Youth and Age Theme in The Old Man And The Sea

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Manolin’s Love for Santiago

      Manolin, the boy is a symbol of the Old Man’s past youth. He is of great critical importance in the context of the story, though he appears on the scene in the beginning and concluding section of the story. However, his presence is felt throughout the text, and the Old Man thinks of him at every point of his ordeal against the fish and after his fight with the sharks. Manolin had come to the Old Man as a young boy of five years old to learn fishing. Ever since they had been together. Even at the point when the story opens with Santiago having gone eighty-four days without catching a fish, and at the end of forty days the boy had been forced to go on another boat, and even then they are still very much together bound by a deeper love than that of the tutor-tyro relationship. The introductory section was seen Santiago mainly through Manolin’s admiring as well as pitying sight. Manolin feels sad and sorry for the Old Man. He comes to help him carry his fishing equipment every day. He buys him coffee and arranges to get the Old Man’s sardines to be used as bait the next day. He also takes care of all the Old Man’s needs. He brings him food saying he would not allow the Old Man to fish without eating as long as he was alive. He will also bring other amenities such as water, soap and towel for the Old Man apart from bringing him shirts, jacket and blanket for the ensuring winter season to come. He then brings breakfast for the Old Man the next day and after helping him he wishes the Old Man good luck on his voyage out on the eighty-fifth day. He had kept up the Old Man’s confidence and boosted his morale by making him happy, encouraging him to talk about the lions and baseball and then asserting that he was the best fisherman. “There are many good fishermen and some great ones. But there is only you.” The same love, concern and consideration can be seen in the concluding section of the novel as the Old Man being exhausted, injured and beaten by the sharks comes in with the skeleton of the marlin. The boy had been coming in everyday to check on the Old Man’s return and upon seeing the Old Man and his injured hands and realizing what must haver happened, he weeps for the Old Man and runs around for arranging things for the Old Man. He gives him coffee, tells everyone not to disturb the Old Man and let him sleep; and upon waking, he cheers the Old Man, telling him he was not beaten not by the fish then and insisting that he would now accompany him on his fishing trips no matter what his father said. He tells him that he will get better soon, and then goes to bring food and ointment for his injured hands. Manolin thus shares a deep loving relationship with Santiago. His regard for him is more than that of a mere student. He loves him like a father and mourns his loss with deep regret.

Santiago’s love for the Boy

      Santiago too, loves the boy like his own son. Santiago is all alone, especially after his wife death and the boy has been his only companion. In the boy growing into young manhood, he sees his own image as a young man. From him he draws inspiration and calls up his own grateful strength and stamina. In youth he had been known as “El Champion”. Santiago had taught the boy to fish. He is sad that the boy is no longer with him but he knows that the boy has not left him because he doubted the old man’s skill. He and the boy have faith and he tells boy that his father’s order to go on another boat was quite normal. He thus teaches the boy good values. When the boy offers to get him sardines and tuna for bait, he freshens the old man’s hope and confidence and Santiago accepts the offer with humility yet with no disgrace or loss of pride. Santiago loves the boy and the boy makes him happy. During the Old Man’s ordeal, he constantly wishes for the boy’s presence. “I wish the boy is here” and “I wish I had the boy” is a constant refrain coming from his mouth. He utters the phrase nine times during his struggle against the marlin. Just before hooking the marlin he thinks of the boy, wondering when he has started talking to himself, probably after the boy has left. This indicates that without the boys he feels lonely. Then, after hooking the fish which began to tow him when he tried to pull in he wishes the boy were there to help him. He knows he was in for a great battle and the boy’s presence would have been a great help. During the night, the fish kept towing him, never even changing direction, and Santiago endured the pain. He thought of baseball and then of the boy. “I wish I had the boy. To help me and to see this” and then he reflects. “No one should be alone in their old age.” But it is unavoidable in his case and he resolves to eat the raw tuna in order to keep his strength. Then he remembers an earlier time when he and the boy have caught a marlin and again he wishes for the boy, then resigns himself to the struggle, settling himself against the planks and feeling the strength of the fish through the line across his shoulders. Sometime before daylight he hooked something else and he had to cut the line quickly. Then he had to cut all his lines and then link up the reserve coils because he couldn’t take any chance with the marlin. Then he wishes the boy was there to help him. But he wasn’t and so the Old Man tells himself to do it and he does so promptly. On the second day as dawn broke the fish gave a sudden jerk cutting him. He scolds himself for his carelessness and reminds himself to eat the tuna to keep his strength. Then he says “I wish boy were here and that I had some salt.” Connecting the boy to something as basic as salt shows the enormous significance of the boy to the Old Man. As he was about to eat the tuna he found that his left hand was cramped and wouldn’t open. He hated a cramp and it was humiliating and he thinks that if the boy had been there, he would rub it and loosened it down from the forearm. When he saw the fish and how big it was he was awestruck and even prayed to God to help him catch the fish. He is determined to kill him though he remembers the boy and strengthens his resolve. “I told the boy I was a strange Old Man. Now is when I must prove it.” He held against the fish and finally as the fish started jumping during the night again and again, he strains himself as the line rushed out cutting his hands badly, he again wishes for the boy.

“If the boy was here he would wet the coils of line he thought. Yes. If the boy were here. If the boy were here.”

      These thoughts somehow rejuvenate him and he held against the fish making the fish earn every bit of the line he took out.

