his chin on the wood of the bows where the ship lay anchored with the evening off-shore breeze and he waited to see if there would be more lions and he was happy. (Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, Google Books)
The lions represent vitality and youth, and their presence in his mind indicate that he is not fully ready to let go of his past, even as he has come to terms with his present. Remembering the lions means that Santiago will not let go of his past because his experiences made him the man he is, not the man he might have been. At the end, when Santiago dreams about the lions, it is in victory over village prejudice; his joyful dream is now symbolic of his own abilities, not only of his past.
The lions symbolize youth, strength, happiness, and hope for the old man.
Santiago's dream about the lions is first described in the opening fifteen pages of the book. He used to see the lions playing on the beaches of Africa, where he grew up, and he remembers that "they played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them". In the midst of his epic battle with the big fish, Santiago again dreams about the lions, and "he (is) happy".
The significance of the book ending with a final reference to the dream of lions is that it shows that the old man, although battered and beaten possibly to the point of death by his encounter on the sea, still retains the ability to hope and dream - of returning to the challenges of life, of celebrating once again the vigor of his youth, of living like the "young cats" frolicking on the sand. The story ends on a positive note, because the old man is happy when he is dreaming of lions, and whether he regains the strength to return to his beloved pursuits or not, his spirit remains indomitable.
In the book The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway uses the flashback technique in order to characterize Santiago and develop key themes of the novel, such as Santiago’s connection with nature and what it means to be a hero. Hemingway employs several flashbacks as an effective technique that develops Santiago’s character as he recalls past occurrences in order to renew his strength of will. There are three flashbacks in particular that are critical to the development of this story. The first flashback describes a time when Santiago associated himself with the marlins. The second flashback occurs when Santiago arm-wrestled the town’s strongest competitor. The third flashback discusses lions, as lions symbolize strength Santiago’s strength of will and s sense of heroic renewal throughout the novel.
Santiago’s first flashback was a memory about hooking a female marlin and “all the time the male had stayed with her” (49) until she tired and did not want to fight anymore. The male marlin acted almost upset to see that Santiago had caught his female mate. The male’s was devotion to his partner, whom Santiago had killed, “was the saddest thing [he] ever saw” (50). In fact, he refers to killing the female marlin as an act of “treachery” (50). That Santiago feels as though he betrayed the fish highlights his close connection with nature. He sympathizes with the fish as though they were human. This suggests that he views himself as an equal with creatures of the sea. Moreover, this flashback foreshadows how he identifies with the marlin.
Though Santiago feels a connection with the marlin, he is also awestruck by his glory and size when he witnesses the marlin for the first time. In order to boost his confidence and to remind himself that he is a worthy opponent, with the same heroic qualities of the fish, he remembers “the time in the tavern at Casablanca when he...