Hemingway focuses on Santiago’s consciousness in this quest story. Very much in the way that a traditional soliloquy or an interior monologue serves to reveal character, this novella functions as one long exploration of the old man’s character.
Hemingway’s symbolism suggests that Santiago is a Christ-figure. After the sharks attack his fish, for example, Santiago says, “Ay”; Hemingway writes that “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.” At the end of the book, Santiago struggles up the hill with the mast on his shoulder, a symbolic echo of Christ carrying the cross. Many “religious” images contribute to this symbolic pattern, while other patterns of symbolism center on baseball and dreams of youth.
The book’s simple plot contains some element of suspense, but above all, the book lives in its beautiful imagery, the poetic evocation of the sea, and the admirable character of the old man.