old man and the sea

Hemingway’s Dilemma, by Scott Kauffman

In Guest Posts by Nya11 Comments

by Scott Kauffman

Wondering if it had improved any with age in the forty-five years since I garnered my gentleman’s “C” on a book report from an English teacher likely being generous, I again cracked open The Old Man and the Sea. While my first reading of a fish story about the one that got away bored me to tears, or maybe only to Bonanza that evening, my second left me unsettled for Old Man I see now is Hemingway’s brooding meditation on approaching death.

Like Santiago who catches the biggest fish of his life only to lose it to sharks and in that moment knows his best days as a fisherman are forever behind him, so too Hemingway saw his best days as a writer slipping fast as fish line through his fingers. Old Man proved to be his last novel, and he wrote little thereafter that did not require heavy editing. In its pages he foreshadows his own suicide ten years later on an Idaho mountaintop where, ever the showoff, he unloaded both shotgun barrels into the back of his mouth. A not surprising death for a man whose is father took his own life as did two siblings and at least one grandchild. A death foreshadowed even earlier in The Sun Also Rises, set almost 30 years to the day before his suicide, and later in For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Hemingway leaves us with the question of how should one meet death?  Santiago’s answer is by struggling on come what may: A man, he insists over and over, can be destroyed but should never allow himself to be defeated. Old Santiago fought the good fight until he had nothing but a skeleton of a great fish left to defend and sailed home to die dreaming of the lions he once saw in his youth as they played on a beach in Africa.

So what to make of Hemingway in the end giving in to the despair of defeat? His failing in the fight he wanted most to make, feared his whole life he would not make, and in the end did not. Perhaps this final tragedy, of not going down with both fists swinging, is a fate awaiting us all unless we have lived without ideals, which, Hemingway says, would for us be the greater tragedy. Hemingway’s Dilemma tells us that life gives us a choice between two tragedies: Living a life absent of ideals or living one with ideals but in the end failing to live up to them.



Revenants, The Odyssey Home

A grief-stricken candy-striper serving in a VA hospital following her brother’s death in Viet Nam struggles to return home an anonymous veteran of the Great War against the skullduggery of a congressman who not only controls the hospital as part of his small-town fiefdom but knows the name of her veteran. A name if revealed would end his political ambitions and his fifty-year marriage. In its retelling of Odysseus’s journey, Revenants casts a flickering candle upon the charon toll exacted not only from the families of those who fail to return home but of those who do.

GoodreadsAmazon UKAmazon

Paperback: 306 pages
Publisher: Moonshine Cove Publishing, LLC
ISBN-10: 1937327817
Release Date: December 15, 2015
Price: $13.95


About the author

Scott claims his fiction career began with an in-class book report written in Mrs. Baer’s eighth-grade English class when, due to a conflict of priorities, he failed to read the book. An exercise of imagination was required. Scott snagged a B, better than the C he received on his last report when he actually read the book. Thus began his life-long apprenticeship as a teller of tales and, some would snidely suggest, as a lawyer as well, but they would be cynics, a race Oscar Wilde warned us knew the price of everything and the value of nothing. Scott is the author of the legal-suspense novel, In Deepest Consequences, and a recipient of the 2011 Mighty River Short Story Contest and the 2010 Hackney Literary Award. His short fiction has been appeared in Big Muddy, Adelaide Magazine, and Lascaux Review. He is now at work on two novel manuscripts and a collection of short stories. He is an attorney in Irvine, California, where his practice focuses upon white-collar crime and tax litigation with his clients providing him endless story fodder. He graduated summa cum laude from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and in the upper ten percent of his class from Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, where he was a member of the Environmental Law Review and received the American Jurisprudence Award in Conflict of Laws.



  1. Stella Gold

    I'm glad you reread the story and liked it. I've actually never read The Old Man and the Sea. But I do like lots of Hemingway, like his short stories and The Sun Also Rises. I should give this a try!

  2. Piya Sen

    aah though I have heard his name I have actually never read a book by him. I should add it to my bucketlist immediately.

  3. Eva Rabinovich

    Life is not so easy, it is hard and it is everyday battle. In rich countries we fight with mortgages, loans, and pursuit to stay on same level of comfort. In poor countries it is fight for survival. Surroundings make us way we are, and our battle with Surroundings it what gives us joy or sorrow.

  4. Berlin

    When I was in high school, I did a number of book reports and I would always prefer Hemingway over Jane Austen or Charles Dickens. I love Hemingway’s introduction and subjects and so his chAracter development.

  5. Carola

    Hemingway is very interesting. I can image, as many other books, the appreciation is dependent on age and moment in your life.
    I’ve read quite a few books for English/ German/ French/ Dutch. SOme of them just because I absolutely had to. (Same goes for poems). And looking back (And sometimes reading them again) I really love most of them. Now I can see them in a better perspective. And i can relate and understand better. Besides, I’m a better reader when it’s voluntarily instead of obligated :). The dilemma of the book is an interesting one.. It’s a hard choice.
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  6. Kerry O'Byrne

    I love Hemmingways message for the book, a very insiring look on life. I belive we should live life by doing everything we want to with no regrets and if it doesnt work out in the end, hey – you've had the experience.

  7. Ana De Jesus

    Hemingway is certainly an interesting character, we studied him at university and whilst he was not my favourite he had some excellent ideas and philosophies that many authors would not dare to explore.


    That’s the thing with books. I too have read quite a few books in the last years that I had a completely different understanding compared to when I read them when I was a kid – a great reminder to myself of the years that had gone by and how much I have changed.
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  9. Tiina A

    Death is never an easy topic as it’s something we find a bit difficult to confront, no matter how natural thing it is – will happen to everyone anyway sometime. To find the right way to live is so individual. Sometimes it seems that the whole life is a kind of battle to findthe right way.
    Tiina A recently posted…Traditional Hungarian Dessert – MadártejMy Profile

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