Big Two-Hearted River
What do we know about Ernest Hemingway’s story, “Big Two-Hearted River,” and what do different reviewers have to say about the story. Many of the reviewers felt that the story links the author, Ernest Hemingway to his main character, Nick Adams when the author uses words, such as “up” to associate a good mood and “down” to refer to feelings of depression. One can easily look into the depths of Ernest Hemingway’s writing and discover pieces of his own personality, both good and bad. What can we learn about Ernest Hemingway as we read about the fictional character; Nick Adams?
(Gibbs, 1975) Robert Gibbs tells us that “He made him up. ” “Big, Two-Hearted River” begins with a train dropping off Nick Adams near the wilderness of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We can easily visualize Hemingway riding on the train on his way to the Upper Peninsula. What follows, we find is a straightforward narrative of one of his days camping alone near the river, thinking about Nick Adams. Must we rationalize that Hemingway, much like Nick Adams, spent many of his own days alone by the river? That is the impression that the story leaves.
It is easy to imagine Hemingway sitting by the river in Michigan Why is Nick intrigued by the river, which he uses to provide food for himself and much more? I understood that he finds healing through the river. We are told in the story, “Big Two-Hearted River“ that “Much like Hemingway, himself, Nick Adams finds himself continually haunted with frightening flashbacks to his past suffering and grief. As he alludes to in other stories, Nick turns to fishing (especially fishing with grasshoppers) to release his mind from the terrible pressure of his life.
As he makes coffee, for instance, he is reminded of his old fishing buddy and oil tycoon, Hopkins, who Hemingway suggests took his own life a few months before, after receiving a disturbing telegram, perhaps about his lover. Other disturbing flashbacks in “Big Two-Hearted River” include a tragic execution scene where the man waiting to be hanged loses control of his bladder. Throughout “Big Two-Hearted River,” as Nick constructs his tent, fishes in the nearby river and cooks his catch, Hemingway describes his mood in two ways-up and down.
If he stands up or climbs up a hill (on his way to build his tent, for example), he is in good spirits; but if he sits down (as he thinks about Hopkins, his friend who committed suicide, for instance) or descends, his mood is falling. Thus Nick’s mood follows his actions-form follows content. We are able to gather much information from this book concerning the story, “Big Two-Hearted River,” as we learn about Hemingway’s own mood swings, from low extremes, to high. The author is able to display his own feelings in this story and perhaps he was able to obtain therapy from his own writing.
With the description that Ernest Hemingway gives in his book, (Benson, 1975) Benson tells us that, “He made him up. ” Maybe, Benson doesn’t think that there is any association between Hemingway and Nick Adams. Hemingway writes that “The train went up the track out of sight, around one of the hills of burnt timber. Nick sat down on the bundle of canvas and bedding the baggage man had pitched out of the door of the baggage car. There was no town, nothing but the rails and the burned-over country.
The thirteen saloons that had line the one street of Seney had not left a trace. The foundations of the Mansion House hotel stuck up above the ground. The stone was chipped and split by the fire. It was all that was left of the town of Seney. Even the surface had been burned off the ground. ” (Hemingway, 1924) Hemingway writes that “Nick looked at the burned over-stretch of hillside, where he had expected to find the scattered houses of the town and then walked down the railroad tracks to the bridge over the river. The river was there.
It swirled against the log spires of the bridge. Nick looked down the clear, brown water, colored from the pebbly bottom, and watched the trout keeping themselves steady in the current with wavering fins. As he watched them they changed their positions again by quick angles, only to hold steady in the fast water, again. Nick watched them a long time. ” We can see the importance of the water, to Ernest Hemingway. He seems to associate water with day dreaming and is able to have flashbacks about a different time in the character’s life and possibly his own.
On another very enlightening website, we are told more about the story, by Ernest Hemingway. (Svoboda, 1996) At least part of the subtext of “Big Two-Hearted River” unfamiliar to present readers but likely to have been known by at least some readers at the time the story was written–and almost certainly known to Hemingway from his years of summers in Northern Michigan–involves the history and legends of Seney, a logging town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Hemingway describes the burned-down town, surrounded by blackened timber. ”
We further ourselves in believing that Ernest Hemingway had personal strings attached to the town of Seney, and are more settled in the belief that Hemingway is speaking from his own experience about his own life. (Baker, 1959) “The implication is that Nick Adams had sometime earlier seen and had expected to return to an intact Seney, had once counted the thirteen saloons (an ominous number) and had perhaps stayed at the Mansion House Hotel. Now he seems to have returned after a recent fire to what seems more like a fought-over battlefield than a welcoming place of comfort.
Civilization has disappeared with the train that has disappeared behind one of the “hills of burnt timber. ” Nick sits. ” This implication of earlier experience may well be appropriate in the context of a piece of fiction in which, as Sheridan Baker first noted, Hemingway transplants a different river’s name to the prosaically named Fox, the actual stream which runs through Seney, eventually to join the Manistique and empty into Lake Michigan. We should not take that implication to represent a biographical truth about Hemingway, of course. Nor should we ignore Hemingway’s skill in creating a fictional world.
” The summary tells us to not associate Hemingway’s own past life experiences with Nick Adam’s, but it would be hard not to. Hemingway is so descriptive about the geography of the town of Seney and the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, that it’s almost impossible not to associate Hemingway’s life with Nick Adam’s. (Baker, 1959) Baker says that Nick’s fishing “becomes something symbolic of larger endeavor”(153) What is the larger endeavor? We are told in Hemingway’s writing that Nick Adams awoke as his tent heated up in the morning. He was excited, but he knew he should have breakfast before he started fishing.
He started the fire and put water on for coffee. Then, he went to collect grasshoppers in a jar for bait. He took only medium-sized ones. He went back to his camp and made buckwheat griddle cakes with apple butter. He packed one in his shirt pocket and ate two more. He also made onion sandwiches, which he put in his other pocket. Then, he looked through his fishing equipment. With all of his fishing equipment attached to him, he stepped into the river. The water was very cold. It is clear that Hemingway was on an endeavor to relive the events in his life that hurt him the most.
We are able to get a better idea about what Hemingway is trying to express to us, about his own life in his story when he related words, places and times to his own personal life through Nick Adams. (Benson,) tells us that “In the lengthy passage that was Hemingway’s original ending to “Big Two-Hearted River,” Nick Adams, having caught “one good trout” Hemingway was expressing his thoughts in the story “Big Two-Hearted River” as he clearly associated himself to the main character, Nick Adam’s, and just like Nick Adams, Ernest Hemingway caught “one good trout” which means that he accomplished one huge success.
Svoboda, Frederick J. , 1996, Landscaping Real And Imagined: Big Two-Hearted River, Hemingway Review, University of Michigan, Volume 16, Number 1 Baker, Sheridan, Winter, 1959“Hemingway’s Two-Hearted River” Michigan Alumnus, Quarterly Review 65, 142-149, Report in Benson, 150-159 Gibb, Robert, 1975, “He Made Him Up” “Big Two-Hearted River as Doppleganger” Hemingway notes Report in Reynold’s, p. 254-259 Benson, Jackson J. , 1975, The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: Critical Essays, Durham, NC, Duke UP, Hemingway, Ernest, 1924, The Big Hearted River