On its surface, Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea tells the story of Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman who has been 84 days without a catch; Manolin, the young man who loves him; and Santiago's tremendous struggle with a gigantic marlin. Far from port, and against great odds, Santiago battles for two days to bring the fish alongside his boat, where he harpoons it. Soon sharks appear, and the old man breaks his knife after he kills just a few. During the last night of Santiago's voyage home, the sharks devour all but the head of the great fish. Throughout his epic struggle, Santiago fights with dignity, courage and stoicism.
Although Hemingway himself said this Pulitzer-prize-winning novella is about a real man and a real fish, the book can also be read as a fable or allegory, a symbolic narrative with deeper, spiritual meanings. From this perspective, Santiago can be regarded as a Christ figure. While there are obvious differences between the two characters, there are also striking similarities. These, plus Hemingway's many Christian images and terse, almost Biblical writing style, invite comparisons. Like Jesus of Nazareth, Santiago teaches his knowledge to others, displays deep faith in things greater than himself, and consciously endures suffering. .
"The old man taught the boy to fish and the boy loved him," writes Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea, page 10). Santiago teaches Manolin, his youthful pupil, as a spiritual father, much the way Christ mentored his disciples, who called Him "rabbi," which is Hebrew for "teacher." Like Jesus" conversations with his disciples, Santiago's conversations with Manolin carry the rhythm and simple question-and-answer structure of religious instruction. But their messages are very different: Christ told parables to teach His followers about the kind of life they would have to live to enter the Kingdom of God; Santiago tells stories of Joe DiMaggio to pass on to Manolin his vision, his fishing skills, and his memories.