The Importance of the Boy in Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea"
1. As a companion and an assistant to the old man.
Santiago’s remembering the boy many times in the course of his voyage emphasizes two facts:
a. Santiago value the boy’s company as a source of comport to him in his loneliness. When the boy is not with him, he misses him greatly and repeatedly thinks of him, and each time thinks of him feelingly.
b. Santiago values the boy because of the assistance he could have rendered in the fight against the marlin, if the boy had been with him. The boy could have served Santiago in many ways; in massaging his cramped hand and in wetting the coils, etc.
2. As a symbol of the old man’s past youth
The boy in the story also symbolizes Santiago’s youthful strength (just as the lions do). The boy is a constant reminder to Santiago of his own youthful days, of his courage and bravery in those days. That is the reason why thoughts of the boy occur to him again and again. Subconsciously, Santiago draws much consolation, comfort, and strength from his thoughts of the boy. But even consciously Santiago looks upon the boy as a source of inspiration to him. He says in so many words that the boy keeps him alive. Actually Santiago is still young at heart, and that is why he responds to the boy all the more readily. Thus the boy becomes a symbol of Santiago’s inner youth which still persists in Santiago, and which becomes a bond between him and the boy.