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“Eyes the Same Color as the Sea”:
Santiago’s Expatriation from Spain and Ethnic Otherness in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea
Jeffrey Herlihy
Morningside College

Hemingway often used expatriation as a literary device, yet critics have overlooked the fact that Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea is an expatriate. Born in Spain’s Canary Islands, Santiago moved to Cuba as a young man; this circumstance has a significant impact on his social condition. The expatriate protagonist is isolated from his countrymen, ridiculed by his adopted community, and a failure at his chosen profession. To remedy feelings of loss, the old man reminisces about his homeland and adopts Cuban behaviors in language, sport, religion, alcohol consumption, and fishing, among other things. The purpose of his actions is to pass into Cuban society and achieve a new sense of identity. This article uses an

In several of Ernest Hemingway’s novels, the main character’s expatriation is a principal rhetorical device and a theme which critics often neglect. In The Old Man and the Sea (1952), Hemingway employs the perspective of a Spaniard in Cuba to broaden the scope of the narrative. As the author explains in a letter to Lillian Ross,“The Old Man was born a catholic in the island of Lanza Rota [sic] in the Canary Islands” (SL 807). This origin, with its attendant national and cultural differences, makes Santiago an outsider in the Cuban fishing village of Cojímar and is a principal motivation in his actions. Santiago’s “eyes the same color as the sea” (10) mark his otherness in a conspicuous and unchangeable way, setting him apart from the impoverished mulatto fishing community, and linking him to European exploitation of the island nation. Probing the political, social, and cultural contexts that would affect a Spaniard living in a former colony, this study examines Santiago’s foreignness in the novella to establish how the protagonist’s ethnic and national otherness affects his actions and sense of self in Cuba.

The existing critical reception of The Old Man and the Sea has overlooked Santiago’s Spanish origins, an oversight that has had a profound importance on the interpretation of the work. Every critic—including Spaniard Angel Capellán—reads the novella as though Santiago is Cuban, despite the fact that he was born in Spain. An analysis of the old man’s life [End Page 25] will demonstrate that he lived in the Canary Islands long enough to forge Spanish national sentiments; this investigation will make clear that Santiago is a foreigner in Cuba attempting to associate himself with his new community through cultural rites specific to the place.

National identity is composed of cultural, social, ethnic, linguistic, and familial influences. While stating that Santiago was born in Spain’s Canary Islands, Hemingway seems to leave the amount of time that Santiago lived there unclear. Before emigrating to Latin America, Santiago worked on ships that ran from the Canary Islands to the African coast, and as an old man he dreams from time to time about the lions he saw from the decks. The narrator remarks that Santiago “dreamed of Africa when he was a boy” (OMATS 24, my emphasis). Hemingway’s use of the term “boy” throughout the text to refer to this period in Santiago’s life does not necessarily indicate that Santiago moved to Cuba as a child. In the Spanish-speaking world, the terms synonymous with “boy”—chico and muchacho—can refer to males until they marry, even if they are still single in their 30s. As Hemingway uses the word “boy” in its Hispanic sense, the label does not indicate that Santiago left the Canary Islands before forging a Spanish national identity.

An enigmatic dialogue between the old man and Manolin helps clarify how many years Santiago lived in Spain. Manolin explains that “[t]he great Sisler’s father was never poor and he, the father, was playing in the Big Leagues when he was my age” (22). Santiago responds, “When I was your age I was before the mast on a square rigged ship that ran to Africa” (22). George Sisler (the great Dick Sisler’s father) first played professional baseball at age 22, and therefore Manolin should be 22 during the novella and Santiago should have been the same age when working as a foremast hand out of the Canaries.

Several critics have interpreted this dialogue with different results,1 but Hemingway’s own note concerning this phrase on the original typescript has yet to be considered in the discussion. Hemingway made a notation on the typescript to clarify the cryptic message about the age of the two characters. The initial typed draft reads: “The great Sisler’s father was never poor and he was playing in the Big Leagues when he was my age” (EH Typescript). Above the text between the first “he” and “was” (located in the phrase “and he was playing”), Hemingway inserted “, the father,” by hand. With the correction, the typescript reads “The great Sisler’s father was never poor and he, the father, was playing in the Big Leagues at my age” [End Page 26] (EH Typescript, my emphasis). The change insures that “he” refers to George Sisler, and because George Sisler premiered for the St. Louis Browns in 1915 at age 22, Hemingway’s addition confirms that Manolin is 22 years old during the novel and that Santiago lived in Spain at least until his early twenties (if not longer).2 When, in the first film version of The Old Man and the Sea, director Peter Viertel changed Manolin’s words from “my age” to “sixteen” without the author’s consent, Hemingway insisted that the narrator explain: “The boy was not accurate here” (qtd. in Fuentes 247). Hemingway also objected to casting Felipe Pazos, age 11, as Manolin, because the boy looked like a “tadpole” (Viertel 279). In both the novella and the film, then, the author took steps to underscore the idea that Santiago grew to manhood in the Canary Islands, not Cuba.

