The Old Man and the Sea’s Christian Symbolism
Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea was published in 1952, the last of his fiction stories to be published before his death in 1961 (Lombardi). The novella is still celebrated to this day as a riveting tale of man versus nature under the most dire of circumstances. The story’s protagonist, Santiago, is a man with supreme determination and hope. His battle with the great marlin is an illustration of human strength, physically and mentally, at its finest. These qualities about him, along with the decisions he makes throughout the novel, give him similarities to Christ, while other elements of Hemingway’s prose can arguably serve as Christian symbolism as well.
The Old Man and the Sea tells the story of Santiago, a very old fisherman, and his quest to catch a fish after eighty four days of failing to catch any fish at all. When his young apprentice, Manolin, is forced to abandon him by his parents, Santiago sets out farther than he has ever traveled at sea in hopes that larger fish will be available for catching. Not only does he spend several days fighting with a great marlin that he manages to hook before finally killing him, he also battles with hungry sharks, as well as his own body, which, at times, seems to be failing him.
One can make a Biblical connection to the prose on the very first page of the novella, which states that Santiago went forty days without catching a fish before Manolin was forced to abandon him, and then another forty days alone (Hemingway, 9). The number forty has a significance within the Bible, particularly when describing the struggle to survive. For instance, Noah in the book of Genesis sailed through a flood that wiped out most of the earth’s population for forty days and forty nights (New International Bible, Genesis 7:12). It also took Moses from the book of Exodus forty years to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land (New International Bible, Numbers 14:34). Moses also spent 40 days and 40 nights without food or water on the mountain top, writing the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets. They Bible also speaks of Jesus fasting for forty days and forty nights (New International Bible, Matthew 4:2).
The numbers three and seven also share significance between The Old Man and the Sea and the Bible. Santiago’s battle with the marlin lasted for three days before he finally killed it. In the Bible, the number three shares the same number of the Trinity (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) which represents completion and wholeness. Santiago speaks of the marlin as being a noble and worthy opponent as result of the three-day struggle.
In the Bible, seven represents perfection. Noah in the book of Genesis was told by God to seven pairs of animals from each species (New International Bible, Genesis 7:2). God is also said to have seven spirits (New International Bible, 4:5-11). Similarly, seven also holds its significance within The Old Man and the Sea. Santiago kills...