He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy.

Since the publication of The Old Man and the Sea, there has been much debate surrounding the story’s symbols. Does the old man represent the author nearing the end of his career? Do the vicious sharks stand for cruel literary critics or the inevitably destructive forces of nature? While most readers agree that, as a parable, The Old Man and the Sea addresses universal life, the image of the lions playing on the African beach, which is presented three times in the novel, remains something of an enigma. Like poetry, the lions are supremely suggestive without being tethered to a single meaning. Indeed, the only certainty about the image is that it serves as a source of comfort and renewal for Santiago.

This passage, which describes Santiago’s dreams on the night before he sets out for his fishing expedition (the first day that the narrative covers), simultaneously confirms and moves beyond Hemingway’s immediately recognizable vision of the universe. Hemingway made his career telling stories about “great occurrences,” “great fish,” and “contests of strength.” The fact that Santiago no longer dreams of any of these makes him unique among Hemingway’s heroes. Of course, by dreaming of lions he is still in a recognizably “Hemingwayesque” world, but the lions here are at play and thus suggest a time of youth and ease. They are also linked explicitly to Manolin, a connection that is made apparent at the end of the novel as the boy watches over his aged friend as Santiago’s dream of the lions returns.