Hemingway also gave his protagonist both a name and a nickname alluding to his Spanish identity. The name Santiago evokes Spain’s national hero, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar. Vivar fought with and against the Moors during the Reconquest in the 11th century and the battle-cry of his campaigns was “Santiago! Santiago!,” because, according to the legend, Saint James appeared to fight for the Christians in the battle of Clavijo. Like Santiago, Vivar was an exile who never returned to his homeland in the north of Spain. As Henry Edward Watts explains in The Christian Recovery of Spain, Vivar was “closely connected with the process of national deliverance” (70). Vivar received the nickname El Cid Campeador (campeón in modern Spanish) for his role as the “man who had fought and beaten the select fighting-man of the opposite side, in the presence of the two armies” (Watts 76). Similarly, Santiago receives the nickname campeón after arm-wrestling with the negro from Cienfuegos—the strongest man on the docks—while bettors on both sides “sat on high chairs against the wall and watched” (OMATS 69). Cubans frequently designate foreigners by nicknames consistent with national origin—Ernesto Guevara, for example, was dubbed “Che” for his Argentinean speech—and thus Santiago’s designation as campéon, a common peninsular nickname deriving from El Cid’s nickname, reflects his Spanish origins.

Santiago reminisces every night of “the white peaks of the Islands rising from the sea and then he dreamed of the different harbours and roadsteads of the Canary Islands” (OMATS 25). Apparently without nostalgia for Cuba, he constantly reminisces about his homeland. Santiago has repeated these tales so often that Manolin has grown tired of them, [End Page 27] responding, “I know. You told me” (22). Nationality has been defined as “the sentiment of belonging to a community whose members identify with a set of symbols, beliefs and ways of life” (Guibernau 14). The Cojímar community rejects Santiago—even laughing at him (OMATS 11). Considering the number of years the old man spent in the Canary Islands, his melancholy recollections of Spain, and his alienation in the village, it is clear that Santiago is not Cuban.3 The fisherman is a Spanish expatriate, a man in exile from his homeland, and, just as it does for Hemingway’s previous expatriate protagonists—men such as Jake Barnes, Frederic Henry, and Robert Jordan—this status has profound consequences for his life.

In a letter to Malcolm Cowley, Hemingway explained the in-depth knowledge of Cuban culture concealed in his deceptively simple novella:4

If I wanted to I could have put in that everybody lived in the same road, and what they did and what they thought. And how they lived and how they put in the dingy race and bootlegging days and revolution and civil, medical and religious trouble and every change in death and marriage and birth and economic thing I know about the village [. . . .] This story, Malcolm, is what I knew and had figured out in those early chapters with what I have learned since [. . . .] [W]hen I wrote this Old Man and the Sea, I knew more and I could write with the same degree of concentration and elimination . . . .

(qtd. in Brasch 218–219)

Many concealed themes in the novella concern Santiago’s foreignness in Cuba. Richard Gott’s monograph, Cuba: A New History (2004), discusses Spanish-Cuban relations during the colonial and postcolonial eras. Gott points out that “until 1898, Cuba’s population was divided by race and class and ethnic origin, and the country’s history was characterised by endemic violence and ingrained racism” (5). Spanish immigrants established their own social circles apart from the mainstream, and strove for a distinctly Spanish (not Cuban) community. Social clubs became a principal mechanism for maintaining pockets of Spain in the colony. Spaniards established “casinos, or social centres, in Havana, in some of the most sumptuous buildings in the city,” and these venues “were designed as social meeting places, where daughters could be married off to someone [End Page 28] from the right region [of Spain]. They had their own theatres and libraries; they created credit and savings banks; they wrote their own newspapers, notably the Diario de la Marina. They provided hospitals and schools for their members, everything from the cradle to the grave” (Gott 120

In this way, “Spaniards kept their regional identities alive” (Gott 120), and, as a consequence, Cuban society fractured along lines of ethnicity and nationality. The divide between native Cubans and Spaniards was apparent in eating and drinking habits, dress, educational practices, pastimes, social ceremonies, vernacular and accent in the Spanish language, and religious rites. Spaniards living in Cuba retained and defended their culture of origin, shunned native Cubans, and, during the war of independence, “[m]ost Spaniards on the island backed the Spanish cause. Recent immigrants and their children, the peninsulares, were happy to fight, to reassert Spanish sovereignty” (Gott 75).

Santiago’s status as a Spanish-born man in Cojímar, then, has a significant impact on his social condition. While he does not participate in expatriate Spanish social clubs nor openly display a regional identity from Spain, as a European in an impoverished Cuban village, he must assume some of the weight of his compatriots’ social inclinations in the former colony. Due to his accent in the Spanish language, personal history, and ethnicity, Santiago cannot avoid association with his place of origin. Consequently, Santiago adopts some of the cultural and social practices of his new country in an attempt to ease the stresses of expatriation—but, as we see clearly in his dreams and anecdotes about Spain, the old man cannot integrate fully with the Cuban community.

