According to Hemingway, man was most able to prove himself worthy in isolation. The sea, in the novel, represents the Universe and Santiago's isolation in the Universe. It is at sea, with no help and no recognition, that Santiago faces his ultimate challenge. The novel, in this regard, is an example of Naturalism in Literature.
The marlin represents the ultimate opponent, one that brings out the best in Santiago.
Santiago considers the sharks base predators, not worthy of glory. They represent destructive forces in life that serve no purpose.
Santiago considers Joe Dimaggio unbeatable. He symbolizes the indomitable will of the human spirit. Dimaggio, at the time the book was written, suffered from a bone spur, mentioned in the novel. Despite the bone spur, DiMaggio overcame his opponents, much in the same way Santiago overcomes his, despite injuries.
Santiago dreams of Lions on the beach in Africa three times. They represent virility and youth. The lion imagery at the end of the novel represents hope of eternal life.
The mast is an obvious allusion to the cross of Jesus. It is on his skiff, where stands the mast, that Santiago suffers. Santiago suffers at sea for three days with painful injuries to the palms of his hands and his back.
Santiago's young friend represents hope. Although Manolin's father prohibits him from fishing with Santiago, who is believed to be cursed, Manolin never abandons him emotionally. It can be argued, however, that as Santiago fishes, he is without hope. The 84-day fishless streak attests to it.
The lost harpoon
Santiago loses the harpoon as he fends off sharks, symbolic of individuals who lose their faith as life's woes attack. Much like Santiago without a harpoon, those without faith are defenseless.
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