At some point as children, we always wish we were big. It seems customary for children to want to hang out with the “big kids”, most likely because they are smarter or more experienced. It’s said that with age comes wisdom, and that’s probably why kids often look to their parents, teachers, or older siblings for advice, rather than their peers. Although children are always looking to their elders, at the same time, adults often look to children to regain their youth. For some reason, adults fear getting old, so they find spending time with younger people makes the feel young and lively again. In Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Old Man and the Sea, the author uses the elderly man, Santiago, to represent old age, and he uses the boy, Manolin, to represent the aspect of youth in the story. The contrast between these two characters illustrates this idea of wisdom coming with age and elderly yearning for youth.
Old age is represented in this story by Santiago. He is a very old man who has been fishing for most of his life. He has been fishing for so long that he knows many of the ways and techniques to being a good fisherman. He is a very skilled fisherman, and he has a philosophy about how one fishes is how they live. He being old lives a very simple life and also fishes in a very simple way. He can survive on so little and he doesn’t eat much, but he is still satisfied. He is the experienced, wise one in the relationship of him and Manolin, so he is helping the boy learn to fish, which allows Manolin to look up to him. “The old man had taught the boy to fish, and the boy loved him. (p.10)” Although he is so talented and knowledgeable when it comes to fishing though, his old age has weakened him physically. This prevents him from being the great fisherman that he probably was in the past. He struggles a lot throughout the book with his lack of physical strength, and in the scene where he first catches the fish and he is trying to hold the line, the narrator says, “This will kill him, the old man thought. He can’t do this forever. (p.45)”
This is a good example of how, despite the old man’s mental strength, optimism, and wisdom, he still will feel like a failure because of his deteriorating body. One way the old man recaptures his no longer existent youth is through the dreams he has of lions laying on the beaches. This reminds him of the days when he was in Africa, the days when he was young and in good physical shape. Also, often through the book, the old man is yearning for the boy’s assistance. The boy helps him feel strong as he probably was when he was young. He says, “I wish I had the boy. (p.45)” But Santiago stays persistent and patient, although he has not successfully caught a fish for 85 days. This shows a lot of the elderly man’s intensity, and his qualities that make him a wise teacher for the young boy Manolin. This is why Santiago portrays the Christ figure in this story.
As opposed to Santiago, Manolin is the young boy in the story who symbolizes youth. Unlike the old man, he is a little boy who is physically strong, as are many young boys, and he is also inexperienced in many aspects of his life. He loves and looks up to the old man, particularly because he taught the boy to fish. He hasn’t fished much in his life yet because he is so young, so he really respects the old man’s talent. He seems to look up to Santiago as if he was his father or his mentor. As a lot of the other men in the town made fun of the old man for not catching a fish, the boy did not. He cares too much for him. “It made the boy sad to see the man come in each day with his skiff empty. (p.9)” Because so often the man wishes he had Manolin with him to help, this shows how Manolin must be in good health and physical strength. As Santiago would be serving as the Christ figure in this novel, Manolin would represent one of his disciples.
With age does come wisdom, as Hemingway shows in this novel? Santiago symbolizes old age and wisdom with his great fishing experience and also represents a God figure, while Manolin represents youth and looks up to the old man for wisdom. The boy makes Santiago feel strong and youthful as he once was when he was young. Many old people look to younger people because they yearn for the strength they once had, while children always yearn for the experience that older people have. This just goes to show you always want what you don’t have.