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Old Man and the Sea Symbolism

  • Date Submitted: 01/28/2010 12:20 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 54.3 
  • Words: 699
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Christian symbolism, especially images that refer to the crucifixion of Christ, is present throughout The Old Man and the Sea. During the old man’s battle with the marlin, his palms are cut by his fishing cable. Given Santiago’s suffering and willingness to sacrifice his life, the wounds are suggestive of Christ’s stigmata, and Hemingway goes on to portray the old man as a Christ-like martyr. As soon as the sharks arrive, Santiago makes a noise one would make “feeling the nail go through his hands and into the wood.” And the old man’s struggle up the hill to his village with his mast across his shoulders is evocative of Christ’s march toward Calvary. Even the position in which Santiago collapses on his bed—he lies face down with his arms out straight and the palms of his hands up—brings to mind the image of Christ on the cross. Hemingway employs these images in order to link Santiago to Christ, who exemplified transcendence by turning loss into gain, defeat into triumph, and even death into life.

In order to suggest the profundity of the old man’s sacrifice and the glory that derives from it, Hemingway purposefully likens Santiago to Christ, who, according to Christian theology, gave his life for the greater glory of humankind. Crucifixion imagery is the most noticeable way in which Hemingway creates the symbolic parallel between Santiago and Christ. When Santiago’s palms are first cut by his fishing line, the reader cannot help but think of Christ suffering his stigmata. Later, when the sharks arrive, Hemingway portrays the old man as a crucified martyr, saying that he makes a noise similar to that of a man having nails driven through his hands. Furthermore, the image of the old man struggling up the hill with his mast across his shoulders recalls Christ’s march toward Calvary. Even the position in which Santiago collapses on his bed—face down with his arms out straight and the palms of his hands up—brings to mind the image of Christ suffering on the cross....

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