You are on page 1of 10

Symbols in The Old Man and the Sea

1. The Sea - According to Hemingway, man was most able to prove himself worthy in
isolation. The sea, in the novel, represents the Universe and Santiago's isolation in the
Universe. It is at sea, with no help and no recognition, that Santiago faces his ultimate
challenge. The novel, in this regard, is an example of Naturalism in Literature.
2. The Marlin - The marlin represents the ultimate opponent, one that brings out the best in
3. The Sharks - Santiago considers the sharks base predators, not worthy of glory. They
represent destructive forces in life that serve no purpose.
4. Joe Dimaggio - Santiago considers Joe Dimaggio unbeatable. He symbolizes the
indomitable will of the human spirit. Dimaggio, at the time the book was written,
suffered from a bone spur, mentioned in the novel. Despite the bone spur, DiMaggio
overcame his opponents, much in the same way Santiago overcomes his, despite injuries.
5. The Lions - Santiago dreams of Lions on the beach in Africa three times. They represent
virility and youth. The lion imagery at the end of the novel represents hope of eternal life.
6. The Mast - The mast is an obvious allusion to the cross of Jesus. It is on his skiff, where
stands the mast, that Santiago suffers. Santiago suffers at sea for three days with painful
injuries to the palms of his hands and his back.
7. Manolin - Santiago's young friend represents hope. Although Manolin's father prohibits
him from fishing with Santiago, who is believed to be cursed, Manolin never abandons
him emotionally. It can be argued, however, that as Santiago fishes, he is without hope.
The 84-day fishless streak attests to it.
8. The lost harpoon - Santiago loses the harpoon as he fends off sharks, symbolic of
individuals who lose their faith as life's woes attack. Much like Santiago without a
harpoon, those without faith are defenseless.
The Old Man and the Sea Study Guide
If you haven't gotten an 'A' in 84 days, you need to look at this study guide. Be careful. Sharks
will devour it after one whiff.
Read more: Then the fish came alive,
with his death in him, and rose high out of the water showing all his great length and width and
all his power and his beauty. He seemed to hang in the air above the old man in the skiff. Then he
fell into the water with a crash that sent spray over the old man and over all of the skiff.
Analysis: According to Hemingway, man was most alive when facing death. The true test of
manhood was how one reacted to such occasions. In this case it is the marlin who triumphs
despite the inevitability of his death. Because defeat (death) is inevitable, symbolized later by the
arrival of the sharks and their devouring of the marlin, losing is acceptable. It is the struggle
where individuals achieve glory.

Quote: Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea
and were cheerful and undefeated.
Analysis: Santiago approaches death; he does not, however, willingly submit to it. He fights
despite his age and despite his recent lack of success.
Quote: Anyone can be a fisherman in May.
Analysis: This short sentence carries a double meaning. Literally it refers to the ease of fishing
in May. Symbolically, it represents fishing in the spring of life. Any young man has the strength
and vitality to catch a fish, but it takes a true man to do so once old age has set in and fishing
becomes a struggle.

More Old Man and the Sea Quotes with Analysis

Enjoy these Old Man and the Sea quotes. Feel free to add your own analysis or share your
favorite quotes from the Old Man and the Sea by clicking "comments" above.
Quote: I wish I had the boy.
Analysis: Santiago refers to his loyal friend Manolin who would have assisted him with his
battle against the marlin. It may also symbolize Santiago's desire to be young again.
Quote: My choice was to go there and find him beyond all people. Beyond all people in the
world. Now we are joined together and have been since noon. And no one to help either of us.
Analysis: Santiago is isolated. According to Hemingway it is only in isolation that man can
achieve his true greatness.
Quote: But I must have the confidence and I must be worthy of the great DiMaggio who does all
things perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in his heel.
Analysis: Santiago looks upon Dimaggio as the ultimate man and strives to be like him. For
those of you who don't follow baseball, Joe Dimaggio was one of the greatest baseball players of
all time, married Marylin Monroe, and did coffee commercials.
Quote: Fish, I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.
Analysis: If I did not know the origin of this quote, I would look on it as a parody on machismo.
I can see it now, a dusty old (perhaps senile), partially blind man having an old west showdown
with a giant fish wearing a two gun holster and a bandana over his head. The old man, having
consumed a few too many shots of whisky, gets sentimental and expresses his true feelings for
the fish, but realizes he must kill it. I digress.

