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Analyzing The Old Man And The Sea Using Sophocles’ Oedipus The King And Freudian Psychology

4280 words - 17 pages

Published in 1952, The Old Man and the Sea soon became Ernest Hemingway’s most influential and best praised book by critics worldwide. Both the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 were awarded to him “for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence he has exerted on contemporary style.” Bernard Berenson, close friend and renowned art critic praised, “No real artist symbolizes or allegorizes – and Hemingway is a real artist – but every real work of art exhales symbols and allegories. So does this short but not small masterpiece.”
At a superficial level, The Old Man and the Sea presents merely a simple story of an old man. However, beneath all this an intrinsically delicate web of deeper themes and motifs surges, ranging from symbols of life and death, strength and determination, to biblical accounts and parables of the crucifixion of Jesus, to classical imagery and mythological aspects. These images transform a simple tale into a complex and inspirational account of nearly legendary feats. Due to its nature, The Old Man and the Sea has been analyzed and critiqued since its publication. Even so, my focus in this essay is to expand the symbols and allegories of The Old Man and the Sea using Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, the Greek myth of Oedipus, and explore to what extent Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of the Oedipus complex can be applied, thus bringing about a different and renewed perspective on Hemingway’s novella.

Throughout The Old Man and the Sea, the most important allegory presents itself in Santiago and Oedipus. Their lives and fates are linked, in different yet very similar ways as will be seen later on. The earliest of these similarities is simple, but still serves the purpose of establishing the first lateral connection. As we know from Greek mythology , King Laius of Thebes and Queen Jocasta were warned by the oracle of Delphi that their child would grow to kill his father and marry his mother. For this reason, they pinched his ankles together and ordered a servant to leave him to die in the mountains. However, his fate was written, and a shepherd took him in and carried him to the king and queen of Corinth. They adopted him naming the boy Oedipus, a name meaning swollen-footed. Thus, the first parallelism in The Old Man and the Sea comes when Manolin describes Santiago sleeping and states, “He was barefooted.” (p. 20) The old man has nothing to protect himself or his feet, and through his old age the “deep-creased scars” (p. 10) have set in. Later on, it is the old man’s hero who is placed side by side with Oedipus. Keiichi Harada expands on this, “The bone spur…has made DiMaggio…a symbolic significance…to the old man. To him DiMaggio symbolizes a man who both endures sufferings and achieves greatness.” When a very tired Santiago pursues other thoughts, baseball always comes to mind. He reflects, “But I must have confidence...

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