Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

18 Feb 2011

(Novel) The Old Man and the Sea by: Ernest Hemingway

(Reaction) The Other, The Boy, The Symbol by: Camille Tay Silos

View other reactions on works by Ernest Hemingway.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway is not only short at first glance but simple at first read. It tells of an old man, Santiago, who goes out to sea one day on his own, hooks a great, big swordfish, defeats it and brings it home. However, what makes this story much more compelling and complicated is its use of symbols. Since the novel has a full array of symbols, this reaction will focus on one that human beings, in general, have in their lives and take for granted most of the time, never knowing its true worth only until it is not beside them.

Aside from the common symbols of the sea as a representation of the woman, wherein Santiago thought that old men considered the sea feminine, one that gave and held back favors and did wild and wicked things because of the presence of the moon, and the cramp on Santiago's left hand as a sign of weakness that he does not want others to see, the boy, Manolin, is a symbol worth looking at.

At the beginning, Manolin symbolizes the acceptance of a reality that is different from his own when Santiago talks to him about casting a net and having a pot of yellow rice and fish to eat. Manolin knows that there is no net and no food, yet he chooses to allow Santiago to live in the reality he has in his mind, which is akin to Sancho allowing Don Quixote to believe that the inn is a castle.

Manolin also symbolizes the quantity of time, wherein he, a young man, still has no worries about growing up wherein Santiago notes that "Age is my alarm clock", comparing and contrasting the attitude that the characters have concerning ageing and time. Manolin, for Santiago, also symbolizes the presence of sanity. In talking to himself, others would find Santiago insane, but Santiago claims that since he knows he is not crazy, what others say doesn't matter.

But then, when Santiago sets off and comes across the big swordfish, he says, "I wish I had the boy" to help him get the fish. He repeats this same line later on, this time adding, "...To help me and to see this," thinking, "No one should be alone in their old age...", thus, having Manolin symbolize support, witness and company all at the same time; support in helping Santiago with the difficult task he had, witnessing the truth that Santiago had indeed captured such a great fish, and company to ward off the heavy feeling of loneliness and vulnerability. He repeats the same line later on, this time for Manolin to act as a supporter to his memories, and when he was struggling with the swordfish.

The presence of the small bird soon after replaces Manolin for a while as Santiago's new symbol of a companion. Other than talking to himself, to the sea or to the swordfish, he had found another living creature to share his thoughts with, and when the little bird had disappeared, he thought "...he would have liked to have him for company" . When Santiago once again struggled with the fish later on in the novel, he reverts back to yearning for Manolin's presence in a somewhat distracted way, repeating his thoughts over and over again in his head while he was bleeding from the struggle, almost in an unconscious manner.

In the end, when he defeated the fish, he was alone. When he defeated a big dentuso, he was still alone. However, despite no one being there to witness everything that he had gone through, Manolin symbolized the one thing that Santiago must have loved him for: faith. When the fisherman told Manolin the measurements of the fish, he said, "I believe it", despite the monstrosity of the size.


Despite the presence of Manolin being a commonality in not only Santiago's life but in one's life, his mere existence held so much meaning, symbolized so many things, that it makes one think of the people around them at the same time. One takes for granted the company of the 'other', even saying that "Hell is other people." However, one must admit that no man is an island and that the other, no matter how 'hellish' he or she is, is a necessary presence. The presence of the other fills the void, makes one feel assured and sane. That Hemingway kept on pressing these points repeatedly in the novel was not by chance - he knew the importance of the other, the boy, Manolin's, existence in a person's life.

This reaction is covered by a Creative Commons Attribution - NonCommercial - ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. All that legal mumbo jumbo just means you're free to use any part or entirety of this reaction for any non-commercial purpose as long as you cite the author. Creative Commons License