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Santiago dreams about many different things in the book. On page 5, "he dreamed of Africa when he was a boy and the long golden beaches and the white beaches, now he lived along that coast every night in his dreams." (pg. 5)
On page 22 of the book, Santiago talks about dreaming of porpoises, lions and of being home in the village all this is going on while he has the marlin on the line and it is dragging the boat.
He dreams of the lions on the beach in Africa, as he lived there when he was a young boy.
Santiago dreams of lions and of a coastal region of the Canary Islands of Africa.
The day before the central action of the novel takes place, Santiago says good bye to the boy and goes to sleep. His dreams are described in some detail in this section then referred to again at the close of the novel.
"He was asleep in a short time and he dreamed of Africa when he was a boy and the long golden beaches, so white they hurt your eyes, and the high capes and the great brown mountains."
This episode of dreaming goes on longer than his usual dreams and takes place in greater detail as Santiago recalls the specific "harbours and roadsteads of the Canary Islands."
Why is this section significant? Santiago's change in his pattern of dreaming includes a mention that he "no longer dreamed of storm, nor of women" and the extended duration and detail of his dreams serve to suggest that Santiago is subtly prepared for return to paradise (or heaven), a place that is definitively peaceful.
After waking up on this day, Santiago undertakes an epic and very special day of fishing. An interpretation that this is his last day of fishing is made available in part by the repeated mention of the lions of Santiago's dreams. His own strength and tenacity, symbolized by the lions, are still a part of his character but are now only shadows of what they once were -- memories of a viral and beautiful life.
"Santiago is still able to plan his next fishing expedition and to dream again of the lions who perhaps represent to him the strength and the freedom of youth" (eNotes).
The difference of his dreams from his norm in the early passage of the novel also indicates that the day to come will be a special day, somehow, perhaps, connected to the glory and spirit of the past. Santiago's day of fishing is certainly special. He catches a great, great fish. But he also achieves something on a deeper level, which is highly personal (like the dream) and difficult to share with others.
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