Old Man and the Sea: Metaphor Analysis

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Santiago's Sail: The old man's sail was "patched with flour sacks and,  furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat" (9). Other fishermen seem to believe that  Santiago himself is a walking symbol of permanent defeat, as he does not catch a fish for eighty- four days. Yet, when unfurled, the sail still carries out its function, carrying Santiago out into the deepest water where his great marlin awaits. Likewise, the old man  proves himself when the time comes, giving a lasting impression of endurance.   

Santiago's Hands: The scars on the old man's hands are introduced in an  opening description of Santiago. His hands "had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert" (10). Later, during his encounter with the marlin, the line  cuts his right hand when the fish lurches. Santiago understands, "You're feeling it now,  fish....And so, God knows, am I" (56). As his hand cramps, and he begins to worry about the  possibility of sharks, the old man's suffering is evident. This image of Santiago's  bleeding hand, in conjunction with his suffering at sea, recalls the image of Jesus Christ's  hand bloodied by the nails used to crucify him. Appropriately, it is only when the boy "saw the old man's hands" (122) that he starts to cry.  

Santiago's Mast: Christian imagery returns near the end of the novel when  Santiago shoulders his mast after returning, and climbs towards his shack. It was only then that "he knew the depth of his tiredness" (121). As the old man stumbles home he  falls, and finds the mast on his back too heavy to rise with. The imagery of Christ  carrying his cross continues as Santiago "put the mast down and stood up. He picked the mast up and put it on his shoulder and started up the road. He had to sit down five times before he reached his shack" (121). Even after his three days of suffering the old man dutifully carries his burden on his back, Christ-like, before falling into a well-deserved sleep. 

The Great DiMaggio: New York Yankee Joe DiMaggio, whose career Santiago follows in the newspapers. DiMaggio -- a two time American League Most Valuable Player, and one of the greatest baseball players ever -- was plagued by injuries throughout the second half of his career. One of the better known injuries was the bone spur in the heel of his left foot, which limited his abilities in 1946. The next year, however,  DiMaggio made a comeback with another MVP season. Santiago sees the Great DiMaggio as an ultimate symbol of resilience and courage -- traits the old man shows throughout his three day journey.

Lions on the Beach: Santiago was a sailor in his youth, and traveled to Africa, where he saw young lions playing on the beach. Dreaming about the lions each night provides Santiago with a link to his younger days, as well as the strength and idealism that are associated with youth. 

The Boy: Even more so than the lions, the boy provides Santiago with the ultimate symbol of youth, potency, and hope. More often than he prays to God for help, the old man recalls memories of Manolin -- wishing the boy were there -- to give him strength in his time of need. 

The Terrace: The hotel at the edge of the harbor, where the boy goes to obtain coffee, meals, and bait for Santiago. This establishment -- not coincidentally the site where tourists ultimately mistake the skeleton of Santiago's great marlin for a shark's -- reflects society, where Santiago is misunderstood, ridiculed, and pitied. 

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