Santiago’s Literal and figurative Dependence on Manolin

      At the point when the fish starts circling and Santiago himself is attempting to harpoon him, he no longer thinks of the boy. But later as sharks attack and he wonders whether it had been a sin to kill submarine, a sin for which he was being punished. He tries to rationalize calling himself that everything kills everything else in some way. And he reflects: “Fishing kills me exactly as it keeps me alive. The boy keeps me alive. I must not deceive myself too much.”

      Manolin keeps the Old Man alive literally as well as figuratively. We have already come across how Manolin provides for the Old Man’s food and other material requirements. He has also seen how thoughts of the boy keep him psychologically alive and imbue his spirit with renewed strength that keeps him going in his battle against the marlin. The Old Man thus depends on the boy.

The Lions and their Symbolic Significance

      As Manolin provides Santiago with a source of inspiration, remembering his youth in the boy’s youthful strength, the lions also serve the same purpose. In the very beginning Santiago tells Manolin, “When I was your age, I was before the mast on a square-rigged ship that ran to Africa and I have seen the lions on the beaches in the evening.” The image of the lions frolicking in the golden beaches of Africa is an image that inspires him, reminds him of his youth and makes him happy. It is a source of strength and stamina associated with his youth that he relies on to keep up his hope and confidence. The Old Man takes great pride in the lions Whenever he dreams of the lions he gets a pleasant feeling and is happy. On the night before he goes out on his voyage where he meets with his great adventure, he dreams of the lions. The boy had left him to sleep. “He was asleep in a short time and he dreamed of Africa when he was a boy and the long golden beaches and the white beaches, so white they hurt your eyes.....He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy.” From this point onwards the connection in symbolism between the lions and Manolin is established.

Dreams of the Lions During the Ordeal

      As the marlin tows him for a day, a night and the second day too was about to end and night set in, Santiago has greatly suffered but he has taken it without complaining, taking his suffering as it come. He has seen how big the fish is and he even prays for God’s help in killing the fish, then he reminds himself that he has to prove himself to the boy. He knew he needed to gather strength. So he wished that the marlin would sleep and he could sleep and dream about the lions. He never thought about anything else from his past except for the lions and again he wondered, why the lions were the only thing that was left of his past memories. The lions remind him to relax and gather his strength. Then later as night come on, the fish is calm and steady and the Old Man takes his chance to sleep. As he slept he didn’t dream of the lions at first. Then he began “to dream of the long yellow beach and he saw the first of the lions came down into it on the early dark and then the other lions came and he rested his chin on the wood of the bows where the ship lay anchored with, the evening off-shore breeze and he waited to see if there would be more lions and he was happy.”

      This dream occurs just before the marlin begins his real fight against which Santiago fights resolutely. Thus the image calms him and makes him forget his pain and suffering. Finally, the novel ends with Santiago sleeping and dreaming of the lions. He has endured great physical strain, suffered the loss of the marlin to scavenger sharks. He has suffered to the point of being crucified but after the boy Manolin’s assurance, and the thought that they would fish again, makes him happy. Hemingway writes. “In his shack, the Old Man was sleeping again...The Old Man was dreaming about the lions.”


      Manolin and the lions are therefore symbols of the Old Man’s youth and his youthful strength and stamina. Images and memories related to them give him renewed strength and inspire him to fight his battle against the marlin and against the sharks and finally keep his belief alive. Though he is beaten he is not defeated and from this point the two give him the confidence to go on. Both Manolin and the lions are part of Santiago’s fundamental nature, a part of his psychological and spiritual side, symbols that Hemingway deliberately constructed.

      Though the novel, admits of various interpretations according to him one looks at it and the kind of symbolism that is interpreted, from the point of the view of Santiago’s dependence on the lions and the boy, the Old Man’s dependence on images of youth, it can be said that the text is a parable of youth and age. Though this is only one of its many interpretations such as it being a parable of the good Christian against evil, Hemingway’s personal parable speaking of his struggle against his craft is a parable of humanity, of man’s life on earth, which various interpretations enrich the novel and its beauty. The Old Man and The Sea is reminiscent in its treatment of the Old Man and the boy of Joseph Conrad’s treatment of youth and age in his novella. “Youth”. In this novella, the protagonist Marlow also remembers his youth and image of his youth in much the same as Santiago does in The Old Man and The Sea. Here, Santiago dreams the strength and stamina that he needs in his epic battle against the marlin and the sharks. He remembers the boy everytime he needed inspiration. He thinks of the boy and somehow his resolve strengthens and he is able to draw the strength and will to do what is needed for the moment. For example when he is at the point of unendurable pain and he has seen the enormous size of the marlin. He thinks of the boy remembering that he had said he was a strange old man. And he says “Now is the time to prove it.” And he sets about to prove himself because the thousand times he had proved it earlier was not of any consequence at the present moment. You need to prove yourself again. On the other hand, the thoughts, rather than dreams of the lions relaxed him. As the images of the boy inspire him and he finds reserves of stamina, the images of the lions soothe his frayed nerves, they make him happy and thus relax him making him forget his pain and suffering. Thus the, story is a parable of youth and age, of age drawing upon youth for success in the fight that is life.

University Questions

The Old Man and The Sea admit of various interpretations. One of them is that it is a parable of youth and age. Comment.
It has been said that the boy Manolin and the lions represent Santiago’s inner youth. Elucidate with close reference to the text.
Critically analyze the relationship between Santiago and Manolin in Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea.

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