Manolin is present only in the beginning and at the end of The Old Man and the Sea, but his presence is important because Manolin’s devotion to Santiago highlights Santiago’s value as a person and as a fisherman. Manolin demonstrates his love for Santiago openly. He makes sure that the old man has food, blankets, and can rest without being bothered. Despite Hemingway’s insistence that his characters were a real old man and a real boy, Manolin’s purity and singleness of purpose elevate him to the level of a symbolic character. Manolin’s actions are not tainted by the confusion, ambivalence, or willfulness that typify adolescence. Instead, he is a companion who feels nothing but love and devotion.
Hemingway does hint at the boy’s resentment for his father, whose wishes Manolin obeys by abandoning the old man after forty days without catching a fish. This fact helps to establish the boy as a real human being—a person with conflicted loyalties who faces difficult decisions. By the end of the book, however, the boy abandons his duty to his father, swearing that he will sail with the old man regardless of the consequences. He stands, in the novella’s final pages, as a symbol of uncompromised love and fidelity. As the old man’s apprentice, he also represents the life that will follow from death. His dedication to learning from the old man ensures that Santiago will live on.