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Metaphors in "The Old Man and the Sea"


"The Old Man and the Sea," written by Ernest Hemingway and published in 1952, includes metaphors that help readers understand human nature. The story is about an elderly Cuban fisherman, Santiago, who's down on his luck and hasn't caught a fish for 84 days. He follows the Gulf Stream far from home and lands a giant marlin. Sharks, storms and fatigue make it difficult for Santiago to return home. Hemingway's metaphors explain why Santiago never gives up, despite a treacherous journey that nearly kills him.

The Sea and the Gulf Stream

The sea and the Gulf Stream are metaphors for the the powerful, unpredictable aspects of nature, suggests James Mellow in his book "Hemingway: A Life Without Consequences". The Gulf Stream takes Santiago far from home, allowing him to make contact with the marlin and eventually capture it. Santiago has great respect for the sea, as it leads him to the marlin.

Lions on the Beach

On three occasions, Santiago dreams of lions playing on the beach in Africa. The lions are a metaphor for youthfulness and vitality and remind Santiago of his own boyhood, suggests Zak Roman, English and film class instructor at Pennsylvania State University. Santiago struggles to cope with aging and fears he's no longer vigorous enough to keep up with the competitive young fishermen in his village. The lions help him remember happier, successful times and to find peace and hope, despite his present disappointments.

Joe DiMaggio: An Inspirational Figure

Santiago idolizes Joe DiMaggio -- a famous New York Yankee who played for the baseball team from 1936 to 1951. Hemingway uses DiMaggio, whose career was nearly ended by a bone spur, as a metaphor for triumph and victory. When Santiago feels worthless because of his 84-day fishing drought, suffers pain in his scarred hands or struggles to get the giant marlin home, he remembers DiMaggio and finds strength and encouragement.

Santiago's Sail

The sail on Santiago's old fishing boat is a metaphor for suffering, defeat and aging, yet the sail still serves a useful purpose. Santiago patched the sail with flour sacks; as a result, it looks worn and tattered from use and age, just like Santiago himself. Competitive fishermen in the village view the sail as a symbol of Santiago's worthlessness and lack of success. However, the sail isn't useless as it helps Santiago venture far into the ocean to capture the magnificent marlin.

About the Author

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.

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