In the novel The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway uses the literary device of metaphors. Hemingway uses the metaphor of the ocean to symbolize life and to depict the role that individuals play in life. Hemingway uses the metaphor of the lions to signify people who live their lives as active participants. The tourists in the novel represent the individuals, who in observe their lives and are not active participants. In the novels that Ernest Hemingway writes, he uses metaphors to reflect his life experiences and opinions. The ocean in The Old Man and the Sea is a metaphor, which represents Hemingway’s personel view of life. Hemingway believes that in life everyone must find their own niche and uses the metaphor of the ocean and the boats on it to demonstrate this.
…most of the boats were silent except for the dip of the oars. They spread apart after they were out of the mouth of the harbour and each one headed for the part of the ocean where he hoped to find fish. The old man knew he was going far out…1(page 22) Hemingway feels that in life there are people who participate in life and people who observe life as it passes just like on the ocean where there are boats that do not test their boundaries. The boats are the people in life, and most of the boats are silent. They paddle within the areas they know to be safe and always are cautious not to upset the life that they have established for themselves. Hemingway is explaining that most people don’t raise a commotion, they just allow life to happen to them. The old man is testing his limits, he is challenging the ocean, and rowing where he wants to go, not where the ocean wants to take him. Hemingway believes that in life, the farther a person stays from the observers, the more free and exhilarated they will be.
If there is a hurricane, you always see the signs of it in the sky for days ahead, if you are at sea. They do not see it ashore because they do not know what to look for, he thought. The land must make a difference too, in the shape of the clouds. But we have no hurricane coming now.2(page 51) Hemingway theorizes that in life there are going to be unexpected collisions. Just as the sea creates storms life creates storms. Those who live life to the fullest will be the least affected by these storms because they have the strength and the knowledge to handle them, but the observers or those on land will be destroyed because they do not have the power to handle the destruction that the storms will cause. The individuals who are far out to sea have the knowledge that the ocean will test them with momentous storms, and this is why they go so far out to sea. The people who Hemingway thinks face life head- on are represented by lions in the novel.
Hemingway uses the metaphor of the lion to depict the participants in life.
When Santiago is a child he visits Africa, and tells Manolin of the lions he sees. “When I was your age I was before the mast on a square-rigged ship and that ship ran to Africa and I have seen lions on the beaches in the evening.”3(page 17) Hemingway uses the lions on the beach as a metaphor, because most lions would never be found on a beach.
The only lions that would ever be found on a beach are the lions who are equivalent to the humans who are participants. The lions on the beach are going where most lions would never dare go. These lions are testing their boundaries, seeing just how far they can go, just like participants. This line also hints at Hemingway’s belief that age impairs, but does not extinguish one’s ability to be participants in their own lives.
Santiago realizes that all of his glories were in his youth, and strongly relates the power that the lions in his dreams have to his youth.
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. The played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy. He never dreamed about the boy.4(page 19) Santiago is slowly losing his ability to be an effective participant in his life because of the limitations that are associated with aging. Hemingway also experiences inabilities that he has never known and which brings him into a depression. Santiago is beginning to believe that he is not a participant in his life so he doesn’t depress himself by dreaming of anything other than the lions, who are participants. In his dreams, Santiago is living vicariously through the lions. The lions represent all that Hemingway ever was, and what he wishes he still could be. The tourists in the novel are metaphors for what Hemingway isn’t.
The tourists are metaphors for the people Hemingway believes live their lives as passive observers. The tourists appear only briefly but the statement that Hemingway makes through them is profound.
That afternoon there was a party of tourist at the Terrace and looking down in the water among the empty beer cans and dead barracudas a woman saw a great long white spine with a huge tail at the end that lifted and swung with the tide while the east wind blew a heavy steady sea outside the entrance to the harbor. ‘What’s that?’ she asked a waiter and pointed to the long backbone of the great fish that was just now garbage waiting to go out with the tide. ‘Tiburon,’ the waiter said, ‘Eshark.’ He was meaning to explain what dare grapple happened. ‘I didn’t know sharks had such handsome tails.’ ‘I didn’t either,’ her male companion said.5(page 109) These two tourists who speak are hardly differentiated from the group to which they belong. They are all metaphors for individuals who are spectators of the human scene rather than participants in its activity. They see, but they see without fully comprehending. They are only faintly curious, only passingly interested, only superficially observing, they have not been initiated into the mysteries that Santiago understands. These tourists live their lives as tourists, skimming the surface of life, without resolution or clarity. Their life reflects that of all people who live their lives ashore, who dare not grapple with the mysteries of the ocean, or of life. This is the type of life that Hemingway always tried to avoid, to the point of his taking his own life. Hemingway uses metaphors to reflect his opinions of life and the people that he has met in life. The metaphor of the sea symbolizes all of life and the roles that people must choose to have in life. The lions are a metaphor for the people Hemingway respects and the type of person Hemingway is. The tourists are a metaphor for the individuals who choose to live their life as onlookers but never participants. Through Hemingway’s use of penetrating metaphors in his novels, readers gain an understanding of Hemingway’s life and or their own. Through his novels Hemingway challenges every member of society to admit that most people are observers and through his novels dares them to head out to sea and catch their marlin.
Bibliography Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. Triad Grafton. London. 1976 *All subsequent entries are from this source* Endnotes 1Ernest Hemingway. The Old Man and the Sea. Triad Grafton. London. 1976