The Old Man and the Sea

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The Mast Symbol Icon
At the end of The Old Man and the Sea, the exhausted Santiago removes his mast from his skiff, and haltingly drags it up the beach to his shack by resting one end of the cross on his shoulder. The position in which Santiago carries the mast exactly mirrors the position in which Jesus Christ was forced to drag his cross on the way to his crucifixion. The mast, then, becomes a symbol for the cross, and cements the parallel that Hemingway sets up between Santiago's ordeal and Christ's.

The Mast Quotes in The Old Man and the Sea

The The Old Man and the Sea quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Mast. 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 Four Quotes
He started to climb again and at the top he fell and lay for some time with the mast across his shoulder.
Related Characters: Santiago
Related Symbols: The Mast
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

This phrase is almost an exact transplant from the Bible's descriptions of Jesus Christ carrying the cross before his crucifixion under Pontius Pilate. The exhausted Jesus, forced to carry his own heavy cross on his back, falls and gets back up again. In the Bible, these passages suggest the extreme endurance of Jesus and his willingness to suffer pain for a greater cause.

Here, Santiago tries to carry his (cross-shaped) mast away from his skiff to his home. He cannot bear the weigh after his exhausting journey. But he rises again, like Jesus, making the final push toward his house and refusing defeat after days at sea.

Throughout this novella, which plays with religious ideas like sin and prayer, Santiago has a kind of Christlike presence. He is a pariah figure, acts humbly and honestly, and ultimately spends three full days and nights at sea like the three days between Jesus' death and resurrection according to the Christian Bible.


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