The Old Man and the Sea Questions and Answers
by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea book cover
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Why is the baseball player Joe DiMaggio so important in The Old Man and the Sea? Why does the Old Man love and admire him so much? How does Hemingway use Joe DiMaggio to illustrate important life-lessons to the reader? What conclusions do you draw as you read about Joe DiMaggio?  

Joe DiMaggio is important in The Old Man and the Sea because he serves as an inspiration for Santiago. Santiago loves and admires DiMaggio because DiMaggio's father was a fisherman like Santiago, meaning that DiMaggio rose to greatness through his own efforts. Hemingway uses DiMaggio to illustrate the important life lesson that character traits such as persistence are as vital to success as talent.

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Joe DiMaggio is always the "great" Joe DiMaggio to Santiago. DiMaggio is the person who, Santiago states, "does all things perfectly." Santiago emulates DiMaggio in also wanting to be the perfect fisherman. DiMaggo is a role model he can look up to.

Santiago feels a bond with DiMaggio because DiMaggio's father was a fisherman, just as Santiago is. DiMaggio is also a way for Santiago to bond with the boy Manolin, who likes baseball. DiMaggio becomes a symbol for how a person of humble origins, like both Santiago and Manolin, can reach great heights through persistence. Santiago sums up his feelings of relationship and identity with DiMaggio when he says:

I would like to take the great DiMaggio fishing...They say his father was a fisherman. Maybe he was as poor as we are and would understand.

Beyond that, Santiago admires DiMaggio because he achieves excellence despite often being in pain. DiMaggio suffers from bone spurs, but that does not stop him from doing his best. Santiago, especially as he ages, has to work through his own pain to achieve success as a fisherman, and DiMaggio serves as an inspiration to him. Santiago even believes that DiMaggio, though not a fisherman, would stay with the marlin as persistently as Santiago does.

In sum, Santiago admires and reveres DiMaggio as a person from a humble background who has achieved greatness through hard work and persistence and who continues to be great because he does not let obstacles like pain hold him back. We learn from this the life lesson that greatness comes from character more than from innate talent.

One might draw the conclusion that role models are important motivators that help us understand what we value.

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