What is an example of a "figure of speech" in The Old Man and the Sea?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Arguably the most figurative of Hemingway's works, The Old Man and the Sea has been read as a Christian allegory with the old fisherman as a Christ-like figure.

In this novella, there are a number of phrases and words that are figures of speech.

  • Personification (the attribution of human qualities to non-human things)

For example, when Santiago passes "a great island of Sargasso weed that heaved and swung in the light sea as though the ocean were making love with something under a yellow blanket," he clearly perceives the sea as having the qualities of a person.

  • Simile (a comparison between two unlike things or qualities, using the words "like" or "as")

Hemingway's narrative is replete with comparisons that employ "like" or "as." For example, in the opening paragraph, the old sail on Santiago's boat is compared to a flag:

The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat. (p.9)

Santiago's hands figure into the narrative quite often. For instance, in describing the old fisherman's hands, Hemingway writes of the many scars on them. 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. (p. 10)

Clearly, figures of speech lend beauty and definition to the tale of the old fisherman who admires the tenacity of Joe DiMaggio and imitates his baseball idol as, like DiMaggio (who had painful bone spurs in his feet), Santiago fights the pain in his hands and finally pulls in the huge fish.

belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A good example of figures of speech is Hemingway's use of simple metaphors to describe events and objects. For example, when describing Santiago's face, Hemingway writes:

...none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert.

"Old as erosions..." is a metaphor describing how Santiago's scars have weathered with time and with age. Like the ancient bedrock erosion of a desert from the long-ago oceans that covered it, the scars on Santiago's hands show his long history with the ocean and his determination in continuing to fish.

Another good example comes in Manolin's dialogue, remembering the first time he went to sea with Santiago and the powerful fish that almost sank their skiff:

"...the noise of you clubbing him like chopping a tree down..."

Here, the act of clubbing the fish to keep it from capsizing them is compared to "chopping a tree," since both the large fish and a tree require great exertion in their clubbing/chopping. Metaphors like these are figures of speech throughout the text.

(Quotes: Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, Google Books)

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The Old Man and the Sea

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