Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Marlin

Magnificent and glorious, the marlin symbolizes the ideal opponent. In a world in which “everything kills everything else in some way,” Santiago feels genuinely lucky to find himself matched against a creature that brings out the best in him: his strength, courage, love, and respect.

Joe DiMaggio

For Santiago, Joe DiMaggio serves as the ultimate inspiration. The iconic baseball legend symbolizes persistence and resilience, and his suffering parallels Santiago’s. Through each hardship, Santiago thinks about DiMaggio returning to baseball despite his painful bone spurs, and the knowledge that DiMaggio was able to endure enables Santiago to do so, too. He holds his idol in such high esteem that he wonders how DiMaggio, whose father was a fisherman, would fare against the marlin. Santiago posits that he too must have grown up poor, and feels DiMaggio would understand him. Seeing something of himself in DiMaggio, Santiago uses the man as an ongoing litmus test by which to judge his own efforts, motivating himself to continually strive, and to stay disciplined. This hero worship can be thought to be empowering rather than pitiable, as it allows Santiago to hold himself up to the highest standards possible.

The Shovel-Nosed Sharks

The shovel-nosed sharks are little more than moving appetites that thoughtlessly and gracelessly attack the marlin. As opponents of the old man, they stand in bold contrast to the marlin, which is worthy of Santiago’s effort and strength. They symbolize and embody the destructive laws of the universe and attest to the fact that those laws can be transcended only when equals fight to the death. Because they are base predators, Santiago wins no glory from battling them.