In the play The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago in his youth had seen lions, the lords of the jungle, playing on the African beach. In his dreams, he does not see them single but in a pack. They come and play on the beach and in their playfulness seem to be affectionate and harmless. It is this image of the lions that Santiago has enshrined in his heart for the rest of his life. In his old age, he does not dream of storms, big fish contests, and big cities, women in general, and his wife in particular. It is the recurring dream of the lions that comes to him when all the other passions of youth are spent out. The lions “played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy.”
The mental association of the boy and the lions gives us the clue to the old man’s feelings on the lions. They symbolize for him the majesty of the lords of the forest, power, and pride – qualities that the old man cherishes in others as well as in himself. The image does not remind him of the ferocity of the lions. By some strange process of transformation, the lions have become domesticated, like pet cats, and the old man can love them without feeling any threat to his own security or life. The lions have been associated with his youth when all his powers were in their prime. In his old age, he thinks of them and since they re-linked with his youth we can interpret that the old man dreams about his own youth which has long slipped through his fingers. (Whenever he dreams of the lions he is somehow happy though it is a mystery what makes him happy in the dream of the lions.
Carlos Baker draws our attention to the fundamental psychological laws of Santiago’s nature in which the lions have become integrated. Whenever the boy rises in the old man’s thoughts he is required to exert himself and whenever he thinks of the lions he relaxes. “This is the constant wave-like operation of bracing and relaxation. The boy braces, the lions relax as in the systolic-diastolic movement of the human heart.” In a natural order where the day is followed by night, work followed by rest, and in which Santiago has to seek a place for himself the lions which are a symbol of his relaxation bring back to him the energy lost during the period of activity. It is a poetic image that is dear to the heart of the old man.