The Old Man and the Sea

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Lions Symbol Icon
Both in his bed in the village and in his boat, Santiago dreams of lions on the beaches of Africa, which he saw when he was a boy on a ship that sailed and fished the coast of Africa. The lions symbolize Santiago's lost youth as well as his pride (a group of lions is called a "pride"). Santiago's love for the lions, which are fierce predators, also mirrors his relationship with the marlin, whom he loves but whose death he feels is necessary to his survival. In this way, the lions as also symbolize Santiago's affinity with nature. Now that Santiago is no longer young, and has lost his friends, family, and strength, he sees the lions only in his dreams. Santiago's dreams of the lions at the end of the novella suggest that in triumphing over the marlin, he has undergone his own rejuvenation.

Lions Quotes in The Old Man and the Sea

The The Old Man and the Sea quotes below all refer to the symbol of Lions. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Resistance to Defeat Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Scribner edition of The Old Man and the Sea published in 1952.
Day One Quotes
He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife. 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.
Related Characters: Santiago, Manolin
Related Symbols: Lions
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

By using all these terms of negation (like "no longer" and "nor") to list things Santiago used to dream about, Hemingway creates a strong sense of all the experiences Santiago has had in his long life. Though the list evokes some nostalgia, it seems like Santiago's feelings resolve toward the end of this passage to a contentment with what he has lost and what he currently has.

The bravado of Hemingway's male characters emerges again, as we notice the things that Santiago once dreamed of: storms, women, great occurrences, great fish, fights, contests of strength, and his wife. In the world of these fishermen, and probably in Hemingway's mind too, these are the things that allow a man to assert his manliness. This mention of "contests of strength" points to the passage where Santiago arm-wrestles another man for an entire day.

It's important not only that Santiago is a man, but also that he's an old man. The other fishermen see Santiago as an old man, but he wants them to see him as a man just like them-- or better than them. If Santiago can wrestle in the big marlin, he'll prove to all the other fishermen he's still on top of their hierarchy.

And yet Santiago no longer dreams of these things. Maybe he just doesn't care too much what the others think of him now. His dreams of lions seem to emerge from memories of working on ships off the coast of Africa, far back in his past, and something about this choice of memories makes it seem like part of Santiago wants to retire from the difficulty and competitiveness of fishing and escape far away. Hemingway loves to write about lions, and they're an important element of many of his most well-known short stories.

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Lions Symbol Timeline in The Old Man and the Sea

The timeline below shows where the symbol Lions appears in The Old Man and the Sea. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Day One
Pride Theme Icon
Youth and Age Theme Icon
...his time as a youth on a ship that sailed to Africa, and about the lions he saw on the beaches there. (full context)
Pride Theme Icon
Youth and Age Theme Icon
...women, fish, fights, or his wife. He dreams only "of places now and of the lions on the beach" in Africa. (full context)
Day Three
Resistance to Defeat Theme Icon
Pride Theme Icon
Youth and Age Theme Icon
As the day approaches its end, Santiago wishes he could sleep and dream of the lions again. Then he wonders why the lions are the only things left for him to... (full context)
Resistance to Defeat Theme Icon
Pride Theme Icon
Youth and Age Theme Icon
...and his hand asleep from having slept on it. Finally, his dreams turn to the lions walking along the long yellow beach in the early dark, and he is happy. (full context)
Day Five
Resistance to Defeat Theme Icon
Pride Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Youth and Age Theme Icon
...to Santiago's shack, Santiago is sleeping, Manolin watches over Santiago as Santiago dreams of playing lions. (full context)