Ernest Hemingway is one of the best authors at using symbolism in his books. Santiago is an old fisherman who fishes out of a small Cuban village in the 1940’s. Santiago has fished for a living his whole life and the past 84 days he has not caught a thing. 85 is his lucky number, so on the 85th day he thinks he will catch something. Sure enough he hooks up with a massive marlin and spends 3 long days fighting it. Hemingway portrays interesting symbolism between Santiago, the old fisherman, and the marlin that he catches. In Hemingway’s novel, The Old Man and the Sea, the great marlin symbolizes Santiago in many ways.
Being old and wise is one of the many themes that Hemingway develops in this novel as he compares the marlin and Santiago. “Like an athlete he forces himself to eat and sleep, although he likes neither” (Wittowski). Santiago doesn’t want to waste his time eating or sleeping, but he knows that both are essential for his success at catching the marlin. Santiago is an old man, but along with age, comes wisdom and experience. “I may not be as strong as I think…But I know many tricks and I have resolutions” (Hemingway 23). We all probably think we are smarter than what we truly are.
In the battle for his life, the marlin puts up a strong fight. Like Santiago, he too seems to be old and wise. “The big fish refuses to surface and begins to swim out to sea, towing the skiff behind it” (Napierkoski 197). The marlin seems to know that it must stay below the surface of the water if it wants to survive. Hemingway suggests that the marlin knows this because, like Santiago, the marlin is also old and wise. Over the years, Santiago learned many lessons. The gigantic marlin obviously must have learned many things too, as he had survived this long without being caught by a fisherman. Never have I had such a strong fish nor one who acted so strangely. Perhaps he is to wise to jump. He could ruin me by jumping or a wild rush. But perhaps he has been hooked many times before and he knows that this is how he should make his fight” (Hemingway 42). Throughout the novel, it is reinforced that Santiago is a good man. Even as he battles the marlin, he is fair. Like friends, there seems to be a mutual respect between Santiago and the marlin. “It is part of the ritual of the fighter that opponents demonstrate good friendship at every opportunity” (Wittowski). He is tiring or he is resting,” the old man said (Hemingway 62). It is not only a fight, but a game between Santiago and the marlin. This quote demonstrates that Santiago is wondering what the marlin is up to. Again, he respects how smart the marlin is and he is enjoying the challenge of out smarting him. Hemingway also uses symbolism as he describes the physical appearance of Santiago. “They were strange shoulders, still powerful although very old, and the neck was still strong too and the creases did not show so much when the old man was asleep and his head fallen forward” (Hemingway 19).
Hemingway suggests that although Santiago looked old, he is still young and strong at heart. Hemingway also vividly describes the marlin. “The fish came alive with his death in him, and rose out of the water showing all his great length and width and all his power and his beauty” (Hemingway 71). As he fought for his survival, the marlin jumped out of the water. Hemingway suggested that the fish was showing off, as if the fish was proud of his own beauty and size. Santiago grew a fondness for the marlin during his fight to land him. He respected the marlin.
Thus, once the fish finally died, Santiago actually felt guilty. “After the sharks have begun to mutilate the carcass of the marlin, Santiago expresses his sorrow at having killed the marlin; he has gone out too far from shore” (Wittowski). Santiago had won the battle with the fish, but he was sad to watch the sharks mutilate the marlin because they were also, slowly but surely, mutilating him. Hemingway reiterates through out the story how much Santiago admired the beauty and size of the marlin. “…the fish swam just below the surface; the old man could see his huge bulk and his purple stripes…” (Hemingway 68).
This is another example of that determination they both have. Santiago and the marlin were both survivors. Despite his many trials in life, he continued to be mentally positive and strong. Hemingway symbolizes this strength of character when he compares Santiago’s shirt to the sail. “His shirt has been patched so many times that it was like the sail and the patches were faded to many different shades by the sun” (Hemingway 19). Santiago is old and worn out like the sail, but he is also wise. He continues to face life’s many challenges, just as the patched sail continues to do its’ job.
The marlin and Santiago are not only old, wise and look alike, but they also are both strong, determined and persevere. “His body is old but still strong, and he maintains his grip on the line despite his age and increasing discomfort” (Napierkoski 197). This quote portrays Santiago’s physical strength despite his age, and his strong will. Regardless of his discomfort, Santiago showed perseverance. “He took all his pain and what was left of his strength and his long gone pride and he put that against the fights agony” (Hemingway 70).
Santiago wasn’t going to give up to the fish and the fish wasn’t going to give up to Santiago. “But the fish kept on circling slowly and the old man was wet with sweat and tired deep into his bones two hours later” (Hemingway 66). These words paint a vivid picture. Deep sea fisherman will tell how even fish a fraction of the size of the marlin Santiago is fighting are very strong and determined to fight as long and as hard as they can to survive. Santiago was determined to out last the fish, just like the marlin was determined to survive. His perseverance and will power allowed him to keep holding on.
Santiago was all alone fighting the marlin. He could not rely on the strength of his young friend, Manolin. “Without the boy to help him, he knows that either he or the fish will die from this” (Napierkoski 197). It was strictly a battle between he and the fish, and only one of them would survive. Hemingway demonstrates Santiago’s perseverance as well as the marlin’s perseverance when he writes “…settled himself against the rounded planks of the bow and felt the strength of the great fish through the line he held across his shoulders moving steadily toward whatever he had chosen” (Hemingway 43).
The marlin was settling himself in for a long fight and Santiago was preparing for the same. Regardless of what each other chose to do, they would both be ready. The symbolism between the marlin and Santiago is endless in Hemingway’s novel, The Old Man and the Sea. The symbolism shows how the marlin resembles Santiago because they are both old, wise, persevere and they’re appearance is alike. Hemingway did a great job showing they’re resemblance and is definitely one of the best authors at using symbolism throughout his books.