Thursday, July 2, 2009

Christian Symbols in The Old Man and the Sea

While Hemingway makes the obvious connection between Santiago and Christ, he also plays heavily with the symbolic Christian meaning of numbers and objects throughout the novel. In using these numbers and objects that symbolically line up with Christianity, Hemingway solidifies Santiago as the Messiah.

Hemingway immediately initiates Christian numerology in the first paragraph. He refers to the “first forty days” that Santiago has been fishing – “forty days without a fish” (Hemingway 9). According to the Religion Facts website, forty represents “trial or testing” (“Numbers”). The site references Biblical incidents related to forty such as “Noah's flood, Israel's wandering in the wilderness, Moses' stay on Mt. Sinai, and Jesus' temptation in the wilderness all lasted forty days [and] The Lenten Season” (“Numbers”). Hemingway then expresses that in the forty day period, Santiago has not caught any fish (Hemingway 9). While GodWeb states that “the initial letters of each word in the Greek phrase ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior’ form the word ICHTHUS, which means ‘fish’” (Henderson), Hemingway shows that there is no savior at the beginning of the novel – Santiago is a mere fisherman in the likes of Jesus.

Because of Santiago’s bad luck, Manolin’s parents make him switch to a different team of fisherman, who then catch “three good fish the first week” (Hemingway 9). The ReligionFacts website identifies the number three with the Trinity and seven (one week) with perfection for various reasons, including the seven days of Creation, Paul’s seven gifts of the spirit, and the seven seals, seven churches, etc. of Revelations (“Numbers”). Obviously, Hemingway intends to express the lack of faith in Santiago and the false hope placed in the other fishermen. Using these objects and numbers , Hemingway is able to set the tone for Santiago to become the Messiah, suffering as Christ did as well as saving the fishermen by opening the “gates” to good fishing, as Christ saved his “fishermen” (most of his disciples were fishermen that gave up everything to follow Him) by opening the gates to heaven.

With such intense symbolism in the first page, it is obvious that this analysis can be continued throughout the novel.

Sources (MLA version 7):

Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1952. Print.

Henderson, Charles. "The Fish as a Symbol of Christianity." GodWeb. N.p., 23 Nov. 2008. Web. 02 July 2009.

"Numbers in Christian Symbolism - ReligionFacts." Religion, World Religions, Comparative Religion - Just the facts on the world's religions. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 July 2009.