Santiago's Cross: The Old Man and the Sea
What a story!
I recently completed my annual summer reading of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea.
It may just be me, but I cannot escape the Christ-symbols inherent to Hemingway's Santiago character. But it's not just me. Others smarter than I am also see these outright Christ-references. Carlos Baker, in his book Hemingway: The Writer as Artist (4th edition) has an informative chapter titled "The Ancient Mariner" and Baker definitely holds that Hemingway purposely created not only a Christ figure, but sees the novella as a "parable." Santiago's name (Saint James--a fisher man), his "faith," his time at sea (3 days), his bloodied hands (stymata), his prayers, his dreams of lions (a biblical figure), his sense of identity and purpose (mission), his battle with "evil" (the shark attacks), and most evidently the final scenes with Santiago carrying the skiff's mast and sail (cross-shaped) on his shoulders and falling beneath it as he struggles to get to his shack. How can we not believe Hemingway's intent after reading a sentence like this: " 'Ay,' he said aloud. There is no translation for this word and perhaps it is just a noise such as a man might make, involuntarily, feeling the nail go through his hands and into the wood."
The literary question is: Did Hemingway purposely craft Santiago as a Christ-figure? Or, are these symbols just part of his good story with no authorial intent to point to Christ? Opinions divide here. I am of the opinion that Hemingway's Santiago was intended to be a Christ-figure (affirmed by Carlos Baker). Could it be that Hemingway is telling this story to let us know that, in his view, Christ has failed? That whatever Christ did in his great, self-sacrificing work, it is all undone by the sharks? If Christianity is anything, according to Hemingway, it is a pitiful skeleton rocked by the waves of the sea near the garbage bins, misunderstood by the ignorant woman and man sipping their drinks on the Terrace.
What do you think?