The Great DiMaggio is a recurring theme and symbol throughout "The Old Man and the Sea," by Ernest Hemingway. He is Santiago's "rock" when he is in a hard place, and he is Santiago's idol. Joe DiMaggio symbolizes Santiago's perseverance and suffering and through the eyes of Santiago, he is a symbol of a "model human being". Finally, to Santiago, Joe DiMaggio is a symbol of uniqueness that is so very rare in this world.
The Great DiMaggio is a perfect symbol for the perseverance and suffering that Santiago experiences. "Do you believe the great DiMaggio would stay with a fish as long as I will stay with this one? he thought. I am sure he would and more since he is young and strong. Also his father was a fisherman. But would the bone spur hurt him too much" (68)? Santiago constantly compares himself to DiMaggio, asking himself whether or not DiMaggio would approve, or how Joe DiMaggio would act in his situation. He bases most of his actions on the actions of DiMaggio, or at least his idea of DiMaggio. Santiago uses DiMaggio as a rock upon which he gets his perseverance, thinking that if The Great DiMaggio can do it, then so can he. "What is a bone spur? he asked himself. Un espuela de hueso. We do not have them. Can it be as painful as the spur of a fighting cock in one's heel? I do not think I could endure that or the loss of the eye and of both eyes and continue to fight as the fighting cocks do" (68). .
Santiago thinks about the suffering that Joe DiMaggio constantly had to go through with his bone spurs. This put him in perspective; he compares the suffering of the bone spur to that of what beasts have to deal with on a daily basis. He then compares that to himself, saying that he would not be able to withstand that kind of pain like the great beasts of the wild or like the Great DiMaggio. He again uses DiMaggio as an anchor, to hold him down to Earth, in an attempt to keep him sane on his long, wretched, grueling journey.