Cover image of Biblical References in Old Man and the Sea

Biblical References in Old Man and the Sea

by cambtone

  • Release Date: February 12, 2019
Purchase a Subscription

Document Details


There are two main characters in The Old Man and the Sea. The first is the old fisherman himself – Santiago and the second is a young boy, Manolin. Hemingway makes both biblical and literacy references in the novel, some less clear than others. It has been suggested that Hemingway modelled Santiago on himself. The old fisherman had not caught fish for a very long time and some have said that he resembled Hemingway, who had not “landed” his great book and of his determination to succeed. This allegory is taken further by comparing the sharks, who the old man detested, with the literary critics who had savaged Hemingway’s works. The writer’s dry spell has been likened to the fisherman’s eighty four days.

The most common comparison is that of Santiago’s suffering to the agony and final triumph of Christ. Santiago shouts “Ay” when he sees the sharks and Hemingway himself has been quoted as saying – “There is no translation for this word and perhapsit is just such a noise as a man might make, involuntarily, feeling the nail go through his hand and into the wood”. Santiago also “…..picked the mast up and put it on his shoulder and started up the road. He…(sat) down five times before he reached his shack.” Which is much like the events Christ experienced on his way to the crucifixion carrying his cross. Later, Santiago sleeps “…face down…with his arms out straight and his palms up”, the position of Christ on the cross. Santiago is profoundly spiritual, though not religious. Even as he prays, he says “I am not religious”. It is not that he doesn’t value his prayers, but rather he is a ‘ritual-centred’ Catholic. He learnt his prayers by heart and sometimes forgets the words, but if he prays faster it is easier to get them right. He could be called devout, but not religious, and some say this also was Hemingway’s attitude to religion and belief. He had converted to Catholism after marriage, but eventually he drifted away from that religion. Some say that he retained “funny ties” (Wilkpedia) to Catholism. Could this be the case for the conflict in Santiago too? His pride and physical suffering eventually lead to a more significant spiritual triumph. Although he has lost the great marlin, he has again won the respect of the other fishermen and the admiration of Manolin. It could be argued that Manolin plays the role of a disciple to Santiago, just as the disciples were to Christ (interestingly, most of them were fishermen). Even the numbers which appear in the novel are biblical in their values. Manolin abandons the old man after forty days without catching fish, the same period of time that Christ spent in the desert fasting (foy days and forty nights). The story covers a period of three days, again a biblical number – the time between the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. I think the old man also was looking for a “deeper” truth – one more than the physical constraints of his ravaged body.


Biblical References in Old Man and the Sea

Explore Study Guides