Old Man and the Sea Symbolism: Analysis of Symbols in The Old Man and the Sea

Page content

So you read The Old Man and the Sea but don’t understand a word of it? You are not alone! Read an analysis of the symbolism here. Attract the ladies (or gents) much in the same way a dead marlin attracts sharks with your knowledge.

The Sea

According to Hemingway, man was most able to prove himself worthy in isolation. The sea, in the novel, represents the Universe and Santiago’s isolation in the Universe. It is at sea, with no help and no recognition, that Santiago faces his ultimate challenge. The novel, in this regard, is an example of Naturalism in Literature.

The Marlin

The marlin represents the ultimate opponent, one that brings out the best in Santiago.

The Sharks

Santiago considers the sharks base predators, not worthy of glory. They represent destructive forces in life that serve no purpose.

Joe Dimaggio

Santiago considers Joe Dimaggio unbeatable. He symbolizes the indomitable will of the human spirit. Dimaggio, at the time the book was written, suffered from a bone spur, mentioned in the novel. Despite the bone spur, DiMaggio overcame his opponents, much in the same way Santiago overcomes his, despite injuries.

The Lions

Santiago dreams of Lions on the beach in Africa three times. They represent virility and youth. The lion imagery at the end of the novel represents hope of eternal life.

The Mast

The mast is an obvious allusion to the cross of Jesus. It is on his skiff, where stands the mast, that Santiago suffers. Santiago suffers at sea for three days with painful injuries to the palms of his hands and his back.


Santiago’s young friend represents hope. Although Manolin’s father prohibits him from fishing with Santiago, who is believed to be cursed, Manolin never abandons him emotionally. It can be argued, however, that as Santiago fishes, he is without hope. The 84-day fishless streak attests to it.

The lost harpoon

Santiago loses the harpoon as he fends off sharks, symbolic of individuals who lose their faith as life’s woes attack. Much like Santiago without a harpoon, those without faith are defenseless.

Find tips on how to use novel study guides at brighthub.com.

This post is part of the series: The Old Man and the Sea Study Guide

If you haven’t gotten an ‘A’ in 84 days, you need to look at this study guide. Be careful. Sharks will devour it after one whiff.

  1. A Summary of The Old Man and the Sea
  2. Symbolism in The Old Man and the Sea
  3. Themes in The Old Man and the Sea
  4. Important Quotes from The Old Man and the Sea
  5. The Old Man and the Sea Analysis: Characters in The Old Man and the Sea