Hemingway – The Old Man and the Sea
I recently reread The Old Man and the Sea. My daughter, a junior in High School, recently was given the book as an assignment. I love this book and was excited when she came to me with questions. They started with “Why did he think the sea was like a woman.” OK, this could be fun. And yes, she laughed when I told her it was because the sea has moods. The questions quickly moved to the religious symbolism.
I have probably read this book three times and never picked up on any symbolism comparing Santiago to Christ. Maybe this is because I am neither a Christian or religious, but I have read extensively about religion and mythology. In my studies I can upon Stoicism. This philosophy rang true for me.
In my opinion Santiago was a Stoic. Yes, the scene where Santiago is carrying the mast on his back could be symbolic of the crucifixion, and the nail through the hand is the same. I find these references to the crucifixion to represent the suffering necessary to accomplish ones goals rather than a direct reference that Santiago is Christ. Santiago is not walking to his death, rather to legend. Could Hemingway possibly be saying that this is how myths are made – through suffering and overcoming obstacles to succeed in a worthy endeavor. If this is the case would not he be saying that Christ is a myth?
The constant references to luck in the book are very stoic. Acknowledging there are factors out of your control, that defeat is possible and imagining that outcome releases one from the fear of loss. Santiago’s self reliance on feeding himself and his backup plans if his left hand fails are also very stoic. He uses all the tools at his disposal, constantly making notes to himself for next time. He is constantly humbled by the greatness of his opponent and the righteousness of the fight.
Hemingway was raised in a religious household and converted to Catholicism to please his second wife, but he was not know to be religious man.
I believe Hemingway did interject religious symbolism in the book, but more as mythology than to have specific religious significance. Santiago, upon returning with the carcass of the Marlin, became a legend among the fishermen of the village. It is also to be noted that the tourists reaction was the opposite – that of failure.
Failure is not a theme of the book. The only thing that Santiago didn’t realize was the financial gain from the fish he described as a fish to get one through winter. His ultimate goal and success was not financial but rather in the struggle. Taking on a worthy opponent and doing your best. His regret was that sharks canabalized the carcass. He felt the fish was too great to go to the grave like that.