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Symbolism in The Old Man and the Sea


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  Abstract:The Old Man and the Sea tells a story about an old Cuban fisherman and his battle on the sea. It is wellknown as one of Hemingway's masterpiece. The theme is deep, and it is a song of heroism. The words "A man can be destroyed but not defeated" has gently landed in everyone's heart. Through it we can see Hemingway's famous iceberg technique, which is a simple but highly suggestive style. It was vividly embodied in this work, thus he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his " mastery of the art of modern narration".
  Key words:iceberg technique; symbolism
  CLC number:I106 Document code:AArticle ID:1672-1578(2011)01-0015-02
  Regarded as a giant both in American literature and the world literature, Ernest Hemingway was born on July 21, 1898, at Oak Park, Illinois. In his childhood, influenced by his father, he was interested in music, pictures, hunting, fishing and the like.
  His variety of interest particularly the love of fishing extremely affected all his life especially helped him a lot in his writing. For example the novel The Old Man and the Sea by which he won the Nobel Prize in literature In 1954 has got much writing inspiration from his fishing experience. It can be said that this work fully presents the "iceberg" principle of Hemingway.The images presented in The Old Man and the Sea and the imagination extended by them are various and profound, and it is just its extensiveness and richness that makes this work with the characters of more than 26,000 become an immortal classic.
  2、Symbolism analysis in the novel
  2.1 The Definition of symbolism
  In literature, a symbol is a thing that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, convention or accidental resemblance, especially, a visible sign of something invisible. The symbol generally dose not stands for the meaning, not for anything absolutely definite; it evokes an object that suggests the meaning. Hemingway perfectly used "symbolism" in this novel writing.
  2.2 Hemingway's "iceberg theory" related to symbolism
  As the paper mentioned forgoing, Hemingway was too good famous for his iceberg technique. He believed a good writer does not need to reveal every detail of a character or action; the one-eighth that is presented will suggest all other meaningful dimensions of the story, whereas the other seven-eighth of which is concealed beneath the surface of the water in which it floats. Thus Hemingway's language is highly symbolic and suggestive. There won't be great difficulties to understand the literary meaning of his short sentences and simple words if one takes it for granted, but a work by Hemingway demands deliberate attention. In other word, one has to keep a close eye on Hemingway's words and to read between the lines because of his highly symbolic language.
  2.3 Symbolism analysis
  For the sake of convenience, here the paper will give the irreverent elements a loss. Put it simply, it will chiefly focus its attention on discussing the symbols in the novel and what on earth they symbolize in the following passage.
  2.3.1 The title
  To begin with, the title of the book itself is a symbol. The old man represents the human race and the sea symbolizes nature. The whole story could be eyed as the metaphor of the struggle that takes place between human beings and the nature. But the story also indicates that nature is to some extent superior and that the humankind is not able to win this fighting. To support this thesis I apply here a statement made by the old man "It is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun and the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers." Santiago knows that mankind is always inferior; he admits he is happy that he does not have to try and kill the moon or the stars because he knows they are much stronger and that he would always be defeated in a fight against them. The old man, Santiago to some degree symbolizes Christ in many ways. His name derives from San Diego (Saint James), suggesting the old man's ties to the Christian religion. And he embodies much of that religion. For instance, his strong right hand is his salvation and his left hand is the traitor to his body, he carries his mast up the hill to his home and falls beneath it like Christ bearing cross. And finally in one unmistakable symbolism line, he carries out as a man would "felling the nail goes through this hand and into the wood" Yet Santiago in fact is not a fervent Christian. The holy images that adorn his shack belong to his dead wife not to him. And he admits he is not a very religious man even as he offers God a promise to say numerous prayers if God will allow him to catch his fish. As a matter of fact there is also a pagan element running through Santiago characters (as there is though much of actual Cuban nature); in many ways the sea is the deity predating Christianity. In addition, Santiago also serves as a metaphor for the creative artist.
  2.3.2 The old man, Santiago
  The old man, Santiago, is a very old and poor fisherman, but after reading the novel, after reading the stories about he playing the hand game with a great black man who regarded as the strongest man on the docks, and the fight between he and that large marlin, the struggle with the sharks, I changed my mind. I thought he is a very tough and powerful man with great determination, courage and confidence. I can find his optimism, confidence, wisdom, perseverance and bravery anywhere in the book.
  2.3.3 The little boy
  The boy Manolin in the story took the beautiful and bright days back for the old man. Starting from five,the child learning to fish on board from the old man . Although the child is young, hut he isn' t childish ,he learned from the man not only the ability of catching fish, but also the spirit of self-esteem and the understanding of the hardships of life and man's responsibility. Hemingway revealed his sympathy to the weak, the contempt for the rich, and the dissatisfaction of the gap between rich and poor, so he let the child return to the old man when he feel lonely and hopeless after the failure. Manolin symbolized the disciples of Jesus. The ones who would follow him to his death and then go out and preach his ways. He is like a rising sun giving the unlimited hope to the people. The old man would finally be defeated by the time, but his spirit can be multiplied and passed.
  2.3.4 The Marlin
  The marlin represented many different things.For example, he symbolized strength and durability by putting up such a struggle. By doing this he also made Santiago a legend among the other fishermen.The marlin could also represent the great struggle we all go through. Accomplishing or obtaining something does not always end one's journey.Once Santiago hooked the fish he still had to bring it home. Magnificent and glorious, the marlin symbolizes the ideal opponent. In a world in which "everything kills everything else in some way," Santiago feels genuinely lucky to find himself matched against a creature that brings out the best in him: his strength and courage, his love and respect.
  2.3.5 The other fisherman
  All of the other fisherman in the story are the people that want the newest equipment and want to do away with the old ways of living.They like the people that had to choose between setting Jesus free or a murder free and they chose the murder because they did not understand him and his ways which frightened the crowd.The fishers represent anyone who would rather think about themselves rather than others.In ways the fishers are like the sharks wanting to take things away from Santiago while Santiago is much like the marlin.
  2.3.6 The lions
  The lions in Santiago's dreams represented his lost youth and his decreasing strength.For instance, when he needed strength on his long and strenuous voyage he thought of his dreams of the lions, and of them playing on the beach without a care in the world.With this in his mind it seemed to make him stronger and gave him the endurance to continue.The lions could also symbolize pride.Like the lions Santiago had pride.He was proud of his fishing skills.He was able to keep his lines straight and at varying levels to improve his catch of fish.He was better at this than the younger, richer, generation.
  The novel is rich in symbolism that enhances both the plot and the Themes. All of the symbols employed by Hemingway add to the basic theme that life is an endless struggle with illusory rewards. In order to gain nobility in life, a person must show bravery, confidence, courage, patience, optimism, and intelligence during the struggle. Then, even if the prize is lost, the person has won the battle, proving himself capable of retaining grace under pressure, the ultimate test of mankind.
  We had known symbolism is the most striking feature in the novel, evidently, only a complete and correct analysis of these symbols can help one understand the book better and deeper. The analysis mentioned above will certainly make the masterpiece easily understood.


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