It is also important to interpret Santiago’s regional, or Canarian, heritage. While Lanzarote is 100 miles from the African coast and 660 miles south of the Iberian Peninsula, the islands are among the most traditionalistic regions of Spain. “The Canarians,” writes James Minahan, are the “most conservative of the Spanish peoples” and have “a high incidence of fair hair and fair eyes” (145). Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo points out that the islands have clear “reflections of a traditional peninsular society” (532). In the 19th and 20th centuries, many Canarios emigrated to Cuba, and colonial ties to Cuba are still an active feature of Canarian heritage today. During the imperial period, the Spanish government encouraged Canarians to move to Cuba in order to offset the growing African presence on the island, and, consequently, Caucasian ethnicity became an important [End Page 29] part of the Spanish identity in the colony. As James Parsons points out, the colonial government’s “reflected fears of a growing black presence and . . . desire to ‘whiten’ the population” drove efforts “to attract Canarios” to Cuba (191). In fact, the precise purpose of the Real Junta de Fomento in Havana was “the promotion of immigration of the white race to Cuba, especially Canarios” (qtd. in Parsons 191). These white “newcomers typically moved up to become mayorales,” or bosses, while Afro-Cubans toiled in slavery, and thereafter were limited to subordinate social status (Parsons 191).5

To this day a festival in the Canary Islands celebrates the whiteness of Spaniards in Cuba and ridicules Afro-Cuban traits. During Carnival in La Palma, men dress either as indianos (Spaniards who emigrated to Cuba and returned to Spain) or as Negra Tomasa (a mythic Cuban woman with sexual powers). Indianos don typical Cuban clothing such as white shirts, straw hats, and necklaces of flowers, and carry straw suitcases filled with fake money. The men cover their faces and arms with talcum powder to accentuate Caucasian racial characteristics. The other masqueraders, dressed as Negra Tomasa, wear African hair pieces as well as enormous fake hips and breasts, and smear black shoe polish on their skin to simulate African skin tone. The racial element of the celebration demonstrates the importance of whiteness to the Canarian identity and marks the deep ethnic divide between Afro-Cubans and Europeans in the Caribbean.

During four centuries of colonial occupation, Spaniards remained a minority in Cuba. The outcome of Spanish colonial domination of Cuba was racism, as Spaniards adopted an assumed social superiority over the Cuban people. In 1873, Antonio Gallenga described immigrants from Spain in Cuba as “[p]rejudiced and bigoted” (41), reflecting metropolitan colonialist biases (5). As a result, Cuba experienced a post-colonial backlash against ethnic Europeans in the 20th century. Acrimonious feelings toward Spaniards are still present in Latin American cultural celebrations such as Quemando el viejo (burning the old man). In this festivity that marks the New Year, participants set a “Viejo” (a blue-eyed effigy of a Spaniard) on fire, jump over the ashes for good luck, and stomp out the remains in celebration. In the same vein, many Latin American leaders today openly shun European heritage. In 2003, Hugo Chávez changed the name of the date memorializing Columbus’s incursion to “The Day of Indian Resistance,” remarking that “[w]e Venezuelans, we Latin Americans, have no reason to honor Columbus.”6 In 2006, Bolivian President [End Page 30] Evo Morales said that Latin America’s 500-year “campaign of resistance was not in vain,” and continued, “We’re taking over now over the next 500 years. We’re going to put an end to injustice, to inequality.”7 Similarly, Jefferson Pérez, an Ecuadorian race walker, remarked that “when I won the gold medal at the Olympics in Atlanta, I renounced the inferiority complex that they have put upon us for 500 years” (1A).

Spanish leaders continue an attitude of assumed superiority over Latin Americans. In 2007, King Juan Carlos I of Spain said “¿Por qué no te callas?” (“Why don’t you shut up?”) to Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez in a public forum, addressing Chávez as “” (which, in Spanish is used only for close acquaintances, family, or children, and is insulting in other circumstances). Spaniards celebrated their king’s comments; thousands downloaded the sound bite of Juan Carlos’s words as a cellular ringtone.8 Latin America did not ignore the insult; in fact, many of the viejos burned in the streets in 2008 New Year’s celebrations were effigies of the Spanish king, some with “Why don’t you shut up?” written across the forehead (9).

Relations between Spain and Cuba were even more strained in Santiago’s lifetime. José Martí—leader of Cuba’s independence movement and national hero—was exceedingly anti-Spanish. Despite being the Havana-born son of two Spaniards, Martí’s “Manifesto of Montecristi” calls for Cubans to end relationships with people from Spain. “Burn the tongue,” he writes, “of whomever told you I served the mother country” (51). Martí maintained that the Spanish occupation of Cuba was “aggressive and insolent” and that Iberian influence “was atrophying the life of its own children” (85). The revolutionary Cuban leader also called for hostilities against the Spanish living on the island, calling them “impure people that will pay” (23).

