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20090302 Hemingway

Page history last edited by Brian Croxall 11 years, 7 months ago


     Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) was a famous American modernist writer whose stories used terse language with as few words as possible. In this way, one could potentially consider him the prose equivalent of poetic Imagism. Often leaving out broader themes he had in mind when writing a story, Hemingway forces the reader to dig deeper to discover his intentions. Hemingway referred to this as the Iceberg principle: only 1/8th of an iceberg's mass is visible above the water line on average, mirroring Hemingway's underlying intentions.

     Although Hemingway himself was unable to enlist in the Army and never saw battle during World War I, his stories often focus on characters who are either in the war or returning home from it. "The Big Two-Hearted River", a story from his first book of short stories, In Our Time (1925), introduces one of his commonly used characters, Nick Adams. Hemingway emphasizes the style of his stories more than the stories themselves. The story, on the surface, seems to be about a man taking a relaxing camping trip and fishing, but the story hints at some of Nick's neuroses, which Hemingway expands on in a few other short stories, including "Now I Lay Me" (1927). Between the two stories, we see Nick trying to distract himself with anecdotal thoughts because of his sleeping troubles. He distinctly remembers the horrors of war, and tries to keep his mind busy so that he does not think about the emotions and experiences that accompanied being in war and being attacked at night.  Nick appears to be suffering from what would now be termed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.


Word Count: 273



Nick watches the shadow of a big trout moving upstream:

“[…] as he went back into the stream under the surface, his shadow seemed to float down the stream with the current, unresisting, to his post under the bridge where he tightened facing up to the current.

Nick’s heart tightened as the trout moved. He felt all the old feeling.” (Big Two-Hearted River Part I, 164)

-- We get the idea that Nick relates to the fish “facing the current.” The control which the fish seems to possess as he faces the current is something that Nick envies.

-- We also get the feeling that we are missing a piece of Nick’s life—something in his past that affects him, the “old feeling”

-- This is an example of Hemingway’s style: purposely leaving something out and leaving the reader to infer what could be missing.



“Inside the tent the light came through the brown canvas. Now things were done. There had been this to do. Now it was done. It had been a hard trip. He was very tired. That was done. He had made his camp. He was settled. Nothing could touch him. It was a good place to camp. He was there, in a good place. He was in his home where he had made it. Now he was hungry." (Big Two-Hearted River Part I, 167)

-- After reading “As I Lay,” we learn that Nick (the same character in both stories) is afraid to fall asleep at night, because he thinks his soul will leave his body in the night. He only sleeps during the day. This piece of information, left out of "Big Two-Hearted River", helps us to better understand Nick’s behavior.

-- Hemingway’s short sentences and terse style of writing is exemplified in this passage.

-- There is a distinct purpose to Hemingway's repetition: “It was done,” refers to the tent. “That was done,” refers to the fact that he has become tired. We learn that he has made it a part of his agenda to tire himself out, so that he can fall asleep without being troubled by his thoughts.  This desire to tire himself out also shows us why Nick walks as far as he can, and carries a large, heavy pack.



 “Nick’s hand was shaky. He reeled in slowly. The thrill had been too much. He felt, vaguely, a little sick. As though it would be better to sit down. The leader had broken where the hook was tied to it. […] He went over and sat on the logs. He did not want to rush his sensations any.” (Big Two-Hearted River Part II, 177)

-- Nick deliberately slows himself down after the sudden adrenaline rush

--Hemingway’s style is reflective of Nick’s psyche: his writing is deliberate and slow as he describes Nick’s organized, systematic actions. As with most of Hemingway’s prose, “the medium is the message”

-- Throughout the story we also get a sense that something is missing, and that Nick is avoiding thinking about his past: Just as Nick doesn’t want to think about things, Hemingway doesn’t tell us things.



Key Terms:

-Imagism: idea that there are no ideas but in "things"; uses clear, sharp language without any given context of a greater meaning


-Iceberg Principle: the idea that 7/8ths of an iceberg's mass is hidden underwater; relevant in Hemingway's works in that he leaves many of his broad themes under the surface of a simplistic portrayal of subject matter


Lecture Slides


Comments (10)

lborrel@... said

at 3:44 pm on Mar 4, 2009

Hi group,
I typed up all the quotes that he talked about in class-- the ones that help us understand the "7/8 's of the iceberg" for this story. I did them kinda fast so feel free to fix/change/add to any of the analysis.
also i put in the one about the swamp, but i don't have much analysis about it so if anyone else knows something please add it in there! If, in the end, there is nothing to add about it, we can just take that quote out.

Lisa Sutton said

at 12:23 am on Mar 5, 2009

We should definitely figure out which 3 quotes to narrow it down to. I think we should keep the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, but what do you guys think?

Lisa Sutton said

at 12:35 am on Mar 5, 2009

I included a definition of Imagism--I know we have already covered this in class, but I thought it would be good to stick in there as a sort of refresher of what it meant since we discussed it a great deal in class today.

Susie Fernandez said

at 1:34 am on Mar 5, 2009

I agree. I went ahead and cut the quotes down to include just the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th ones. I also added to the summary a little bit. I think we have up to 300 words for the summary, so if anyone else has anything to add please feel free.

Lisa Sutton said

at 5:38 pm on Mar 5, 2009

I'm a little confused--In "Now I Lay Me", John calls Nick, "Signor Tenente....is this not his last name?

Susie Fernandez said

at 5:53 pm on Mar 5, 2009

I was confused too because he is called that in one story but then I had Nick Adams in my notes. I looked it up online and saw Nick Adams in a couple places as well. Maybe we should just leave out his last name since its probably not all that important?

Lisa Sutton said

at 12:31 am on Mar 6, 2009

yeah, I'm gonna go ahead and take that out. feel free to put it back in, though, you guys, if you think it's really important and you know for sure which one' right. :)

Brian Croxall said

at 12:44 am on Mar 6, 2009

John calls Nick "Signor Tenente" because Nick is a Lieutenant in the Italian Army. John more or less says, "Sir Lieutenant." This was the common form of address for officers.

Susie Fernandez said

at 10:41 am on Mar 6, 2009

I added it back in after Professor Croxall's comment. I think this is done now :)

Brian Croxall said

at 11:16 pm on Apr 16, 2009

Your notes for Hemingway are very good. You whittled down to three important passages, and you picked up on all the definitions that we talked about for the day. In a perfect world (i.e., one where I was writing my own notes for everything), I would have liked to emphasize more that Hemingway’s prose style is what makes him a modernist: it breaks the traditions of the past. The other thing would be to link his prose style to the technology that he was working with as a news paper reporter.

And while your explanations of the passages are spot on, I would prefer to see them written out in a short paragraph more than bullet points. Think about this as prep for the final exam; I’m asking you to do the same thing here as you do there.

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