Big Two-Hearted River is a two-part short story by Ernest Hemingway about a returning soldier’s fishing trip. The story is composed entirely out of description of what Nick Adams, the protagonist and only character in the story, is doing while on his fishing trip. Although it is not explicitly stated in the short story, it can be inferred that Nick Adams is a war veteran returning to his hometown to try to enjoy his life as he used to before the war.
The story may seem nothing at first and may appear as mere descriptions of every action and thoughts of the character, but a closer look would reveal that the story is like an iceberg—hiding the majority of what the author is really trying to say. Deciphering the Story A good deal of reading between the lines would have to be done in interpreting Hemingway’s short story, for a casual, non-critical reader would not find any meaning in the narration of the story. The short story suffers from excessive amounts of description.
Every detail of the environment and actions is described vividly. Hemingway does this so much in the story to the point that it almost gets boring. Yet, beneath the surface of the descriptions lies the story’s significance. The whole thing about describing in excess may have been intentional. Hemingway may have intended this to show how distracted the mind of Nick is—Nick is unable to focus on anything except to react on what is upon him. Probably, the only time when he has thought of an idea outside of fishing is when he recalls his memories of Hopkins.
“He could remember an argument about it with Hopkins, but not which side he had taken” (Hemingway 4). The part where Nick thinks about Hopkins show clues that they have been to the war. “Hopkins went away when the telegram came. That was on the Black River. It took eight days for the telegram to reach him. Hopkins gave away his 22–caliber Colt automatic pistol to Nick” (Hemingway 5). The telegram that Hopkins received was probably a telegram saying that he has been drafted in the army, like most men of proper age during the war. Hopkins probably died in the war because they never saw him again.
Symbolism in the story best describes the hidden meaning of the short story. The grasshoppers Nick found symbolize the soldiers and their condition during the war. “The grasshopper was black…They were all black…they had all turned black from living in the burned-over land (Hemingway 2). The black grasshoppers symbolize the soldiers who all wear the same uniform, and when they returned home, they either find out that their towns have been decimated or they have been permanently scarred by the traumas of the war, or if they are unlucky enough, both.
Nick said to one of the grasshoppers clinging on to his sock, “Fly away somewhere” (Hemingway 2). It symbolizes what Nick is actually doing at the river—he is trying to escape the traumas of the war. One particular line in the story symbolizes the condition of the soldiers at war. “They flew when they hopped. At first they made one flight and stayed stiff when they landed, as though they were dead” (Hemingway 5). The grasshoppers represent the soldier—soldiers are flown in battle, but the horrors of war shock them.
Conclusion The story appears to be nothing but a description of what a man is doing in his fishing trip, but like an ice berg, about 90% of its mass, or in this case, meaning, is not seen because it is hidden beneath the narration. Only moderate clues and close reading of the text would reveal the rest of story that gives it significance. Work Cited Hemingway, Ernest. “The Big Two-Hearted River. ” Olearyweb. com. 28 Apr. 2009 <http://www. olearyweb. com/classes/english10012/readings/twohearted. html>.
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