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The Old Man and the Sea | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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Course Hero. "The Old Man and the Sea Study Guide." May 17, 2017. Accessed June 6, 2023.


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The Old Man and the Sea | Motifs



The lions, a connection to youth and virility, are a recurring motif. The old man repeatedly dreams about lions playing on the beaches of his past. Their playfulness suggests Santiago sees them not as predators but as carefree creatures and part of his youth. Santiago returns to this dream each time he faces a seemingly insurmountable obstacle: on the night of the 84th day without a catch, on the open sea as the elements threaten to defeat him, and on the night he returns home without a catch yet again. Taking him back to his youth, the dream reminds him of his own vitality and strength, reenergizing his determination to keep going against all odds. Additionally, Santiago's dream of the lions at the very end of the story signals hope that Santiago's strength, perseverance, and skill will live on forever as Manolin will carry on his legacy.

Santiago's Hands

Santiago's hands are mentioned several times throughout the story. When the old man first appears, they are full of age spots, hinting at the old man's age, and marked with scars, implying the physical toll a fisherman pays. In his struggle with the marlin, the old man suffers a new cut on one hand and a severe cramp in the other; however, he does not give up, and he fights through his pain. Suggestive of the wounds Christ suffered on the cross, the old man's scarred hands represent his willingness to endure pain and suffering. In the end it is his strong willpower that enables Santiago to survive his ordeal. Although he returns without his catch, the marlin's skeleton is a testament to his feat.

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