How are Santiago and the sea turtles symbolic of each other in The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Santiago feels a kinship with the turtles because his hands and feet are like theirs, horny and hard. The turtles are tough and impervious to the stings of the treacherous jellyfish, just as Santiago is to the stings of the sea (and more largely to the stings of nature). Like the turtles, he won't give up. He and the armored turtles are part of the pre-ordained order of things, made of the same stuff. The turtles do what they have to do simply because, existentially, that is what they were made to do, and so does Santiago. Like Santiago, the turtles are real and solid, and they challenge what is false, represented by the stinging jellyfish:

The iridescent bubbles were beautiful. But they were the falsest thing in the sea and the old man loved to see the big sea turtles eating them. The turtles saw them, approached them from the front, then shut their eyes so they were completely carapaced and ate them filaments and all. The old man loved to see the turtles eat them and he loved to walk on them on the beach after a storm and hear them pop when he stepped on them with the horny soles of his feet.

Santiago also says he has a heart like the turtle's, that will "beat for hours after he has been cut up and butchered." Both the turtle and Santiago symbolize what is hard and impenetrable on the outside but pulses beneath the surface with hidden, stubborn life (hearts that won't stop beating).



Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

 On the sea in the second day as the sun comes up, Santiago has set his bait on his 300 fathoms of line.  As he follows the man-of-war bird out to sea, Santiago hopes his big fish is near the flying fish that jump.  When he looks down, he sees the Portugese men-of-war, then the turtles come and eat the poisonous jellyfish; Santiago loves the turtles for their bravery in attacking the jellyfish,

He was sorry for them all, even the great trunk backs that were as long as the skiff and weighed a ton.  Most people are heartless about turtles because a turtle's heart will beat for hours after he has been cut up and butchered. But the old man thought, I have such a heart too and my feet and hands are like theirs.

Santiago feels that he, too, is brave, not fearful to go out after eighty-four days with nothing.  He is determined to catch a big fish and bring it back; like the courageous and heroic turtles, he faces danger and  knows his trade.  And, although old like the turtles, he has a strong heart that will beat even after he is exhausted or defeated.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial