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In Layman’s language, a symbol is something used to bring meaning to a place, an action, something in literature, or a person. People who write stories apply symbolism to bring about moods and emotions instead of writing some things. In his book, “How to read literature like a professor,” Thomas C. Foster denotes that if a reader wants to discover what a symbol means in readings, one should apply several tools during the reading process, including experience, questions, and preexisting knowledge. Ernest Hemingway uses significant symbolism in The Old Man and the Sea to optimize aesthetic beauty in his work. A reader might understand the meaning of symbols and their relevance by applying tools like experience, questions, and preexisting knowledge. In his novel, The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway applies different kinds of symbolism, including Santiago, the old man, the Marlin, the sea, the Manolin, and sharks, among other symbols.
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The Main Symbols Applied by Hemingway
Santiago the Old Man
Santiago is used as a symbol of courage. Hemingway compares the old man to Christ religiously when it comes to endurance and stamina (Hemingway, 1995). Santiago is depicted as humble like Christ and a teacher like Christ, as we see him teaching Manolin fishing (Zain, 2021). Regarding courage, Santiago is also depicted as Christ-like in how he fights Marlin and survives the sharks’ attacks.
The Marlin is used as a symbol of pride and dignity. As an opponent to the old man, the Marlin is good and worth the fight, symbolizing pride and dignity (Hemingway, 1995). Compared to the sharks, the Marlin is a worthy opponent since, to the endeavors of the old man, the sharks are not commendable (Zain, 2021). By being radiant and magnificent, the Marlin comes out to be a worthy rival.
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Ernest Hemingway uses the sea as a symbol of struggles and the life that everyone should go through and overcome (Zain, 2021). Hemingway depicts man as the most worthy creature when isolated since a man should work to survive independently. However, the sea is used as a symbol of the old man’s isolation and life in the world. Nobody is there to offer help in the sea, and there are no laws (Hemingway, 1995). Therefore, the old man encounters challenges on his own and overcomes them to survive.
In his writing, Ernest Hemingway uses sharks to symbolize obstacles and hurdles (Zain, 2021). The sharks in the sea and the old man represents the labor against them and the various obstacles in them. Sharks are the complete opposite of Marlin (Hemingway, 1995). For the old man, sharks are vile predators and do not deserve glory or admiration.
Manolin is used as a symbol of love, the circle of life, and compassion. Manolin genuinely loves and cares for the old man (Zain, 2021). There is a significant difference in age between the old man and Manolin. Ernest shows that a time will come when Manolin will carry the old man’s legacy (Hemingway, 1995). Manolin is depicted as an indication of hope.
The Relevance of Symbolism in Writing
In literature writings, symbolism is used to bring about an impact on the symbols brought via attaching meaning to an object, an action, or a name (Jocson, 2010). In writing, symbolism means taking something concrete and affixing it to another thing to bring about a more relevant meaning (Jocson, 2010). The above statement is the same as saying that using symbolism in writing helps the writer to say something in a poetic way rather than saying it directly (Kellogg, 1999). Since the approach is not direct, the writer has a chance to bring about complexity and nuance in their work. For example, in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, the author applies symbolism in significant areas to create a different meaning for various things. The most common type of symbolism applied in the novel is a metaphor. The author has used metaphors to make the writing more complex for the reader.
In conclusion, we have seen that Ernest Hemingway is a writer who applies symbolism in his work to bring a different meaning to the preexisting meaning of the objects, people, and animals he used in his writing. Among the symbolized things are the sea, the old man, the shark, the Marlin, and the Manolin, among others. We have also seen that the use of symbols in writing indicates that the writer is skilled in their job and makes the readers think when reading to understand how various things, objects, and even people are used.
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- Hemingway, E. (1995). The Old Man and the Sea. 1952. New York: Scribner.
- Jocson, K. (2010). Unpacking symbolic creativities: Writing in school and across contexts. The Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 32(2), 206–236.
- Kellogg, R. T. (1999). The psychology of writing. Oxford University Press.
- Zain, H. M. (2021). An analysis of symbolism and meaning found in The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Universitas Islam Sultan Agung.