Read more:


of Old Man and the

Sea: Days One and Two

Ernest Hemingway won a Nobel Prize in Literature for writing this novel. I did not win anything
for writing this Old Man and the Sea summary. Why you would rather read my non-award
winning summary of The Old Man and the Sea instead of the Nobel Prize award-winning novel
boggles the mind. This Old Man and the Sea Summary does, however, make a good review for
class discussion.
Day One: Santiago has not caught a fish for 84 days. Everyone thinks he's a loser except for his
young friend Manolin whose father will not let him fish with Santiago. Apparently it's tough to
make money as a fisherman's assistant when the fisherman you work for hasn't caught a fish for
84 days.
Manolin helps Santiago in other ways: he helps him with his gear; he supplies Santiago with
fresh bait; he fetches Santiago's dinner. Santiago reads the newspaper and glories in the success
of Joe Dimaggio. Manolin leaves. Santiago sleeps and dreams of lions on the beaches.
Day Two: Santiago awakes and feels confident. He bids farewell to Manolin and sets his course.
He sails far off into the Gulf Stream, making friends with fish, birds, and the sea. He catches a
ten-pound tuna which he uses as bait. He talks to himself and wonders if he's crazy (which isn't
half as crazy as talking to fish), not recalling when he had begun the habit.
A large fish takes the bait and pulls Santiago out to sea where he can no longer see land. Santiago
struggles to hold the fish by holding the line taut in his hands and bracing it with his back. He
struggles all night and begins to admire the fish. He longs for Manolin.

Summary of Old Man and the Sea: Days Three, Four, and
Enjoy this Old Man and the Sea Summary of Days 3-5.
Day Three: The marlin surges and nearly pulls Santiago into the water. Realizing he must keep
up his strength, Santiago eats some tuna from the day before. He laments the weakness of his
own body but is strengthened by the food. He wishes the marlin could dine with him.
The fishing line cuts Santiago's hands. The struggle continues and Santiago voices his admiration
for his worthy opponent. He thinks of Joe Dimaggio and his determination to keep playing
despite bone spurs. He casts another line, catches a dolphin, clubs it, and saves it for a later meal.
Santiago begins to worry that he will lose his mind if he does not sleep.

Day Four: The fish lurches forward and wakes Santiago who flies face forward into the dolphin
he had caught the prior day. He painstakingly reels in the marlin, harpoons it, kills it, and straps it
to the side of his skiff. He thinks of the money the fish will bring him at market.
Santiago sails home. A Mako shark arrives and takes a chunk of the marlin before receiving a
harpoon to the head. The shark sinks and takes the harpoon with him. Santiago realizes he caught
the fish for nothing as other sharks show up to get a bite of the marlin. As numerous sharks
arrive, Santiago fights them, but to no avail. The marlin is devoured and Santiago realizes he had
gone out too far.
He arrives to the harbor with only a skeleton to show for his work. He struggles to take his skiff
to his shack. He finally arrives, exhausted, and sleeps.
Day Five: Manolin arrives at Santiago's shack and notifies him that the Coast Guard had been
searching for him and that the marlin skeleton measures 18-feet. Manolin resolves to fish
again with Santiago, regardless of what his parents might think.

Themes in The Old Man and the Sea

Old Man and the Sea themes incorporate Hemingway's philosophy of life as exemplified by
manhood in Old Man and the Sea and Santiago's (and the marlin's) willingness to struggle
against an undefeatable opponent.
Santiago proves his manhood by refusing to be defeated, notwithstanding the incredible odds
against him. From the beginning of the novel, we learn of Santiago's hopeless struggle:
1. He has gone fishless for 84 days, something, which if you're a fisherman, is
detrimental to your existence. Imagine owning a business and not selling one
item for 84 days. You have no other options for earning income, for buying
the necessities of life. Would you quit? Would you ask for a government
bailout (Santiago did not have this option.)? Would you give up on life? Or
would you be a man and keep fighting. Santiago keeps fighting, a
characteristic admired by Hemingway.
2. He has been abandoned by all, even by Manolin, his young friend, although
this abandonment is forced by Manolin's father. Santiago is left in isolation,
and according to Hemingway, it is not until a man is isolated that he can
prove himself honorable and worthy. Manhood in The Old Man and the Sea, as
demonstrated by Santiago, is done in isolation, far out beyond other
fishermen, where the big fish dwell.
3. Even after Santiago catches the marlin, the struggle remains hopeless as
sharks attack his catch. Santiago still fights. Injured and beaten, but never
defeated, Santiago reaches deep to resist inevitable defeat.

When looking at themes in The Old Man and the Sea, it is important to remember Hemingway's
philosophy on struggle and death. According to Hemingway, It is the inevitability of death and
struggle that allow humans to prove their worth.

Themes in The Old Man and the Sea: Pride

Old Man and the Sea themes incorporate Hemingway's philosophy of life as exemplified by
Santiago's pride and its influence on his behavior.
Santiago acknowledges he had gone too far out. He resembles other literary overreachers, those
who attempt to do more than they are capable and pay a heavy price--Prometheus, Victor
Frankenstein, Odysseus, Dr. Faustus, and Lucifer for example. His prideful error causes him to
lose his prize catch. Hemingway, however, does not condemn Santiago, for it is Santiago's pride
that motivates him to:
1. Keep fishing after 84 fishless days
2. Keep fighting the marlin despite intense suffering
3. Keep fighting the sharks without hope of victory

It is these three things that make Santiago a man, according to Hemingway, regardless of the end
Read more:

Read more:
from The Old Man and the Sea: Santiago
Ernest Hemingway has won a Nobel Prize in Literature. I have not. Although I'm capable of
writing an Old Man and the Sea analysis regarding characters from The Old Man and the Sea,
My Old Man and the Sea analysis does not approach the greatness of the novel. What I'm saying
is read the novel, if you haven't already (unless of course you have a test over the novel in 13
minutes and you're only on page 14).
Santiago - The novel focuses on its protagonist and his thoughts throughout. We know he's old.
We know he's a fishermen. We know he likes Joe Dimaggio.

