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We know, we know – what in the world is a bone spur? In short, it’s a painful injury DiMaggio had in his heel right around the time The Old Man and the Sea takes place. DiMaggio ended up being completely successful despite his handicap – kind of like the old man. DiMaggio becomes a symbol for withstanding pain, for endurance throughout suffering, to achieve the impossible and lots of other grand notions the old man emulates.
One recurring symbol in the novel is that of DiMaggio, the partially handicapped baseball player, who often figures in the old man’s waking thoughts, as well as in his dreams. DiMaggio inspires him with leadership qualities and the determination to win, in spite of handicaps. When his left hand cramps and he feels drained of his strength, the old man reminds himself of the painful bone spur that handicaps the great DiMaggio. The image of the baseball hero playing in pain gives Santiago renewed vigor and stamina to bear his own pain.