The Old Man and the Sea

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Christian Allegory Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Resistance to Defeat Theme Icon
Pride Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Youth and Age Theme Icon
Man and Nature Theme Icon
Christian Allegory Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Old Man and the Sea, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Christian Allegory Theme Icon

The Old Man and the Sea is full of Christian imagery. Over the course of his struggles at sea, Santiago emerges as a Christ figure. For instance: Santiago's injured hands recall Christ's stigmata (the wounds in his palms); when the sharks attack, Santiago makes a sound like a man being crucified; when Santiago returns to shore he carries his mast up to his shack on his shoulder, just as Christ was forced to bear his own crucifix; and Santiago's final position, resting on his bed, resembles Christ's position on the cross. More importantly, Santiago resembles Christ in that, like Christ, he transforms loss into triumph, faces the inevitability of death without complaint and, in doing so, transcends it. Christ literally is resurrected, while Santiago regains Manolin as an apprentice, providing both the companionship he had lost and the chance to pass his knowledge on to the next generation.

Christian Allegory ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Christian Allegory appears in each chapter of The Old Man and the Sea. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Christian Allegory Quotes in The Old Man and the Sea

Below you will find the important quotes in The Old Man and the Sea related to the theme of Christian Allegory.
Day Four Quotes
Then the fish came alive, with his death in him, and rose high out of the water showing all his great length and width and all his power and his beauty. He seemed to hang in the air above the old man in the skiff. Then he fell into the water with a crash that sent spray over the old man and over all of the skiff.
Related Characters: Santiago
Related Symbols: The Marlin
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

The fish is so rarely out of the water in the first three days of Santiago's expedition that any jump comes as a sort of climax after all the waiting. Because fishing can be a slow and tedious process, part of Hemingway's achievement with this book is simply that he is able to make fishing an interesting and even suspenseful subject. We, as readers, are forced in a way to sit along with Santiago while we wait for the fish to slow down and get tired or break free and leave Santiago stranded. Finally, here, all the waiting pays off—the marlin not only jumps, but Santiago has also finally pierced it with a harpoon. The battle is almost over.

We read that the fish comes "alive, with his death in him." This is an odd phrase, meaning that the fish is making his last stand for life, even with Santiago's harpoon in his heart. It also recalls notions of sacrifice and resurrection, and some of the Christian imagery of the book. The rest of the passage emphasizes how huge and how majestic the fish really is. The marlin is significantly bigger than the boat Santiago rides in, and powerful enough to splash water all over the boat. Even in its death it is described as something powerful and beautiful, even sublime.


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"A man can be destroyed but not defeated."
Related Characters: Santiago (speaker)
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

This phrase, one of the better known quotations from the novella, is typical of Hemingway's writing. It is an aphorism-- it uses simple words to make a huge and general claim about the way the world works. 

Santiago says this aloud while sailing back to shore with the giant marlin and trying to fight off the many sharks who come to eat parts of it. Because Santiago hasn't eaten or slept much in a few days, it can be unclear how seriously we are meant to take these statements. 

But if we do decide to take it seriously, rather than as the byproduct of Santiago's near-fatal exhaustion, we have to figure out the difference between being destroyed and being defeated. And why is the statement limited to a man? Defeat might imply acceptance that one has lost a battle, whereas destruction simply means the end to the existence of something.

To be destroyed without being defeated, then, is something like that old saying, "going down with the ship." In Santiago's (and perhaps Hemingway's) opinion, a man is someone who goes to the very limit of their capabilities and then either succeeds or fails. But, when a man fails, he does so completely and not out of a lack of effort. 

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. 

Day Five Quotes
"How much did you suffer?"
"Plenty," the old man said.
Related Characters: Manolin (speaker)
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

The depth of the connection between Santiago and Manolin shows in this short dialogue between them. Manolin intuits that Santiago must have suffered greatly at sea for multiple days, having seen the massive fish skeleton left ashore. But, by asking Santiago how much he has suffered, Manolin tries to get the old man to talk about whatever happened over the past four days. 

Santiago doesn't take the bait, and either out of humility or pure exhaustion doesn't want to discuss his struggles. This humility again suggests the Jesus-like character of Santiago. It is presumed that Jesus suffers greatly in the Biblical story, but he refuses to complain about the pain or say much of anything against the men who kill him. Santiago alludes to the fact that he suffered "plenty" at sea, but doesn't go into greater detail.