As a result of this backlash, a mere “40 percent of the half million Spaniards who came to Cuba in the first 20 years of the Republic remained there” (Gott 119). The complicated social context in the former colony “made migration to Cuba less attractive, and the mood in Cuba changed after the revolution in 1933. Spanish immigrants were no longer made welcome. The great tide of refugees at the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939 headed for Mexico City rather than Havana” (Gott 120). In 1951, when Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea, Cuba was still a harsh social climate for Spaniards.10

This places Santiago in a precarious position. The old man does not have the financial resources to return to Spain, he enjoys no fraternal relationships [End Page 31] with other Spaniards, and the Cuban community is openly hostile to people of his race and national background. In spite of this challenge, the expatriate Santiago attempts to reduce the differences between himself and his adopted community by participating in Cuban cultural activities, including baseball. Several scholars have researched the baseball references in The Old Man and the Sea. Philip Melling, for example, argues that Hemingway uses baseball in the text to emphasize the influence of the United States in Cuba during the early 1950s. This critic contends that baseball is the tool of a capitalistic system which “developed an empire and acquired new lands through a process of pacification and control” (14). According to Melling, Hemingway uses references to baseball in the text to create a protagonist who “worships America from afar” (23).

But Melling, like many previous critics, misinterprets the role of baseball in 20th century Cuban society. Baseball in the colonial and post-colonial Caribbean was more than a pastime; in fact, profits from the first professional Cuban baseball league were funneled to guerrilla groups fighting for Cuban independence against Spain.11 Emilio Sabourín, founder of the Cuban league, was sentenced to life in prison by the Madrid government during the war for independence (Guttmann 82), and due to baseball’s associations with revolutionary movements in Cuba, the Spanish government banned the game outright in 1869. Roberto González Echevarría points out that “[b]aseball was a sport played [in Cuba] in defiance of Spanish authorities” and notes that the pastime was “secessionist and dangerously violent” (34). Baseball, then, is a social rite that both connects the Spanish Santiago to his Cuban community and separates him from the colonial past. As Arnold Van Gennep points out in Rites of Passage, forging a place in a new social group involves rejecting the values of a previous world (130).

Santiago also uses Cuban religious rites to strengthen his ties to his new community. While Spain and Cuba are both predominantly Catholic cultures, there are saints, rites, and ceremonies specific to each country. Hemingway, a convert to Catholicism, draws heavily on religious symbolism in The Old Man and the Sea.12 While remarking, “I am not religious” (OMATS 64), Santiago has images of both the Virgin of Cobre and a Sacred Heart of Jesus in his home. He pledges to say “ten Our Father and ten Hail Marys” and make a “pilgrimage to Virgin of Cobre” if his fishing is successful (65). The Virgin of Cobre, a sixteen-inch high statue of an [End Page 32] apparently mulatto Virgin Mary, is enshrined in a basilica formerly dedicated to Santiago, the patron saint of Spanish conquest. Believed to have miraculous powers, the Virgin has ties to Cuban independence. Cuban veterans believed that the Virgin of Cobre intervened on their behalf in 1895–1898, aiding the rebels in their fight for liberation from Spain. The soldiers appealed to the Vatican to name her patroness of the island, and in 1916, Pope Benedict XV made the Virgin of Cobre Cuba’s most important religious icon (Daniel Reinoso interview with the author).13

The Virgin of Cobre is not an exclusively Catholic figure; she also represents a goddess in Santería, the Afro-Caribbean faith. The Virgin is syncretized with Oshun (also spelled Ochún), the goddess of womanly love, marriage, and rivers (including, perhaps, the Gulf Stream—that river in the sea). The egg is a symbol of Oshun, as are the colors yellow, red, copper, and gold, and the deity punishes the unfaithful with stomach ailments. The pilgrims who seek the statue (whether followers of Catholic or Santería rites) bring pebbles, eggs, mirrors, sweet-tasting treats, and copper bracelets as offerings (Reinoso interview with the author).

Allusions to such symbolism in the novel suggest that Hemingway was certainly aware of Oshun’s spirit, and that Santiago may be. For example, while struggling for the marlin against the sharks, the old man could “hardly breathe now and he felt a strange taste in his mouth. It was coppery and sweet and he was afraid of it for a moment” (OMATS 119). In what may be an allusion to Oshun’s power to cause an unsettled stomach, Santiago also eats a raw dolphinfish (dorado) and remarks that while it is not sweet, “I have chewed it all well and I am not nauseated” (79). The old man’s prize marlin had stripes that “were wider than a man’s hand with his fingers spread and the fish’s eye looked as detached as the mirrors in a periscope or as a saint in a procession” (95) and a female marlin he reminisces about has a “colour almost like the backing of mirrors” (48). The last time he sees his great catch, it is “in the reflection from the street light” (121). Sargasso weed in the Gulf Stream also has nuances of the goddess, looking “as though the ocean were making love with something under a yellow blanket” (71), and the loggerhead turtles are “yellow in their armour-plating, strange in their love-making” (35–36). Santiago imagines a pot of “yellow rice” (15) to share with Manolin, and as the marlin pulls the skiff, “yellow weed [was] on the line but the old man knew that only made an added drag and he was pleased. It was the yellow Gulf weed that [End Page 33] had made so much phosphorescence in the night” (53). The old man also dreams of the “long yellow beach” (80 ) where he saw the lions in Africa as a young man.

