Metaphors in "The Old Man and the Sea"

Written by mark kayo
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Metaphors in "The Old Man and the Sea"
(Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Communicating his own life experiences and opinions, Ernest Hemingway effectively uses creative metaphors in his novel about the old fisherman Santiago and his seemingly impossible pursuit of a fish. The sea serves as a symbol of life, and the solitary fishermen is used to represent the roles of individuals in that life. This story serves as a metaphor for those who should not stand by as observers, but get out there in the sea of life.

Fisherman's Hands

Hemingway first describes Santiago as having the deep-creased scars from the cords used to handle very heavy fish. However, these scars do not have the appearance of fresh scars but appear "as old as erosions in a fishless desert." Later in the story as Santiago wrestles with the marlin, he cuts his hand and it begins to cramp. Santiago's suffering, pain and bleeding hand serve as a metaphor for Christ's hands pierced by the nails at his crucifixion. Even the young boy cries at the sight of Santiago's hands.

Santiago and the Sail

Hemingway describes the sail on Santiago's boat as "patched with flour sacks" that looked like a flag representing "permanent defeat." Because the fisherman Santiago has not caught fish in almost three months, other fisherman seem to consider him as a living, walking symbol of permanent defeat. Yet, even though the sail appears as a patchwork of sacks, it still functions when the wind blows, transporting Santiago out to sea to grapple with the marlin. Both Santiago and the sail serve as a metaphor for continuing endurance.

Lions on the Beach and the Boy

As a young man, Santiago apparently sailed to Africa and witnessed young lions playing on the beach. He dreams about these lions each night because the thought of that scene connects him with his youth when he lived as a stronger person, actively participating in life and willing to push boundaries. Santiago recalls memories of the young boy Manolin as the most obvious symbol of youth, power and promise. Santiago calls on the boy for strength when he faces challenges and difficulty during his journey. In stark contrast with his own old age, both Manolin and the young lions on the beach from Santiago's distant past serve as metaphors for youth, strength, confidence and power.

Joe DiMaggio

Joe DiMaggio, the Hall of Fame baseball player for the New York Yankees, was a symbol of strength and resilience. DiMaggio experienced many difficulties in the last half of his career. In 1946, plagued by a bone spur in his heel that affected his ability to play, DiMaggio had a challenging season. However, the next year, Joltin' Joe came back and finished as the MVP of the 1947 baseball season. Santiago follows Joe DiMaggio in the newspapers, and DiMaggio provides a metaphor for Santiago's strength and resilience, traits he relied upon to get him through his three-day odyssey.

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