Old Man And The Sea–Religious Reflection The Old Man and the Sea is a simple story, so simply and precisely told, that it invites the reader to fish for symbolism. We feel something more must be at work here then the surface plot. The text does seem to offer hints and clues, and critics have taken these tips and developed rather different readings of the story. The huge list of Christian reference in The Old Man and the Sea is unavoidable. The question is whether it amounts to anything that makes sense.
A fish, first of all, has always been a symbol of Christ. Christ found St. James fishing in the Sea of Galilee, and promised to make him a fisher of men. James was in a boat. James in Spanish is Santiago.
The old mans journey out beyond all others lasts three days, the interval between the death and resurrection of Christ. A great focus of the novel is the old mans bloody hands, a crucifixion image. The old mans stumbling climb to his shack, carrying the mast on his shoulders, is a reference to Christ’s climb up Cavalry with the cross on his back. When the old man reaches his shack, Hemingway takes the pains to describe the old mans sleeping position: he sleeps face down with his arms out, palms up, a crucified pose. The boy, seeing him like this with his beat-up hands, cannot stop crying.
In another way, you can look at The Old Man and the Sea as religious symbolism, but for an unorthodox religion. Reading the book in this way expresses Hemingway’s Religion of Man. It is a religion of action, of achieving and maintaining Manhood. If anything counts in this world it is how someone does whatever it is someone does. This is especially true of life-and-death situations involving lonesome individuals.
One must kill to live, and one must die, and these actions have no otherworldly importance. Their meaning resides in how they are enacted. How one dies matters. There is no eternal salvation, but meaning and purpose in this world derive from doing one’s deeds well and bravely and truly, from being a man. To put it another way, it isn’t whether you win or lose; it’s whether you play the game like a man. Santiago has acted well and bravely and truly.
He has killed like a man, and this gives meaning and purpose to his struggle. The final outcome is immaterial. The fish has acted well and bravely and truly. It has been a brother to Santiago, and it has died like a man. There is thus meaning and purpose in the fish’s death.
As you can see there are many ways to interpret The Old Man and the Sea, in a Christian light. It just depends on how well and how deeply you read the book. Bibliography Old Man and the Sea… Hemmingway Book Reports.