The Old Man and the Sea’s Christian Symbolism
Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea was published in 1952, the last of his fiction stories to be published before his death in 1961 (Lombardi). The novella is still celebrated to this day as a riveting tale of man versus nature under the most dire of circumstances. The story’s protagonist, Santiago, is a man with supreme determination and hope. His battle with the great marlin is an illustration of human strength, physically and mentally, at its finest. These qualities about him, along with the decisions he makes throughout the novel, give him similarities to Christ, while other elements of Hemingway’s prose can arguably serve as Christian symbolism as well.
The Old Man and the Sea tells the story of Santiago, a very old fisherman, and his quest to catch a fish after eighty four days of failing to catch any fish at all. When his young apprentice, Manolin, is forced to abandon him by his parents, Santiago sets out farther than he has ever traveled at sea in hopes that larger fish will be available for catching. Not only does he spend several days fighting with a great marlin that he manages to hook before finally killing him, he also battles with hungry sharks, as well as his own body, which, at times, seems to be failing him.
One can make a Biblical connection to the prose on the very first page of the novella, which states that Santiago went forty days without catching a fish before Manolin was forced to abandon him, and then another forty days alone (Hemingway, 9). The number forty has a significance within the Bible, particularly when describing the struggle to survive. For instance, Noah in the book of Genesis sailed through a flood that wiped out most of the earth’s popu…
…that the old man survived those long days at sea, and even caught the marlin successfully. Santiago’s credibility as a fisherman and survivor are restored. In this way, he is resurrected as a new, respectable man.
One could speculate that Hemingway alluded to the Bible in The Old Man and the Sea by design, possibly to show that the same virtues exemplified by Christ can be applied by anyone to help guide themselves through a dire situation. In any case, The Old Man and the Sea is filled with Christian symbolism from Santiago’s character, suffering, and the elements of nature that he battles during the ultimate adventure.
The New International Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978. Print.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. New York: Scribner, 1952. Print.
Lombardi, Esther. “Ernest Hemingway Works.” About. n.p. n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2014