The Old Man and the Sea as Christian Allegory

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  • 0:04 'The Old Man and the Sea'
  • 0:48 Santiago as a Symbol
  • 1:57 Fish as Symbols
  • 3:05 The Sea as a Symbol
  • 4:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Holly Childers

Holly has taught at the college level and holds a law degree and a master's degree in history.

Ernest Hemingway's novel 'The Old Man and the Sea' tells the story of the three-day fishing journey of Santiago, an aged Cuban fisherman. The novel also tells another, deeper symbolic story about the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

The Old Man and the Sea

An allegory is a literary device that uses symbolic representation to tell a story. Ernest Hemingway, whose prose was notably spare and simple, frequently used allegories in his writing to tell epic, universal stories conveyed with a minimum of words. Often, two parallel stories took place at the same time: one on the surface level and the other on the symbolic level. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway, is an excellent example of the author's use of symbolic representation.

Many critics and theorists have focused on Hemingway's use of Christian symbols in the work. Some of them have interpreted The Old Man and the Sea as a direct, symbolic retelling of Christ's Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Santiago as a Symbol

Some literary critics and readers believe that Santiago, the main character in The Old Man and the Sea, represents Christ. Early on in the story, Santiago carries the mast of his boat on his shoulder. At the end of the story, he once again carries it on his shoulder. After his fishing ordeal, he has to stop and sit down five times before he reaches his shack, a reference to Christ's struggle to carry his own cross to the place of his crucifixion.

During his fishing journey, Santiago cuts his palms with the rope he is using to hold the great marlin on his line. Later, Santiago manages to strap the fishing line around his back to give him a firmer grip on the fish. The rope cuts deep slashes in his back. Santiago's cut palms are reminiscent of the wounds on Christ's hands as he was nailed to the cross. The slashes on Santiago's back represent the whipping Christ took from Roman soldiers before his crucifixion.

Santiago's fishing journey starts on a Friday and ends after two nights and three days, on a Sunday. This span of time corresponds chronologically to the time between Christ's crucifixion and his resurrection three days later.

Fish as Symbols

Santiago's friend, the boy, Manolin, represents Christ's disciples. Manolin believes that Santiago is the greatest fisherman on the island. Despite Manolin's parents' belief that Santiago is an unlucky and cursed fisherman, Manolin follows and cares for him. After Santiago's ordeal on the sea, Manolin is the one who feeds him, consoles him, and nurses him.

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