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Symbolism in Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”

Updated April 22, 2022
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Symbolism in Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” essay

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In his essay The Old Man and the Sea: Story of a Common Man, Gerry Brenner stated that the story of Santiago and his two important relations: first to a young child and second to nature. Santiago did not catch a fish for several days when the story opened, and his young companion Manolin was forced by his parents to fish in another boat. His love for the elderly person, however, motivates him to look after his needs nevertheless. Santiago goes out more than usual and fishes a huge Marlin. The main part of this short-lived and very additional work is the three days that Santiago fought against this huge fish. We not only see his courage, determination and knowledge of his abilities, but also his very respect and understanding of nature.

When Santiago defeats the fish, he addresses as friendship and fellow victim during the fight, but eventually loses his catch to the sharks. The old man returns to the port tired and only with the skeleton of his huge fish. However, Hemingway suggests that the old man cannot be defeated in the end because he treats himself with dignity and self-respect, regardless of external surroundings. The young boy welcomes him lovingly; saddened by the suffering of Santiago, but happy to prove his master’s skills.

This story leads to many symbolic interpretations. Some see it as an allegory of Hemingway’s life as an artist, working alone to realize the indefinable gift of art, only to undermine his efforts by a shark like critics. Others here emphasize the purified and filtered expression of the famous Hemingway code: courage, strength, and suffering without complaint. If so, the code has been expanded somewhat to include humility, pity, loyalty and love, although life is no less killing for these things.

In his essay Santiago at the plate: Baseball in The Old Man and the Sea, James Plath explained that the use of baseball in the novel is widespread. Baseball and fishing are so closely linked in the mind of the old fisherman that they shape the distinction between fisherman and fish thru the novel. Baseball references in the novel are linked to the events and personalities of the 1950s with the American and National League pennant races, and in both major league and Cuban baseball. The references are mixed together as they occur in the similar season. The baseball references in the novel are as clear and frequent as references to Christian mythology. Baseball stars are the heroes of Santiago and contribute to his heroic parts. Baseball offers start discussions, in which a Santiago teacher, Manolin student, and baseball to teach attitudes and behavior.

Hemingway calls the reader to think through the importance of outer events recorded in the sports section to the inner events described in the novel. Baseball was known to be in Cuba, where the novel was written, an essential part of everyday life. Baseball has always been very essential to the Cuban people, who compare themselves according to baseball and baseball players. No wonder that the novel starts and ends with baseball. At the end of the novel, Santiago gives the boy a lance from the Marlin, described as ‘long as a baseball bat’ (P.62). Symbolic transfer is especially meaningful when considering how vital bats are to baseball players. Santiago finds instant comfort, strength and encouragement in thinking of baseball, which he understands well.

The old man imitated and remembered a lot on the famous baseball player during his great fishing. He wants to be ‘worthy of the great DiMaggio, who does all things perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in his heel’ (P.68). Santiago thinks three times if he really deserves the ‘great DiMaggio,’ for example he asks about if DiMaggio will stay with the fish as long as he is with it. After he defeated the Marlin, Santiago commented: ‘I think the great DiMaggio would be proud of me today.’ (P.97)

In our view, the famous baseball player and the play itself represent and symbolize the faith. Baseball is real and inspiring thing for Santiago. When he kills the shark, Mako; he said: ‘I wonder how the great DiMaggio would have liked the way I hit him on the brain’. (P.52) It is clear that Santiago compares himself to his master all the time. Santiago follows his hero in pain, strength and patience and nothing is difficult for him. He is ready to experience and encounter everything. He declared that: ‘Man is not made for defeat…A man can be destroyed but not defeated.’ (P.87) Santiago is considered the winner, although he is back with a skeleton of fish. The skeleton provides real evidence of Santiago’s great achievement and success, and it is evidence that the old man is still, to some extent, unlucky, but surely unskilled.

In his essay The significance of nature in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Wartenberg states that if the novel is understood in symbolism, life is represented in the story and the role that people play in it. Life is symbolized by the sea; boats and lions symbolize people in real life. Two kinds of people can be found: those who are active, courageous and those who challenge themselves and are passive, anxious and daring for nothing.

Santiago’s character represents Hemingway’s own view of life. It can be considered that he has prioritized the way Santiago lived his life. Hemingway is very courageous. He was associated with bullfighting and fishing, and he also fought in the Spanish Civil War. His works reflect those experiences. Through his novels, readers understand Hemingway’s life and their own. Hemingway challenges readers to take risks and, in other words, the courage to go out to sea and catch their own Marlin.

The sea is a very important symbol in the novel. We should see that the title of the novel is ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ and not ‘The Old Man and the Fish’ or something like that. We think this is very interesting. Why did Hemingway select this title for the novel? Since the story is about a three-day long fight with Marlin, the title is not so clear. So there must be a very important part of the novel at sea. First, we must say that the largest thing on earth (in terms of size and area) is the sea. It is about 71% of the Earth’s surface. For that reason anyone in the sea is easily feeling lost, or at least much less smaller than the sea. It must be known as a hostile element as the individual is a creature this is originally dwelling on the land. Earth is our home, but the sea is always frightening, unclear and mysterious. So, the sea is often an imagination of the symbol of life. A journey at sea is like a symbolic journey through life. The individuals will experience life with all things just like Santiago at sea. The sea in the novel certainly represents life and the role that people play in life.

