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The Old Man and the Sea

by Ernest Hemingway

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In The Old Man and the Sea, what is Santiago's relationship with the sea?

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In The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago's relationship with the sea is a very close one. As an old fisherman, he knows the sea like the back of his hand. And as such, it's about the only place where he can feel completely at home. The sea provides Santiago with his sole means of support. It sustains him. It gives him food and money. But it also keeps him alive in giving Santiago a purpose in life.

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For Santiago, the sea isn't just a large body of water. It isn't just his place of work, a place where he makes a living. It's so much more than that: it's an extension of his soul. Whereas others may look upon the sea as an object of the natural world to be exploited for its riches, Santiago is joined to the shimmering blue by an almost mystical bond. He belongs to the sea as much as it belongs to him.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, Santiago only ever feels at home out there on the water. Even though his job as a fisherman's becoming more and more of a struggle due to his advancing years, he needs to be out there in his boat. The sea is in his blood, and one gets the distinct impression that once he's no longer able to fish, then this life will effectively come to an end.

His latest expedition may not have been a success; in fact, it's been pretty much a disaster. But in the overall scheme of things, that's not what really matters. What matters is that Santiago is still physically able to board his shabby old boat and head out to sea once more. Only there, out among the waves, can he ever feel truly alive.

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Santiago relies on the sea for his daily needs. He fishes for a living in the Gulf Stream. However, in the beginning of the story, he has gone eighty-four days without catching any fish. At the behest of his parents, his helper is forced to abandon him. The parents believe that the old man has lost his luck, but the helper feels sad for leaving the old man’s boat.

Santiago does not lose hope and continues to fish. He believes that his fortunes will soon change for the better.

“Tomorrow is going to be a good day with this current,” he said.

The old man loves the sea because he thinks of it as “la mar.” This is the name used to refer to the sea by those who love it. The old man thinks of the sea as a woman who has the ability to grant or withhold fortunes. Although he approaches the sea with high expectations, he is aware that the sea is not entitled to do him any favors.

Santiago is at home when he is at sea, and he identifies with the different creatures, as demonstrated by how he is able to describe them.

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Santiago has a unique, loving relationship with the sea. He depends on his coexistence with the natural environment of the ocean to make his living. Santiago refers to the sea as la mar, which is a Spanish term of endearment. Santiago views the sea as a woman who is capable of giving or withholding rewards. He respects and reveres the sea throughout the novella and is able to interpret signs from the natural environment. Unlike the newer generation of fishermen, who rely on technology and modern techniques to catch fish, Santiago relies on the organic, traditional methods of fishing. Despite his recent bad luck, Santiago is an experienced fisherman who understands the sea and the creatures in it. He feels as if he is an intrinsic part of the ocean and recognizes his kinship with all of the sea's living creatures. The sea spiritually enriches Santiago and gives his life meaning. His role in life is connected to the sea, which is a fundamental part of his existence. 

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Santiago's relationship with the sea is essentially an existential one; he exists because of the sea that provides him with food, as a fisherman, his being is defined by his relationship with the sea, and his happiness and sorrow depend upon his successes and failures on the sea.  Indeed, it is the sea that is Santiago's essence and gives meaning to his life. 

Because of this inextricable, but variegated connection to the sea, Santiago anthropomorphizes the sea as "La Mer" which is what people call it in Spanish when they love the ocean:

...the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favours, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help....

Therefore, since Santiago conceives of the ocean as the source of life and meaning, the struggle of the old man with the fish in the sea becomes a metaphor for the existential struggle of man in life. Having gone eighty-four days without a catch, Santiago is viewed by the other fishermen as "unlucky," cursed, and a failure. That is, with his life threatened by starvation, Santiago's existence has little meaning. However, when he catches the great Marlin, Santiago is renewed in his manhood, his life regains its meaning and value. Because Santiago's hope and luck is renewed, even though the shark steals the meat of the fish, he can still dream of the lions and hope. 

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Why does Santiago dream of lions in The Old Man and the Sea?

One potential meaning behind the dream of the lions is connected to an idea of the afterlife or heaven. An old man, Santiago no longer dreams of success and strife in life. Instead, he dreams of a different "place" altogether, somewhere outside of the social context of achievement, success and failure that he has lived within for so long. 

Santiago's narration recounts the idea that the lions he had seen on the coast of Africa are part of a picturesque and pristine set of images and memories. The sights and smells are calm and lovely to him. 

His Africa is a place of peace. 

Notably, the many events and elements of his life and his life's ambition are absent from the dream of the lions. 

"He no longer dreamed of storms, nor or women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife. [...] only of the lions on the beach." 

After a lifetime of these things, Santiago, El Campeon, now dreams of an opposite set of images. The "white peaks" of the Canary Islands with their playful lion cubs are foreign to his experience - a very different setting from the rather masculine and codified world he has lived in. 

