Symbolism in The Old Man and the Sea The Old Man and the Sea has a lot of symbolism throughout the story line. A majority of the symbolism occurs when the old man is actually out in the ocean, but there is also some symbolism when he is on his island before he sets out to sea. The young boy, whom the old man taught to fish, symbolizes hope and joy for the old man. They had a strong friendship between the two of them because of this. 'The old man had taught the boy to fish, and the boy loved him.' (10). Another thing that symbolizes hope for the old man is his love for baseball.
When he is out on the ocean by himself, he thinks about baseball and it raises his spirits and gives him hope. (68) The ocean itself plays a huge symbolic role in the book as well. There are many times where the old man would refer to the ocean as a women. 'But the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favors, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a women, he though.' (30) The ocean also served as a great desire for the old man. It was something that the old man greatly wanted because he was getting so dehydrated towards the end of his trip and needed water, but he couldn't have any since it was salt water.
Just like the saying "water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink." Another item that had a major symbolic value was the huge fish that the old man caught. The fish itself symbolizes life's great struggle that everyone must go through. The fish took every bit of the old man's strength and wisdom to catch. With his persistence, he prevailed over the task of catching his fish and protecting it. This would be the same way a person would act in real life after working hard to complete a task in life and then doing everything necessary to protect whatever they had worked hard for. The fish symbolizes the ideal opponent for the old man.
In a world in which "everything kills everything else in some way," the old man feels very lucky to find himself matched against a creature that brings out the best in him: his strength and courage, his love and respect. There are also a few references to the old man and Christ. When the fish line cuts the old man's palms, it relates to how Christ's hands were nailed to the cross. Later the image of the old man struggling up the hill with his mast across his shoulders symbolizes Christ carrying his cross on his shoulder.
From the very beginning of The Old Man and the Sea, the old man is characterized as someone that is always struggling against defeat. The sail on the old man's boat also resembles "the flag of permanent defeat." Even after having all of the bad luck, the old man refuses defeat every time: he resolves to sail out beyond the other fishermen to where the biggest fish was promise to be. He catches the fish, and he continues to ward off sharks from stealing his prey, even though he knows the battle is useless. Hemming way, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. New York: New York 1952.