“But man was not made to be defeated…A man could be defeated but never destroyed”. The Old Man and the Sea is a novel by Hemingway that reflects the Christian theme of resurrection and hope. The Christian symbolism in the novel elevates it to a level of allegory and parable, illustrating the unflinching will of mankind, despite the losses of this world. God does not exist in the novel as Immanent Wish, nor is he benevolent, or malicious. Instead, the significance of the novel lies in man’s quest in the spirit of Christ.
Santiago is depicted as a Christ-like figure who never loses faith during his struggle. Hemingway wrote that the old marlin-fighting man suffers from headaches and bloodsprays, which are reminiscent to Christ’s suffering during the Crucifixion. The novelist’s statement “Ay…feeling rail go through hand and into wood …”” is a direct reference to His Passion. This feeling is recreated by Santiago reaching his bed “arms straight out” and with “palms up”. All of this reflects a Christlike endurance and transcendence on the part the old man.
The fish is a legitimate symbol for Christ, which embodies the concept of sacrifice and sacrificed that leads to the acceptance Trinity. Joseph Waldman explains, “the phenomena closely parallels Roman Catholic Mass sacrifice, where a fusion takes place between Christ and the priest. …”
In the Christian liturgical year, the period from Ash Wednesday until Ascension is forty-four days. Santiago is portrayed as a man who has fought a long and hard battle, similar to Pentecost. He finally wins the fight. Santiago’s “salao” period of eighty-seven days, followed three weeks later by fruitfulness upon catching Marlin, suggests the liturgical secret of Incarnation in that it commemorates Christ as the son God. Santiago is also the hero-incarnate in Hemingway’s tale – “I know many trick and I am resolute”.
Manolin appears to base his faith in Santiago on the three week miracles he describes in the Gospels as “the greatest record”. In response to Manolin’s praise, the old man says “it could not have happened twice”, underlining his unique incarnation. This is all important because the Incarnation only allows Christ’s sacrifice to have a redemptive effect on mankind. Hemingway’s “great record”, juxtaposed to Santiago’s struggle for three days at sea, is followed by the spiritual triumph of his previous redemptive virtues.
Many critics compare the three-day struggle which led to Santiago’s apparent victory to the Mystery of Redemption. Especially when the old guy carries the mast, like a Crucifix. The reference to his left hand as a “traitor”, reminds us of Judas sitting left at The Last Supper. Santiago wins a victory in spite of his apparent defeat. Santiago, like Christ, returns to Manolin and tells him about his heroic act. He returns safely to his home, and also brings a wealth of information on human endurance. This results in a mental and spiritual improvement.
Santiago’s sojourn, like Christ’s earthly ministry that ended on Ascension Day is concluded by his redemption message. Joseph Campbell described Christ’s journey as “the hero with a million faces”; Santiago also goes through a similar pattern of discovery, realizing “I have gone too far”, facing a challenge like the Crucifixion or the dragon battle before returning to the Promised Land. Santiago’s epic battle ends with the recognition that he is a part of nature, like St. James, who swam on the sea and floated for days.
Santiago becomes a hero by committing himself to the world he lives in and his relationship to its creatures. Manolin has been recognized as St. Matthew’s diminutive, the one who redeems Christ. St. Matthew left his father to follow Christ in spirituality. Manolin also went against the wishes of his biological parents in order for him to go with Santiago on his fishing excursions and bring food to them. Santiago is able to achieve this with the help of his disciple and, as Wilson says, it’s a triumph for all.