The idea of sin (and original sin) are important to the tension, suspense, and character development of The Old Man and the Sea. Santiago, the novel’s protagonist undergoes two seemingly separate battles during the course of the novel: first against a gigantic marlin he hopes to catch while fishing alone, far at sea; the second battle he wages – against sharks who “steal” his prize – leads to a pyrrhic victory. Along the way, both external events blend with Santiago’s internal monologues, which indicate an inner, spiritual struggle.
His walk mirrors that of Christ and the beginning of the novel he carries his ship-mast like a cross going to his sacred duty (fishing) and mocked by the other of his village. During his battle with the marlin, the old man cries out “ay” which is described: “There is no translation for this word and perhaps it is just such a noise as a man might make, involuntarily, feeling the nail go through his hand and into the wood” (Hemingway) so it is obvious Santiago is meant as a christ-figure in the story.
After killing the great marlin and then losing this trophy to a feeding frenzy of sharks, Santiago embodies the original sin of all men, women and, in fact, Satan Himself, as described by traditional Catholicism. The sin, stated simply is: pride. Santiago by traveling far out to sea beyond where any other fisherman would go and in attempting to catch a bigger fish than any fisher man could catch alone, demonstrates Santiago’s will toward individualism and – so – a will against his hitherto modest station in life.
When the sharks attack, Santiago construes them as a punishment for what he has done, by venturing out “beyond all people. Beyond all people in the world” and this shows how Christ was also tempted by pride and also traveled “beyond all people” (Hemingway). Santiago’s portrayal is one of honor, courage, compassion, and humility. These aspects of his character align him with a state of purity, as though his world mirrors that of the “pre-fallen” Eden.
During the first night of his fight with the marlin, Santiago starts to feel a sense of guilt for what he is doing. “I am only better than him through trickery,” he thinks, “and he meant me no harm. ” Previously, Santiago believed that fishing for food was a noble act, at sea, fighting the marlin, he begins to believe differently. His self-directed comment about trickery parallels the idea of the Tree of Knowledge and original sin. Mankind’s pride in intelligence leads to senseless destruction, fueled not by need, but by vanity.