the old man and the sea summary

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The Old Man and the Sea Summary

What Is the Significance of the Lions on the Beach for the Old Man?


The Old Man and the Sea is a famous novel written by Ernest Hemingway. The book earned the author the award of the Nobel Prize for literature and worldwide recognition. Though the novel may seem simple at the beginning, it tells the story of bravery and heroism. It includes many symbols, like the sea as a representation of life, the great marlin as a symbol of challenge, and the main character as a metaphor for an artist who goes on proving his talent and abilities day by day. A noticeable symbol of the book relates to the lions, which signify youth, strength, nobility, and harmony.

Animals as Symbols of the Main Character

The story is about the fisherman Santiago, who has an apprentice named Manolin. The old man has not caught any fish for three months. Therefore, he starts his battles in the sea, hoping to catch some desperately. The whole novel is about the struggle of Santiago with the sea, the sharks who surround his boat, and the marlin, which the man tries to catch. During the three days at sea, Santiago dreams about the lions. Many years before, when the hero was young, he used to sail ships to Africa. It was where he saw the lions. “When I was your age, I was before the mast on a square-rigged ship that ran to Africa, and I have seen lions on the beaches in the evening” (Hemingway). The character does not dream of people but the places he visited and the world he saw. Hemingway writes, “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 the lions on the beach.” The old man feels as if he has more connection with the natural world than with people in his life, which is why the lions become a major theme of his dreams (Shmoop). He continues further, “I wish he’d sleep and I could sleep and dream about the lions, he thought. Why are the lions the main thing that is left?”

The animals are remembrances of Santiago’s youth. His battle in the sea for three days is an attempt to prove that he still remains a skilled man as he used to be many years ago. The lions are predators and hunters who attest daily they are the strongest as the old man, fighting with the sharks and the marlin, proves that his strength is not just a memory. Santiago feels comfort while dreaming of the lions, for they are the connection between that past and present. “He began to dream of the long yellow beach, and he saw the first of the lions come down onto it in the early dark, and then the other lions came, and he rested his chin on the wood of the bows where the ship lay anchored with the evening off-shore breeze, and he waited to see if there would be more lions, and he was happy” (Hemingway). In the old man’s dreams, the lions play as young cats. They represent youth and possibilities. Imagining them, the man is happy as with young Manolin. Santiago enjoys their company as much as he loves being with the boy. “More often than not, the old man dreams of the boy and the lions almost simultaneously” (Pinkmonkey). The lions also inspire the old man to fulfill his ambitions. “When the lions appear in their adult majesty, they suggest and signify great strength and nobility and provide Santiago with inspiration, the nobility of purpose” (Pinkmonkey). The lions always appear in Santiago’s memory among nature that symbolizes a harmony of life in the book. The old man manages to catch an incredibly big marlin, but at the end of the novel Santiago fails because the sharks attack the fish and eat it, leaving him just with the skeleton. However, this does not defeat the old man, because he has proved to himself that he is still a strong and courageous fisherman.


All symbols gradually build up the major theme of the book, which tells that life is a battle. “In order to gain nobility in life, a person must show bravery, confidence, courage, patience, optimism, and intelligence during the struggle” ( Pinkmonkey). The author underlines the idea that it is not an award what is important in life but courage to fight. “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” (Pinkmonkey). The lions are a significant metaphor for the true interior strength of the old man which remains as great as many years ago, even though the time has passed. Santiago fails to bring the fish to his home, but he reaches his aim. The old man proves he is a fisherman, which becomes the biggest award for his bravery.

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