The Old Man and the Sea

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Last updated: February 13, 2019

The Old Man and the Sea Callie Dorfman 1031099 Amanda Cockburn (Remake) 1 In the book The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway uses the flashback technique in order to characterize Santiago and develop key themes of the novel, such as Santiago’s connection with nature and what it means to be a hero. Hemingway employs several flashbacks as an effective technique that develops Santiago’s character as he recalls past occurrences in order to renew his strength of will.

There are three flashbacks in particular that are critical to the development of this story.The first flashback describes a time when Santiago associated himself with the marlins. The second flashback occurs when Santiago arm-wrestled the town’s strongest competitor. The third flashback discusses lions, as lions symbolize strength Santiago’s strength of will and s sense of heroic renewal throughout the novel. Santiago’s first flashback was a memory about hooking a female marlin and “all the time the male had stayed with her” (49) until she tired and did not want to fight anymore.

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The male marlin acted almost upset to see that Santiago had caught his female mate. The male’s was devotion to his partner, whom Santiago had killed, “was the saddest thing [he] ever saw” (50). In fact, he refers to killing the female marlin as an act of “treachery” (50). That Santiago feels as though he betrayed the fish highlights his close connection with nature. He sympathizes with the fish as though they were human.

This suggests that he views himself as an equal with creatures of the sea. Moreover, this flashback foreshadows how he identifies with the marlin. Though Santiago feels a connection with the marlin, he is also awestruck by his glory and size when he witnesses the marlin for the first time. In order to boost his confidence and to remind himself that he is a worthy opponent, with the same heroic qualities of the fish, he remembers “the time in the tavern at Casablanca when he played [a] hand game […] with the strongest man on the docks” (69). This arm wrestling game was relevant to Santiago’s adventure because it was a battle of strength, much like his battle with the marlin.In both competitions, Santiago demonstrates a great sense of will power and perseverance.

For example, the arm wrestling match was also a test of endurance, just like his battle with the marlin: “They had gone one day and one night with their elbows on a chalk line…the odds would change back and forth all night…but [Santiago would] raise his hand up to dead even again” (70). Similarly, he fights the fish for three long days and does not give up. After this twenty-four hour arm wrestling game, “everyone called him The Champion” (70).This defeat was important for Santiago because it proved that Santiago once had enough strength to beat the strongest man on the docks, who is implicitly compared to the marlin. It is also interesting to note that during this part of the narrative, Santiago also remembers another worthy opponent: Joe DiMaggio, another hero who shows an amazing strength of will that helps him overcome adversity. With this flashback, then, Hemingway establishes a sense of heroic virtues as spiritual rather than physical qualities.

3In fact, the emphasis on spiritual achievement versus material achievement is a prominent theme throughout the novel, and one that is symbolized by Santiago’s dreams of the lions. One of the first flashbacks in the book is about the lions he dreamt about in Africa when he was a boy. He tells Manolin “when I was your age I was before a mast on a […] ship that ran to Africa and I have seen lions on the beaches in the evening” (22). These lions are associated with Santiago’s youth, and in the “evening” of his age, he remembers the lions as a source of strength and renewal.The lions are all Santiago dreams about. The lions are an important symbol of renewal occurs throughout the novel, as though sustaining Santiago’s heroic strength. The lions display a tragic tone towards the ending because “he did not dream of the lions but instead of a vast school of porpoises” (81).

Once Santiago stopped dreaming of the lions he was not in a happy place, when Santiago would dream about the lions you knew he was in peace. Which is the tragic tone set for the end of the story.Hemingway’s use of the flashback technique emphasizes Santiago’s character traits. All three flashbacks display a different critical time in Santiago’s life. These three flashbacks Santiago has shows his connection to natural world, his will power to accomplish difficult tasks and a set of mind full of peace. Hemingway demonstrates that all people may be confronted with a difficult task but it is simple to complete with the right frame of mind.

He also shows that in everyone there is a sense of peace, youthfulness and a connection with nature.

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