At least one critic feels that Santiago ignores Santería. “Resisting the influence of African Powers—Yemaya, Eshu, Eleggua, and Ochosi,” writes Phillip Melling, “Santiago shows no interest in the healing capabilities of the Afro-Cuban ceremony.”14 Instead, this critic continues, Santiago concentrates on the American pastime of baseball for strength only to find out that “the quest for human perfectibility in baseball is not transferable to the spiritual landscape of the Caribbean” (22). Yet while Santería is never directly mentioned in the book, Santiago is surrounded by Santería symbols. In a letter to Lillian Ross, Hemingway remarks that Santiago “certainly believed in something more than the church” (SL 807).

It is also essential to emphasize that this Spaniard promises a “pilgrimage to Virgin of Cobre” (54) instead of a religious journey on the Camino de Santiago. Rather than a voyage to the tomb of his namesake apostle, patron saint of his native land and of the Spanish conquest, Santiago promises a pilgrimage to the icon of his adopted country—a Virgin who achieved fame by interceding against the Spanish. Attention to Cuban religious rites and pilgrimage is part of the old man’s quest to identify with the people of Cojímar.

The Cuban language is another social mechanism in the text. While expatriate protagonists in Hemingway’s other novels are multilingual, Santiago speaks only Spanish. However, Hemingway’s use of Spanish in The Old Man and the Sea demonstrates Santiago’s control of a dialect particular to Cuba as the old man leaves behind his native Canarian speech patterns and adopts the Latin American vernacular. For instance, “galano” means “well-dressed” in Spain but identifies a species of shark in Cuba; “dentuso” means “big-toothed,” and “dorado” means “golden” in Spain—while in Cojímar the words refer to different fish. The old man also employs “brisa” in its Cuban sense. While in Spanish dictionaries “brisa” means “breeze,” in Cuba the word also refers to the trade wind and to hunger. Hemingway plays a word game with this Cubanism: “He looked at the sky and saw white cumulus clouds built like friendly piles of ice cream.” Observing the tasty clouds, Santiago remarks “Light brisa” (OMATS 60). Such words could have been translated to English, but by adhering to Spanish, Hemingway retains their additional nuances. [End Page 34]

This table shows all of the italicized Spanish words in the text with their peninsular and Cuban meanings.

Page(s) Cuba meaning Spain meaning
Sala[d]o 9 Unlucky Salty
Guano 15–16 Thicket/palm frond Bird droppings
Bodega 17 Pantry/general store Wine cellar
Jota 22 Letter “J”/homosexual Letter “J”
Qué va 23, 26 No way! No way!
La mar 29 The sea The sea (poetic)
El mar 30 The sea The sea
Dorado 74 Dolphinfish Golden
Agua mala 35–36 Man-of-war jellyfish Bad water
Cardel 51 Fishing line Fishing line
Brisa 61, 125 Easterly wind/Hunger Breeze
Calambre 61 Cramp Cramp
Gran Ligas 67–68 U.S. Baseball Leagues Big ties
Tigres 68 Tigers (baseball team) Tigers
Juegos 68 Game/Match/Revolution Game (activity)
Un espuela de hueso 68 A bone spur A bone spur
El Campeón 70 The Champion The Champion/Buddy
Dentuso 101, 103, 105 Mako Big-toothed
Ay 107–108 Exclamation Exclamation
Galano 107–109, 113–114 White-tipped shark Well-dressed
Tiburon (sic) 127 Shark Shark

Hemingway was multilingual and had years of experience with peninsular and Cuban variants of the Spanish language. While the author employed an array of Spanish in the text, the majority is Latin American dialect. So, while Hemingway could have used the English word “game” instead of juego when Santiago thinks of baseball, the author uses Spanish because in Cuba the word juego is complex in its reaches. As María Jesús Nieto notes, in their first public conversation, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez metaphorically interchanged the words “‘juego’ and ‘revolución’” (39). The novella’s insistence on Cuban usage demonstrates that Santiago has separated himself from his linguistic roots. The old man’s application [End Page 35] of Latin American vernacular is a significant step toward social integration, as the mere pronunciation of a word or formula, observes Van Gennep, “has the effect of creating. . . [a] bond” (32).

Hemingway uses just one instance of Spanish particular to the Canary Islands in The Old Man and the Sea, and does so in a manner corroborating Santiago’s use of Cuban dialect as a social device. Malcolm Cowley wrote to Hemingway pointing out an apparent mistake in Santiago’s use of two different names for the same type of fish in the novella. On his first day at sea, the old man catches a ten-pound tuna that he calls an “[a]lbacore” (39), but as the novella progresses, Santiago calls the same fish “bonito” (58 two occasions, 74). Hemingway responded to Cowley that Santiago knew precisely what he was saying: “This fish was a small tuna, but the old man being from the Canaries, would call him ‘albacora’ and think of him generally as ‘Bonito’” (qtd. in Brasch 222). Thus, Santiago retains his Canarian essence in Cuba, “thinking” of the fish one way and expressing it—a conscious change in action—another. Furthermore, as a second language is harder to manage when physically exhausted, by his third day on the water Santiago has not the strength to “think” of the fish one way and call it something else—so he reverts back to his native speech pattern. This letter to Cowley letter substantiates much of the central concept of this study, that the expatriation of Hemingway’s Spanish protagonist directly affects his behavior.

