What is the role of the sea in The Old Man and the Sea?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There are those who believe that life began in the ocean and evolved into all of the different organisms that now exist. Perhaps, for this reason those who speak the Romance languages use the feminine noun. La mar is the mother of all life.

He always thought of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they are always said as though she were a woman.

Indeed, for the old fisherman Santiago, la mar is a woman, a woman to whom he has been married. For, he has long flirted with her dangers, courted her, wooed her, struggled against her only to return again and again to ride her waves and search her depths that sustain his life. He loves her children, the sea turtles, who "happily" eat the Portugese men-of-war that he considers "the falsest thing(s) in the sea." Truly, then, Santiago's relationship with the sea is an existential one. For, on the sea to whom he is wed, Santiago is tested as a man as he fights against the great fish, who is a male. "Now that I have him coming so beautifully, God help me endure." But, as the already heroic man struggles against fate, although he loses the great fish he has caught to the sharks, he is not conquered because he returns home to fish again on la mar.

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