“We Need More Lumber: A Literary Analysis of Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The End of Something’” PROMPT: Explain how the different aspects of the setting symbolize and reflect Nick and Marjorie’s relationship and how they felt towards each other in the story.
Being in a relationship involves something much more than merely being bound together by the same interests or doing activities together. Each person should have mutual respect, trust, and have direction in order to maintain a strong, lasting, loving relationship. In spite of this, Nick and Marjorie’s relationship doesn’t prove as sturdy as it should in the short story, “The End of Something” by Ernest Hemmingway. The setting the story takes place in and their interactions with the place mirrors and shows how the couple’s relationship falls apart. The story begins with Nick and Marjorie, a couple on a fishing escapade, rowing nearby the lumber mill of Hortons Bay, a deserted lumber town. After fishing, the couple disembarked on a bank near the shoreline. As they are pulling the boat to higher ground, Marjorie asks Nick if there is something wrong. Nick responds by saying, “I don’t know”. After making a fire, they sat down beside each other, while their fishing rods are stationed at over the water. During their supper, Nick remains silent, as if having something in mind, and refuses to eat. Marjorie insists that he eats; and they ate in silence. Nick breaks the silence, saying “There’s going to be a moon tonight”; where Marjorie responds happily with “I know it.” Nick then responds sarcastically by saying how she “knows everything”, escalating the conversation.
Marjorie, remaining silent, abruptly ends their exchange by saying, “Oh, shut up; there comes the moon.” They watch the moon rise in silence, sensing the tension forming between them. Marjorie then talks once again, asking Nick what the problem is. After being insisted upon what’s wrong repeatedly, Nick responds, saying that “It isn’t fun any more.” Nick breaks up with her; and after the brief yet unpleasant exchange, she takes the boat and rows offshore. Time passes, and Bill, presumably a friend of Nick’s, enters through the nearby woods. He asks Nick how the break-up went, signaling that the whole break-up was planned. Nick replies, “No, there wasn’t any scene”, and tells Bill to leave him alone for a while. The story ends with Bill taking a sandwich, and leaving Nick to take a look over the fishing rods over the water.
Even though the couple’s present state in their relationship isn’t explicitly stated in the story (a number of Hemmingway’s works in prose are told in a third-person objective), the reader can infer how Nick and Marjorie’s relationship is bound to go downhill based on the images shown from the setting and how their interactions towards each other build up to their break-up. “The End of Something” takes place near the shoreline at a bank by a lake. The place is near a deserted town called “Hortons Bay”. It was described as a lumbering town which of course, required a lot of lumber in order for the lumber mill to remain operational. However, one year, there were no more logs in order to make lumber. The parts of the huge lumber mill were taken elsewhere, along with the townsfolk. As a result of this, Horton’s Bay became desolate (1, 2). First, the description of the place mirrors the current state of relationship the couple is at in the course of the story.
The main reason the town remained inhabited was because there were nearby logs to make lumber. From this, it can be said that the town was only kept alive (and was called a lumbering town) because there was a sizeable amount of logs to make lumber. The town ceased becoming a town when there were no more logs. Hortons Bay was kept alive and inhabited mainly because of something external to the town, mainly, the logs (1). This description of the town could symbolize the relationship of Nick and Marjorie in the sense that their relationship was only kept alive through things that they liked doing together, such as fishing (12). Their relationship had nothing else keeping it alive aside from the excitement the couple experiences through the activities they do together.
Second, at the beginning of the couple’s fishing escapade, the fish are described to be feeding upon, but not striking the bait that they used. The fish may be feeding on the bait, but they are not striking it, therefore not enabling the couple to catch the fish (11-15). This is a possible symbolism of Nick and Marjorie’s current state in their relationship in the sense that the couple may be doing something together (fishing), but it doesn’t mean that one or both parties in the relationship are content or satisfied. It could be said that this event in the story could hint at the couple’s break-up at the end of the story.
Next, the image of the moon rising could also symbolize their break-up, or rather, the end of their relationship. The rising of the moon from the horizon signals the end of the day (and the beginning of night). To further support this argument, the couple had a dialogue from about the moon rising wherein it was said that Nick knew that the moon was coming up soon (35). Marjorie happily replies that she knows about the moon rising too (36). It can be inferred from their statements that they had different contexts of about the moon, and likewise, about their relationship. Presupposing that the rising of the moon symbolizes the end of the couple’s relationship, Nick knows the moon is rising just like how he planned to break up with Marjorie later in the story (59-63). Meanwhile, Marjorie may have also felt the same sentiment about the moon, but says this “happily”.
It could be said that even though Marjorie likes to remain in their relationship, she feels Nick’s discontent in their relationship (22, 25, 26, 31 and 44). The symbolism of the moon rising signaling their relationship is further shown in paragraphs 49 to 50, when he finally breaks up, just as the moon rises over the hills. Lastly, the moon continues to be a symbolism of their break-up as Marjorie leaves the Nick by boat. During this event, the moonlight was said to reflect on the water. This can indicate the culmination of their break-up since it can be inferred from the reflection of the moon on the water that the moon is at its peaks during that time.
The story ends with Bill taking a sandwich and goes over to the rods to take a look at them. However, the reader is not shown if there any fish who struck the bait (66). This may symbolize the uncertain future of Nick and Marjorie, now broken apart. To close, the story of Nick and Marjorie’s relationship had a bitter end; it could be said that their relationship became stale and lost direction as time passed between them. The withering of their relationship, much like the deterioration of Hortons Bay, is a tragic one; for both had such great beginnings, only to lose direction and drive from the people involved as time passed by.
Courtney from Study Moose
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