The Old Man and the Sea

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Youth and Age 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.
Youth and Age Theme Icon

The title of the novella, The Old Man and the Sea, suggests the critical thematic role that age plays in the story. The book's two principal characters, Santiago and Manolin, represent the old and the young, and a beautiful harmony develops between them. What one lacks, the other provides. Manolin, for example, has energy and enthusiasm. He finds food and clothing for Santiago, and encourages him despite his bad luck. Santiago, in turn, has wisdom and experience. He tells Manolin stories about baseball and teaches him to fish. Santiago's determination to be a good role model for Manolin is one of his main motivations in battling the marlin for three days—he wants to show Manolin "what a man can do."

Santiago's age is also important to the novella because it has made him physically weak. Without this weakness, his triumph would not be so meaningful to him. As Santiago says, he "had seen many [fish] that weighed more than a thousand pounds and had caught two of that size in his life, but never alone" and never as an old man. Santiago finds solace and strength in remembering his youth, which is symbolized by the lions on the beach that he sees in his dreams. He recalls these lions—slow, graceful but fierce creatures—from the perspective of an old man. In doing so, he realizes that he too, although slow, can still be a formidable opponent.

Youth and Age ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Youth and Age 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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Youth and Age 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 Youth and Age.
Day One Quotes
Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.
Related Characters: Santiago
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

In this characteristically blunt introduction of Santiago, Hemingway sets him up as the novella's titular "old man."

Throughout this tale, Santiago's advanced age plays an important role in his fishing abilities and his interactions with the other fishermen. His body is breaking down, and his unlikely victory against the giant marlin seems like it might be his last big fishing expedition. His body is well-worn, and there seems to be a sort of honor in all the pain Santiago has been able to bear over the years.  

But, as Hemingway describes them, Santiago's eyes still have a lot of youth in them. They are "cheerful and undefeated," reflecting Santiago's unwillingness to let up as he struggles to catch the marlin. With eyes the same color as the sea, Santiago is one with it. The sea is Santiago's livelihood, his joy, and his true home. 

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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. 

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. 

"To hell with luck," the boy said. "I'll bring the luck with me."
Related Characters: Manolin (speaker)
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

Manolin, eager since the beginning of the book to rejoin Santiago aboard his unlucky skiff, is even more excited about the idea after the old man makes it back ashore from his arduous journey. Still Santiago worries that he has bad luck.

It seems unlikely that Santiago actually thinks himself unlucky, given that he continues to go to sea every single day and even discusses buying a lottery ticket before leaving on his big expedition. Instead, Santiago's worry about his "bad luck" is probably more a worry about how Manolin's parents will react if the boy tells his parents he wants to return to working with the old man. 

Manolin's response shows a sort of recklessness, but also suggests he might not really believe in luck either. (Most people who really believe in luck probably wouldn't curse luck itself!) But his eagerness to work with Santiago also provides a sort of hope at the end of the story, that they might indeed work together again and that Santiago might have an easier future out at sea.