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The Old Man and the Sea

by Ernest Hemingway

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Why is Santiago dreaming of lions significant at the end of The Old Man and the Sea?

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Because Santiago saw the lions on the shore in Africa in his younger days, a return to it in a dream indicates something of a return to his youth, his life coming full circle in a sense.  He begins the story in such a destitute condition, it appears that the only good days he had were behind him.  He has now not caught a fish for months, doesn't even have a blanket to cover himself with and likely will not live much longer as he has no way of getting help.

After his incredible fight with the fish, he is exhausted and torn and likely on his deathbed, but in his mind he has returned to his youth.  His resourcefulness and grit has served to regain, at least in his mind, some of the dignity of his youth and the dreaming of lions is a symbol of that.

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