It appears that three days alone on the sea battling a gigantic marlin has
made him a bit loopy. For example, he tells the marlin he loves
it...mmmmm.... He rejoices that he does not have to capture stars or the
moon. He dreams a lot about lions on the beach in Africa. He talks to sharks.

He talks to birds. He compares himself to Joe Dimaggio. He unnecessarily

identifies himself as a strange old man.
Despite his eccentricities, Santiago is one to be admired. His isolation makes
him a man. His refusal to be defeated despite the inevitability of it makes him
the ultimate Hemingway hero. After three days alone on the sea, you might
start loving marlins too.
Santiago (St. James in English) becomes a transcendent figure. He has
conquered death through his heroic acts and is considered by critics an
allegorical Christ figure: he receives marks on his hands; the rope creates
lash marks on his back; he must face his trials alone. Hemingway hints that
immortality is achieved by Santiago, not through successfully returning with a
fish, but by fighting against insurmountable odds.


More Characters from The Old Man and the Sea Analysis
Manolin - He alone remains loyal to Santiago.

Despite his loyalty, Manolin is not able to fish with his mentor on account of
his father. He assists the old man in other capacities. Manolin represents
youth and hope. It is hope that carries Santiago back to sea and back to land.

The Marlin - Santiago's worthy opponent succumbs to Santiago, and to the chagrin of all,
becomes a tasty snack.

Other than the 1997 and 2003 Florida Marlins who won the World Series,
Santiago's marlin has achieved more notoriety than any other marlin ever to
live. He presents Santiago his greatest challenge. He is admired and, like
Santiago, becomes heroic in defeat. In a 1972 interview with the Undersea
Times, Frankie the Hammerhead claims that Santiago's marlin may have
been the tastiest fish he had ever eaten.

The Sharks - When you're out at sea during most of the novel, there aren't too many humans to
talk to, so you start talking to fish.

The sharks represent life's trials and the predatory nature of humans.
Regardless of individual success, the sharks will eventually get you. It's
inevitable. That doesn't mean, however, that one must simply give up.
Santiago fights the sharks, regardless of the predetermined outcome. Some
claim the sharks symbolize literary critics who had viewed Hemingway's more
recent works negatively. To those literary critics, I say shut up! Look who won
a Nobel Prize in Literature. To the sharks I say thanks for not eating me when I
swam in the ocean last week

Read more:


School: Colegiul Tehnic Alesandru Papiu Ilarian, Zalau

Teacher: Hossu Cristina
Date: October 20th 2008
Time: 50
Form: X C
Level: E2
No. of Students: 12
Text Book: Enterprise Plus
Unit I: Literature Corner
Topic: The Old Man and the Sea


To learn about a classic of the English literature

To recognize and analyze symbols from the extract

Skill focus: Listening, Speaking, Writing

Teaching techniques: Conversation, Brainstorming, Group Work

Materials: Students book, DVD, Film, Pictures

Anticipated Problems:
- students may find it hard to see the symbols from the film
Students may not understand the message of the film
Solutions to problems:

Teacher should prepare students by telling them what exactly to

Teacher should encourage communication with the other students
so a s a clear ending could be devised.

Development of the lesson

Warm up:
Teacher shows students pictures of different people and places related to the sea.
Students predict the theme of the film which is about an old fisherman.
Interaction: frontal, whole class activity
Aim: - to predict the theme of the film
- To make the film easier to understand for the students who have never read
the book or seen the film
Methods: brainstorming

Watching the film Stage:

Students see different fragments of the movie and interpret different symbols.
Pre-watching: teacher plays 3 minutes from the beginning of the film, sufficient
enough for the students to find out information about the main character, location
and general situation. Students watch and then answer some specific questions on
the film.
Aim: - to familiarize the students to the film
- to create a feeling of anticipation
- to watch for specific information
Interaction: teacher-students, whole class activity

0 minutes

While-watching: The teacher tells students that they will see a fragment from the
movie; they have to pay attention at the old mans thoughts and actions. Students
watch the film
Aim: watching for gist
Post watching: first students answer some questions about the old mans actions.
Students are asked to imagine the meaning of some symbols in the film (like the
birds, fish, the sea)
Aim: - to check comprehension of the viewed fragment
- to speak about possible meanings of the symbols
Interaction: student-teacher, frontal
Creative written presentation:
Teacher separates the class in groups of three and asks them to devise an ending to
the story. Students work. Teacher checks.
Interaction: students-students, student-teacher
Aim: -to create an ending according to the theme of the film
- to predict a possible ending to the film