Food and drink also play a role in the novel’s exploration of Santiago’s assimilation to Cuban life. Martin, the owner of the Terrace Restaurant, gives Manolin and Santiago Hatuey beer with their meal (OMATS 20, my emphasis). The beer is named for the 16th century Taíno chief who left Hispaniola to fight the Spaniards in Cuba. This indigenous leader spearheaded native resistance against the Europeans, and is renowned as the first fighter against colonialism in the New World. Despite his efforts, Velázquez and Cortés pillaged the island; Hatuey was given up to the Spanish by his own men and executed. According to legend, the conquistadors offered the chieftain salvation if he would accept Jesus. The Taíno asked the Spaniards if other Christians were in heaven, and when a missionary replied that there were many, Hatuey declined the offer.14 And so, Martin (whose name derives from Mars, the God of war) gives beer named for America’s first freedom fighter to Cojímar’s resident Spaniard.

By the time the novella begins, Santiago has abandoned the food he ate as a young man in Lanzarote in favor of Cuban fare. As Anthony Stevens-Arroyo [End Page 36] has observed, “In the Caribbean, the Spaniards had to assimilate” to new foods, which they did with some difficulty (531). Traditionally, nutrition in the Canary Islands depended on “[livestock] herding and cultivation of grain” (Stevens-Arroyo 538). Despite being surrounded by water, the Canarians did not do much commercial fishing. Instead, “from the 17th century, the [Canary] islanders supplied wine in exchange for fish brought by New England sailors, a trade that sustained the islands following the establishment of more direct sea routes to Spain’s American colonies” (Minahan 146). As a result, many typical Canarian dishes such as mojo verde (beef stew), almogrote (a hard cheese), gofio (a grain-based dish), bienmesabe (almond-based sauce), and puchero canario (vegetable stew) do not derive from the sea. In the Caribbean, by contrast, the native “diet consist[ed] largely of native tuber crops, such as manioc, tropical fruits, and fish. The Spaniards disdained such sustenance, instead preferring to face starvation” (Stevens-Arroyo 530). Santiago has no such disdain. Instead of representative dishes from his Canary Islands, Santiago drinks shark-liver oil and eats raw fish as well as “[b]lack beans and rice, fried bananas, and some stew” (OMATS 19).

Santiago’s clothing is another example of his Cuban assimilation. The protagonist wears a straw hat—presumably a round, wide-brimmed fedora. As the old man fights the marlin in the middle of the night, the narrator tells us that he “had pushed his straw hat hard down on his head” (46). Straw hats are part of the costume that indianos wear during Carnival in Palma to stereotype and make fun of the canarios who returned to their home islands after living in Cuba. Santiago, who wears his straw hat designed to protect against the sun with such seriousness that he does not even take it off at night, demonstrates why the Cuban hat became a target for mockery.

The little that the novella tells us about Santiago’s dead wife also demonstrates Spanish themes. “Once there had been a tinted photograph of his wife on the wall [of the shack] but he had taken it down because it made him too lonely to see it (OMATS 16). Ostensibly, the Spaniard married a Cuban woman and this relationship shapes his actions. Santiago’s promise to make a pilgrimage to the Virgin of Cobre, and not to Compostela, may derive in part from a spiritual bond with his wife, who had both a Sacred Heart of Jesus and Virgin of Cobre in their abode. The presence of the Virgin of Cobre indicates that Santiago’s wife might have been a native of the island. However, the Sacred Heart of Jesus holds specific [End Page 37] iconic significance in Spain, and, like the Cobre Virgin, the image has ties to the independence struggle in Cuba. John Lawrence Tone has claimed that Carlist interventions in Spain during the Cuban movements for independence from 1868–1898 shaped the outcome of the war. As he observes, “The Carlist threat had diverted Spanish supplies and reinforcements back to the Peninsula, and Spanish forces remaining in Cuba had to be assigned to static holding positions, where they became ineffective and vulnerable” (156). The Sacred Heart of Jesus is a Carlist emblem in Spain, which raises a question—were Santiago and his wife Carlist emigrants who adopted Cuban rituals?

The Carlist slogan “Dios, Patria, Fueros, Rey” (God, Country, Local Rights [of outside realms], King) places the motherland before local rule in order of importance, but religion is preeminent; so, a strict Carlist emigrant in the former colony would first be loyal to God, and then to Spain, before Cuba. Another Carlist emblem in the text is the color red. Santiago advises Manolin: “Be careful or you will even fear the Reds of Cincinnati” (OMATS 17). We may argue about whether Hemingway is referring to a baseball team, the Communist Party, or the Carlists, but if we focus on the first and last, we discover that Santiago is making an historical reference: the Cincinnati Reds—the first American professional team to field Cuban players—was founded in 1868, the same year as “The Glorious Revolution,” which led to Spain’s first democracy. This connection between the color red, the Ohio baseball team, the Carlist emblem, military victory, and the year 1868 might seem coincidental, but when we consider that Carlos Manuel Céspedes delivered Cuba’s first formal call for independence from Spain at the shrine of the Cobre Virgin near Santiago, Cuba in 1868—the time-scheme of symbols squares together.