Santiago is one of Hemingway's most sentimental characters, but at the same time adheres to a code of behavior that leads him to revel in his memories of arm-wrestling and in his admiration for Joe DiMaggio. This is all left behind when he dreams of the lions playing in what amounts to a paradise. 

Santiago is religious. He prays and reflects on the relationships of man to the larger world in ways that are consistent with a mystical/Catholic sensibility. That his heaven would be a place near the sea in a foreign land characterized by natural beauty is not surprising.

So, when Santiago lies utterly exhausted in his ambiguous victory/defeat at the end of the narrative, he dreams of the lions - perhaps signifying that he has come to the end of his life and moved on.

"Rather than a mere triumph over nature, he has, with great dignity and humility, achieved atonement (at-one-ment), oneness with nature" (eNotes).

We might take a moment also to mention that the religious imagery of the text can be connected to the lions. Christian imagery is used throughout the narrative and Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea is routinely interpreted as a religious allegory of sorts, wherein the old man suffers but acts on his nature, accepting his fate and submitting to the will of Nature (or God).  

The lion is used as a symbol for Christ in Christian iconography. We might argue then that the dreams of the lions are not only a dream of paradise generally but specifically a dream of encountering Christ in the afterlife or something along those lines. 

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Why does Santiago dream of lions in The Old Man and the Sea?

The lions in Santiago's dreams are the ones that he observed as a young boy sailing on large ships. He remembers this time of his life as a pure pleasure, with no negative memories attached to it, and becomes happy whenever he dreams of the lions playing on the beach:

He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them...
(Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, Google Books)

One interesting comparison is the mention of Santiago's wife; she died, and he has removed her picture from his shelf because it makes him sad. Despite the many happy memories he must have of her, the sad memory of her death makes him shunt those memories aside, so he doesn't have to think of them. Because all the memories of the lions are good, he can dream of them and remember his youth when he had no fear, no guilt, and no sorrow.

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What does Santiago dream about in The Old Man and the Sea?

Santiago dreams of the lions that played on the beaches of Africa, where he once visited after going on a sailing ship years ago.

When he was much younger and saw the lions cavorting and wrestling in the sand with each other on the African coast, Santiago found them very vital and full of youthful energy. In fact, he admired their exuberance and strength. Now, he does not dream of his deceased wife or anyone else; instead, he only dreams of the young cats that once played on the beaches because he has always admired their youth, energy, and strength.

He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy.

Just as he talks of the great players Joe DiMaggio and Dick Sisler and great managers John McGraw and Leo Durocher, Santiago finds a focus for his thoughts so that he, too, can persevere and endure. Now, after eighty-four days, the old man knows that he must prove his strength and abilities when he goes out. So, he sleeps and dreams of the young, vital lions before he goes out in search of fish as he bolsters his strength.

After his battle with the marlin, it is a discouraged and exhausted Santiago who returns with only the bones of the great fish. But, he has certainly fought hard, and brought the marlin next to his boat only to have it devoured by sharks. Nevertheless, in an act of renewal of his spirit, Santiago, who is exhausted, beaten, and battered, retains his ability to dream and his indomitable spirit. He lies down and dreams again of the lions, undefeated. 

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What does Santiago dream about in The Old Man and the Sea?

Santiago dreams about his boyhood, and the time he served on a ship that sailed the coast of Africa. Specifically, he dreams

of Africa when he was a boy and the long golden beaches and the white beaches, so white they hurt your eyes, and the high capes and the great brown mountains. He lived along that coast now every night and in his dreams he heard the surf roar and saw the native boats come riding through it. He smelled the tar and oakum of the deck as he slept and he smelled the smell of Africa that the land breeze brought at morning.

The dream world of the ship is a kind of haven for Santiago. It is a dream of a real place, a real time in his life, but somehow altered, made more perfect, more clear.

Usually when he smelled the land breeze he woke up and dressed to go and wake the boy. But tonight the smell of the land breeze came very early and he knew it was too early in his dream and went on dreaming to see the white peaks of the Islands rising from the sea and then he dreamed of the different harbours and roadsteads of the Canary Islands.

It’s interesting that Santiago “usually” was awakened from his dream by the smell of the land breeze, but on this morning, the morning of his big adventure, he senses it is too early to wake when he smells the breeze and continues to dream, this time, of the Canary Islands, and particularly in detail about the “harbors and roadsteads” of the islands.

He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy. He never dreamed about the boy.

