Revealing the Character of Santiago, in Hemingway’s “the Old Man and the Sea”

Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” illustrates the love an old fisherman has for a boy, and the sacrifice he is willing to make for him to become his fishing partner. John Clark Pratt, in his peer article, “My Pilgrimage: Fishing for Religion with Hemingway,” has done research that tells us, “Santiago’s name refers to St. James, who is the great fisherman also considered by some religions to be the brother of Christ, and he appears both as a God and a father figure to the boy Manolin.

” (Pratt 91).

I will therefore expound first on Santiago’s character, and then, his courage and love, and illustrate how his preservance on the sea in battle with a great Marlin was a type of the cross of Christ and ultimately depicted who Santiago was. One can see the spirit of love in this old man through the description of his eyes. Captain Gregorio Fuentes, the Cuban fisherman (whom some believe was the inspiration for Ernest Hemingway’s novel), fits that description.

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The 1 May article of 2002, read, “The Old Man and the Sea, has died in his home in Cuba. ” (Fly Fisherman).

Also, possibly relevant to this old fisherman, was the line quoted from Hemingway’s novel, “Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated, . . . ” (Hemingway 10). The article continued to read, “The Cuban fisherman who in his book battles an enormous Marlin on a hand line for three days, may have been this seaman who inspired Hemingway to write ‘The Old Man and the Sea,’ novel.

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” (Fly Fisherman). Hemingway definitely captures the character of this fisherman, painting a picture of joy, and a positive attitude.

The eyes being an allusion of his soul, like the sea, only reflect the surface of the waters of his soul. The depth of his life’s experiences, are deeper than anyone could search out by observation, as Hemingway also expresses when he says, “He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. ” (Hemingway 25). Hemingway thus concludes that no one really knew the ability, or the culmination of victories he had achieved in his life.

Santiago hung onto the big fish for almost three days because he was not a quiter, and would not allow the voice of his flesh to hinder him in his “fight to the end. ” Perhaps this is why Santiago enjoyed listening to baseball on the radio so much. He realized and related to the intensity of the game, and the effort involved with “winning. ” At one point he said, “But I think the great DiMaggio would be proud of me today. ” (97). Though he loved the game, he probably related more to the fact that DeMaggio’s father was also a fisherman.

Concerning his career as a fisherman he once stated, “But that was the thing that I was born for. ” (50). There was no doubt that he was the best teacher for the boy, and took pride in the fact that he “had taught the boy to fish and the boy loved him. ” (Hemingway 10). Manolin’s parents had disallowed their son to continue fishing with Santiago because he had caught no fish in 84 days. Therefore, Santiago needed the boy and his parents to know his capability—that he was the best of fishermen, and worthy to teach their son the ways of the sea.

Yet their son was growing up, and his connection with Santiago seemed almost equal in time spent. The old man needed the companionship he had with the boy, and their comradery is seen when the boy asks Santiago, “Can I offer you a beer . . . ” and then later, “You bought me a beer,” the old man said, “You are already a man. ” (Hemingway 12). The picture of Santiago’s wife being “turned down under a shirt,” (Hemingway 16), depicted his lonely state, and was a representation of lapsed time and memory concerning past family ties.

Now, this boy is the only human being that is close to the old man—the only personal relationship that he has left in his life. In Hemingway’s story, Santiago probably does not realize the depth of his own love, or the courage and determination of his own will, until he makes his deep-sea excursion. In Cain’s article, “Death Sentences: Rereading “The Old Man and the Sea,” he concludes Hemmingway’s depiction of the old man is one who, “In miniature teaching us that the reality of an experience or the essence of a person cannot be judged from surfaces. (Cain 114). Though he appeared to be a poverty-stricken broken-down old man with his clothes tattered, his living quarters disastrous, and his “rig” in need of better equipment, the biggest fish was hidden within his accomplishments--those he had acquired when he was a young man. The fish, which “leapt out of the water,” revealed a glimpse of Santiago’s strength when he was younger, when he had accomplished winning an arm-wrestling match with a black man (extremely strong because of his arduous labor). Remembrance of his strength and, hoping it still emained, he thought of bringing home “the big one. ” The old man’s love for the boy was a connecting thread that kept the reader aware of his reason for pressing on, as many times Santiago said, “I wish the boy were here. ” (Hemingway 50). Hemingway also depicts Santiago’s loneliness during his voyage on the sea when he says, “He noticed how pleasant it was to have someone to talk to instead of speaking only to him and to the sea. ” At the end of his return, he says to the boy, “I missed you. ” (Hemingway 124).