Red also had symbolic importance in the Spanish American Empire, and, earlier in medieval Christian landholdings in Iberia during the Reconquest. In the Reconquest, a brotherhood of knights named “The Order of Santiago” served in the most distant military outposts of Christian Spain, those bordering on Moorish regions. These Castilian noblemen vowed to live in poverty on the fringes of Christian society and their emblem was a red cross on their breasts.15 Similarly, in the Castas paintings which the imperial government used to racially categorize people in the Americas, red clothing represents “Spanish” ethnicity. “Pure” Spaniards, for example, are depicted wearing red from head to toe, while multiracial people wear only [End Page 38] one or two red garments; the amount of red establishes their “Spanish” blood.16 Such symbolism reframes some of the marlin’s social implications, as at one point Santiago eats a piece of its flesh and remarks that “it was not red” (106).

While Santiago seems to be a life-long fisherman, it is important to note that before the novella begins he worked “turtle-ing for years off the Mosquito Coast” (OMATS 14), and that prior to emigrating to the Caribbean, he worked on a square-rigged ship—a class of vessel better adapted to long-range oceanic trade than regional fishing. Santiago, then, began fishing as an adult. Another age reference in the novella clarifies the old man’s work history in the village. Manolin asks, “How old was I when you first took me in a boat?” Santiago responds: “Five” (12). C. Harold Hurley has determined through baseball statistics that the narrative takes place in 1950 (“Just ‘a boy’” 103–115). If Manolin is 22 years old in 1950, then the two first went fishing in 1933. On the initial excursion, the young boy was nearly killed because Santiago “brought the fish in too green and he nearly tore the boat to pieces” (12). Susan Beegel has pointed out that Santiago “delivered Manolin from the sea in a violent birthing” (“Eternal Feminine” 203). Beegel’s observation fits Hemingway’s scheme for historical metaphor in The Old Man and the Sea—as 1933 was the year of the first Cuban Revolution, an event that brought new life to Cojímar in the form of female suffrage, an 8-hour workday, a Department of Labor, free university registration for the poor, and annulment of the Platt Amendment (save the naval base at Guantánamo). It was also the year that Hemingway caught his first marlin in the Gulf Stream (Valenti 55).

Santiago is an expert in the mechanics of line-fishing when the novella takes place—but seventeen years earlier he was a novice still learning marlin behavior. After emigration and “many years” hunting turtles (OMATS 36), Santiago began fishing as a response to financial and social problems—but with mixed results. The fishermen in Cojímar “made fun of the old man,” and the older men, Santiago’s contemporaries, “looked at him and were sad” (11). He attempts to earn their respect with his fishing skill: “He kept [his lines] straighter than anyone did, so that at each level in the darkness of the stream there would be a bait waiting exactly where he wished it to be for any fish that swam there. Others let them drift with the current and sometimes they were at sixty fathoms when the fisherman thought they were at a hundred” (35). [End Page 39]

An expression of these social concerns occurs after the sharks ravage the marlin. Rather than untie the plundered carcass, in a social gesture Santiago sails on to port with the remains of the dead fish still fastened to the hull. (It is certain that he has the strength to untie the marlin, because upon returning he is able to carry the mast and sail to the shack.) Before leaving the harbor Santiago “stopped for a moment and looked back and saw in the reflection from the street light the great tail of the fish” (OMATS 121). During this last, fleeting look at the fish, Santiago knows that others will soon see the carcass and respect his fishing prowess. Next morning his first question to Manolin concerns the community’s actions: “Did they search for me?” (124, my emphasis).

Santiago’s identity as a “fisherman” is full of uncertainty and he must verbalize it for reinforcement: fishing is what “I was born for” (OMATS 40) and “the thing that I was born for” (50). “You were born to be a fisher-man” (105), Santiago tells himself, as if he was unconvinced about his third career. “Perhaps I should not have been a fisherman, he thought” (50). The Spaniard takes up fishing for social approval, but it is a catastrophe, and in fact there is no mention of Santiago ever catching a fish alone: “[R]emember how you went eighty-seven days without a fish,” remarks Manolin, “and then we caught big ones every day for three weeks” (10, my emphasis). The old man was unaccompanied throughout this dry spell—only once Manolin rejoined him did they catch fish for twenty-one days. Manolin and Santiago are also together when they hook the female marlin whose mate jumped in the air to behold her in the bottom of the skiff (49–50).