In a sense, the lions stand for or remind him of himself as a boy, young and strong. But the lions also remind him of his own boy, who helps him fish and talks baseball with him. There is a carefree quality to the lions, which he strives to retain even as an old man. Santiago’s fight with the fish is not particularly fraught with symbolic meaning; instead, he defeats the fish because he is strong and experienced (as he says, he knows a lot of “tricks”). Like the lions playing on the beach, Santiago has a certain carefree quality that comes from concentrating only on the problem at hand – maybe that’s the best way to understand his “code,” if there is one. So it comes as no surprise that at the end of the story, after his tremendous battle, he goes to bed and dreams again of the lions.

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What does Santiago dream about in The Old Man and the Sea?

Santiago dreams of lions and of a coastal region of the Canary Islands of Africa. 

The day before the central action of the novel takes place, Santiago says good bye to the boy and goes to sleep. His dreams are described in some detail in this section then referred to again at the close of the novel. 

"He was asleep in a short time and he dreamed of Africa when he was a boy and the long golden beaches, so white they hurt your eyes, and the high capes and the great brown mountains."

This episode of dreaming goes on longer than his usual dreams and takes place in greater detail as Santiago recalls the specific "harbours and roadsteads of the Canary Islands." 

Why is this section significant? Santiago's change in his pattern of dreaming includes a mention that he "no longer dreamed of storm, nor of women" and the extended duration and detail of his dreams serve to suggest that Santiago is subtly prepared for return to paradise (or heaven), a place that is definitively peaceful.

After waking up on this day, Santiago undertakes an epic and very special day of fishing. An interpretation that this is his last day of fishing is made available in part by the repeated mention of the lions of Santiago's dreams. His own strength and tenacity, symbolized by the lions, are still a part of his character but are now only shadows of what they once were -- memories of a viral and beautiful life.  

"Santiago is still able to plan his next fishing expedition and to dream again of the lions who perhaps represent to him the strength and the freedom of youth" (eNotes). 

The difference of his dreams from his norm in the early passage of the novel also indicates that the day to come will be a special day, somehow, perhaps, connected to the glory and spirit of the past. Santiago's day of fishing is certainly special. He catches a great, great fish. But he also achieves something on a deeper level, which is highly personal (like the dream) and difficult to share with others. 

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What does Santiago dream about in The Old Man and the Sea?

Santiago dreams about many different things in the book.  On page 5, "he dreamed of Africa when he was a boy and the long golden beaches and the white beaches, now he lived along that coast every night in his dreams." (pg. 5)

On page 22 of the book, Santiago talks about dreaming of porpoises, lions and of being home in the village all this is going on while he has the marlin on the line and it is dragging the boat.

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What is the importance of Santiago's dreams in The Old Man and the Sea?

Santiago has a recurrent dream of lions playing on the beaches in Africa. Now that he is old, he doesn't dream of what he used to dream, which was of women, his wife, and "great" occurrences. Instead:

He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy.

These dreams are important because they show what makes him happy now. They reveal what he loves. He loves nature, play, and youth, all of which the lions represent. The places he dreams of include his beloved sea and surf. His dreams have become simpler, reflecting the increased purity of his values as he has grown older and as what is unimportant has faded away.

At the very end of the book, after his epic battle with the marlin and the sharks, his dream of the lions symbolizes that he has not been defeated, even though the sharks ate his marlin. In fact, he is revitalized.

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What is Santiago's attitude in The Old Man and the Sea?

In The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway presents an elderly fisherman who is both attuned to the natural world, having spent most of his life fishing in the open sea, and determined to wrest a living out of this dangerous environment. Santiago is both optimistic and stubborn in staying out in his boat long after it seems he has no chance of catching any fish. Once he hooks the marlin, this tenacity turns to obsession, as the sharks literally consume the fish and the impossible situation figuratively consumes his sanity. Out in the boat, not catching any fish for weeks, he starts to get distracted and then corrects himself, "now is the time to think of only one thing. That which I was born for. There might be a big one around that school, he thought."

When he realizes the huge marlin is within his reach, his strategy depends on respecting the fish and understanding its psychology:

He is a great fish and I must convince him, he thought. I must never let him learn his strength nor what he could do if he made his run.

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Describe the dream Santiago had at night in The Old Man and the Sea.

Santiago has a recurring dream in which he goes back to his childhood in Africa. No sooner is he asleep than he starts dreaming about the long golden beaches, the white beaches, the high capes, and the great brown mountains. In his dreams, he can even hear the mighty roar of the surf as it crashes against the coast.

Talking of mighty roars, Santiago also dreams of lions. He sees them on the shore, playing gaily like young cats, just as they used to when he was a boy. The lions and Santiago's boyhood memories of them could be said to symbolize his lost youth. Santiago's not getting any younger, and yet in his epic showdown with the marlin, he somehow has to dig deep and find some of that inner strength he once had when he was younger. How he wishes he could be like the lions of his dreams and of his youth, so young and strong and full of vitality!

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