Though lonely at times, Santiago’s love and determination to win never diminishes, but is expressed by his mention of a reserve of “young lions,” which represent the carry-over of strength and emotion into his old age. However, because he knew he was no longer “a young lion,” he saw the boy as one, and also knew the boy’s strength. When the old man is thinking about the “young lions” on the beach (he refers to them many times throughout the novel), he is drawing on his past strength and the wisdom to survive—for himself, and the boy.

Though Santiago had was not a religious man, when he was fighting with all of his might to win the victory over the great Marlin, he did find himself in prayer. The overlapping elements between Santiago’s sufferings, and those Jesus endured while bearing His cross, connect Santiago’s love for the boy, with the love Christ had for others. The climax of this “symbolism of the crucifixion,” starts when Santiago has caught the fish, and the sharks are trying to eat the fish’s dead carcass. In attempting to beat off the sharks, “The blow hurt not only his hands, but his shoulder too. (Hemingway 109). The fish also played a part in the symbolism of the cross of Christ when we read the lines, “Drained of blood and awash he looked the color of the silver backing of a mirror and his stripes still showed. ” (110).

These words could easily be applied to a ‘reflection,” of the beating Jesus bore which resulted in putting stripes on his back and shoulders, as “by His stripes we were healed. ” (King James Version, Isaiah 53:4-5). Also, the pain that Santiago felt when he pounded the sharks and likened it to, “feeling the nails go through his hands and into the wood. (107). When Santiago was on his way home, he was falling under the weight of the mast—a type of his cross—under which Jesus also fell, while trying to carry it up to Golgotha’s Hill. Interestingly, Santiago also fell several times going up the hill getting to his shack, an indication that his strength had been spent—even as Jesus fell under the weight of His cross. Hemingway’s novel gives no hints to suggest that Santiago did not live long after returning from his excursion at sea.

But, William Cain’s studies on Hemingway and Religion led him to believe that; “the sense of exhaustion Hemingway expresses in his character after Santiago returns to shore suggests to me that he will die very soon. ” (Cain 116). However, Manolin is determined to take care of him until his health returns, and at end of the novel the old man is again dreaming of the young lions, which represent smaller measures of strength and courage. Ironically, considering the evidence that Hemingway may have based his novel on an actual seaman (whom he went fishing with while in Cuba), the fictitious character Santiago could have lived a long life.

If his example was that of this real Cuban fisherman, Captain Gregorio Fuentes, he lived quite awhile, because Captain Fuentes was in good health until his passing in May of 2002, at 104 years old. (Fly Fisherman). Unfortunately Ernest Hemingway died in 1961, after which Captain Gregorio Fuentes swore never to fish again. (Fly Fisherman). In Hemingway’s novel, not only had Santiago grown to love the boy, the boy obviously loved the old man also, and demonstrated that love by being there for him, providing food, a clean shirt, even made a mental note that Santiago would need a blanket because colder weather was coming.

However, the boy was far from relating to the pain and struggle the old man had been through. John Clark Pratt of the University of Colorado says, “the allusions of (the old man staggering up the hill carrying the mast as Christ did the cross, as well as the wounds on his hands),” these elements point to an outward demonstration of love and sacrifice from the old man. ” (Pratt 79). The boy’s love for the old man is also evident, and we see this when Santiago returns and the boy sees his hands all cut up.

Sensing that Santiago has gone to such extremities for his sake, he is almost as broken as the disciples of Jesus after seeing his bruised body being taken from the cross--Manolin could not stop crying. This display of emotion from Manolin supports Pratt’s original quote, “he appears both as a God and a father figure to the boy Manolin (91). Santiago was an example of a father’s love for his son, and his dedication to do what is right. He lived life to its fullest, and admired others that had also achieved success through work and dedication, such as DiMaggio.

He always did his job to the best of his ability, yet knew how to stop and have a good time, drinking a beer and listening to a baseball game. He had a reserve of strength that he related to through the vision of the young lions on the beach in Africa—carefree and without fear. Though he was poor, he was rich. Though he was alone, he was loved, and through his love, he was undefeated. Ultimately, Santiago represented a man full of strength, and similar to Christ, displayed the love a Father can have for a son—this is the character Santiago had, and who he was.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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Revealing the Character of Santiago, in Hemingway’s “the Old Man and the Sea”. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

Revealing the Character of Santiago, in Hemingway’s “the Old Man and the Sea” essay
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