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.
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
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.