In his book CliffsNotes on The Old Man and the Sea, Jeanne Criswell describes the novel as a fascinating and realistic novella of an elderly Santiago; Manolin, a young man who loves him; and Santiago’s last and greatest fight with a giant Marlin. Hemingway himself insists that the story of the novel is about a real man and a real fish. The novel also fits into the classification of allegory, a story with superficial meaning and one or more under-the-surface meanings.

In this view, Santiago is a teacher, spiritual father, and old man; and Manolin is student, son, boy or youth. Santiago is a great fisherman and Manolin is his learner, both are devoted to fishing as a way of life in which they were born and enriching the spirit which is a part of the natural world. Santiago, who is the greatest fishermen and the example of philosophy, becomes a lonely human symbolic of the natural world. He accepts the essential and certainty of the natural order in which all creatures are both predators and prey, but he recognizes that all living things also support one another. He accepts the natural cycle of human existence as part of that natural order, but he finds in himself the motivation and thought to endure his great struggle and to achieve the imperfection and incapacity that can exchange and convert his personal life, even when destroyed, he can be undestroyed.

Santiago becomes everyone (a typical representation of a human condition) in living according to his own code of conduct, accepting the natural order and life cycle, struggling and continuing and qualifying his personal existence over his life’s work, and then passing on to the next generation everything he valued. His story becomes everyone’s story and, of course, becomes inspiring and enriching. As tourists mistaking Marlin for a shark understand the richness and greatness of the great fish from its skeleton, readers of various ages and levels of awareness may find the story inspirational, perhaps more if they dip into its waters more than once.

In his essay The Novels Of Ernest Hemingway A Critical Study: Shams claimed that the title of The Old Man and the Sea is very simple and is very clear to understand it and thinks for any explanation of it; the novel tells the journey and suffering of an old man named Santiago, who, after many days of despair, goes too far into the sea and catches by himself a big fish in the eighty-fifth day, and his fight with the fish is filled with love and hate, and also fight with force the sharks with all its furious, but after these battles, he can only bring the skeleton of a huge fish ashore.

The novel deals widely with Hemingway’s symbolic treatment. The story of the novel is fascinating and exciting at the same time, but its symbolism is often meaningful and deep. The author points out that the themes of victory and death are not common in the novel, as it focuses on Santiago’s fight against the forces of nature. The author observes that the relationship between individualism and mutual dependence is also evident in the novel. The novel is important as the author deals widely with many symbols and symbolic characters inside the novel. As we go inside the novel, we find that the old man, Santiago, is expected to be the central symbol in the novel, and all the other symbols, such as the sea, revolve around this main symbol.

Santiago submits to every pain and suffering that is possible to catch or kill fish, and this pain or suffering, along with two aspects of devotion and sympathy for the fish, has its own symbolic relationship. Hemingway gives us a picture of a sleepy Santiago, when his hands are straight and palms of his hands up, this phenomenon of execution clearly brought before us. The big fish, Santiago’s award-winning catch, is a symbol of victory, because catching fish has traditionally been associated with a symbol of not defeating. The following symbol is sharks that represent the power of death and forces of destruction. Also, the sea, with all its distance, depth and hugeness, symbolizes mystery and hugeness, and the feeling of loneliness during Santiago’s flow into the Sea of ​​ was very natural and reasonable. In addition to these main symbols; Santiago, Marlin, Manolin, there are other symbols such as Santiago’s love of baseball, and his dreams.

In his essay Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Rama Rao discussed that symbolism is a kind of literary expression that is not clear, and which leads to a meaning that is hidden elsewhere beyond the literal meaning. Anything that represents and signifies something is a symbol. Symbolic writing is thoughtful and enables the active participation of readers in the literary business. Symbolism is like an unpredictable tool or thing that connects the seen and the unseen, the known and the unknown. When it comes to working in this dimension, sometimes, there may be some uncertainty and misunderstanding about it.

Hemingway uses symbolic methods in a tightly controlled manner. However he is well aware of the possibility that symbols have more meanings than proposed and intended for them. Hemingway seems to consider that the author’s use of symbolism has always been unconscious. He thinks that what an author honestly can mean a lot of things. An author may not use symbols in his work exaggeratedly, but, because his conscious mind is engaged with using real objects, his unconscious mind regulates things in a way that the symbolic or satirical significance of the objects and all the authors’ intelligent and moral tools including his tradition, and honesty go into this type of design.

Symbolism is a kind of simple thing. A writer, who consciously uses a symbol, omits specific things and remembers them. The author may have in mind literary references, mythical or religious references, or a keen understanding of the physical and mental conditions, but may not say much and can only be referred to these by using more references and symbols. The references and symbols in the author’s mind also purpose in revealing a situation and clarifying the general meaning.

When the old man drove his harpoon to the fish, symbolism moves back and forth between Marlin and Santiago. Marlin is first harpooned and hit by the boat’s wood. In the case of Santiago, there is a vivid picture of the old man settling against the wood of the bow, and taking his pain as it came, saying to himself: ‘Rest gently now against the wood and thing of nothing’ (P.58), as we can see this conflict is a symbol of struggle and shows how man cannot be defeated.

Symbolism in Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” essay

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Symbolism in Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”. (2022, Apr 22). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/symbolism-in-hemingways-the-old-man-and-the-sea/

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