While many critics assert that Gregorio Fuentes—a blue-eyed man born in the Canary Islands who emigrated to Cuba at age four—was the model for Santiago (Beegel, letter), Stuart B. McIver believes it was Carlos Gutiérrez. Hemingway met him in the Dry Tortugas in 1929 and they fished together for several years. Gutiérrez told Hemingway about a fisher-man from Majorca who spent days in the Gulf Stream fighting a fish only to lose it to sharks. Hemingway wrote to Maxwell Perkins, “I am writing a wonderful story of the Cuban coast. I’m going out with old Carlos [Gutiérrez] in his skiff so as to get it all right” (SL 479).17 During his time with Hemingway, Gutiérrez, who had decades of experience in area waters, lost the ability to fish, as Santiago has apparently done at the beginning of the novella, embarrassing himself among his peers. “Only [End Page 40] too clear in the logs,” explains McIver, “is Hemingway’s increasing anger and frustration [with] the many errors of the forty-eight-year-old Carlos.” Gutiérrez’s inability to fish cost Hemingway “major catches,” and he noted in the Pilar’s record that “Carlos [had] gone completely to pot” (qtd. in McIver 40).

Santiago left Spain forever as a young man; perhaps he planned to return to his homeland, like many Canarios who sojourned in Cuba, but his poverty made it impossible. The old man comforts himself with images of lions. Out on the water, away from the pressures of social and economic failure in Cuba, he asks himself: “Why are the lions the main thing that is left?” (OMATS 66). Lions out of their native habitat—in exile from the plains of Africa—are the enduring image in the old man’s life.18 León is one of Spain’s oldest provinces. The birthplace of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, El Campeador,19 it was one of the first regions of Spain to acquire Christianity from the Romans and to be reconquered from the Moors. Lions are symbols of Spain, present on the state shield and flag, and the old man may call this icon to mind to ease the pain of expatriation. The closing line of the text—“The old man was dreaming about the lions” (127)—affirms that the loss Santiago endures through expatriation penetrates even the fisherman’s most glorious day in Cuba. After Santiago’s three-day struggle at sea to land the giant marlin, only to lose it to sharks, the community of Cojímar may acknowledges his angling skills—possibly even renewing his nickname Campeón—but Santiago remains a man in exile, isolated, and without a social community. His failure resonates throughout the end of the novella, and even his hopeful notion that “A man can be destroyed but not defeated” (103) cannot balance the anguish he endures as a result of the permanent separation from his native land.


1.  See “George Sisler, Manolin’s Age, and Hemingway’s Use of Baseball,” by Luis Losada; “Just ‘a boy’ or ‘Already a Man?’: Manolin’s Age in The Old Man and the Sea,” by Harold Hurley; and The Old Man and the Sea: Story of a Common Man by Gerry Brenner (78).

2.  Hemingway himself was 22 years old when he moved to Paris in 1921.

3.  In 2005, a 57-year-old fisherman from Cojímar named Pípo (surname withheld at his request) said that “all [in the fishing fleet] have been fishing together since they were small” and no one from outside “is welcome to fish with us” (interview with the author).

4.  Bickford Sylvester’s “The Cuban Context of The Old Man and the Sea” (1990) investigates Hemingway’s use of absent background information in the text.

5.  For further information on Canarios in Cuba, see James J. Parsons’s [End Page 41] “The Canary Islands and America: Studies of a Unique Relationship” (1985), Anthony Stevens-Arroyo’s “The Inter-Atlantic Paradigm: The Failure of Spanish Medieval Colonization of the Canary and Caribbean Islands” (1993), and On Becoming Cuban: Identity, National Identity, and Culture (2007) by H. Eugene and Lilian Youngs Lehman.

6.  “Columbus ‘sparked a genocide’” < http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3184668.stm >.

7.  “Bolivia’s new leader vows change” < http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4636190.stm >.

8.  “‘Shut up’ Chavez is ringtone hit” < http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7101386.stm >.

10.  Daniel Reinoso, a Cojímar historian, says that colonization “caused a hatred for the Spaniards on the island” and this sentiment “lasted into the 60s. Castro erased all of that” (interview with the author).

13.  Hemingway presented his Nobel Prize medallion as an offering to the Virgin of Cobre.

14.  For information on Hatuey in Caribbean history, see Clifford Statens, 148–161.

15.  Upon Diego Velázquez’s acceptance into “The Order of Santiago” in 1559—several years after completing Las meninas—he updated the masterpiece by painting a red cross on his chest.

16.  Francisco Clapera’s Castas paintings (c. 1775) are part of the permanent collection at the Denver Art Museum.

17.  In 1955 Hemingway named Marcos Puig as model for Santiago. Puig, a Majorcan, fished France’s “Coast of Lions” as a young man (Baker 661).

18.  Beside the yellow sand footpaths at Luxemburg Gardens, sculptures of lions overlook the pools, and there are Egyptian sphinxes at the door of 6 Rue Férou. Hemingway also uses a lion displaced from Venice to Africa (and back again) in the fable “The Good Lion.”

19.  While historians agree that Díaz was born in Vivar, a village outside Burgos, the year of his birth is a topic of debate. Some scholars believe he was born as early as 1030, others assert it was as late as 1048; Burgos and Vivar were both part of the Kingdom of León until 1037 (López 94–98).

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