This is a classic essay by the famed novelist Ernest Hemingway, written in 1925. It’s regarded as one of the most influential pieces of writing in American literature. It follows Nick Adams as he hikes from the burned-over country of Northern Michigan to the edge of the river where he makes camp and fishes for trout.Through Hemingway’s short, declarative sentences, the reader gradually becomes aware that something is troubling Nick … though it’s never made clear what’s wrong or what he’s trying to escape.The story is seemingly simple — it’s about hiking, camping and fishing — and so well-written that the reader feels as though they’re alongside, as “Nick looked down into the clear, brown water, coloured from the pebbly bottom, and watched the trout keeping themselves steady in the current with wavering fins.” According to Hemingway biographer James R. Mellon, Hemingway regarded “Big Two-Hearted River” as the “climactic story in [his short story collection] “In Our Time” and the culminating episode in the Nick Adams adventures that he included in the book.”On the surface, very little happens in the story. Seemingly, it goes nowhere.
Bonding with Nature
However it is relatively easy to see that Hemingway is portraying Nick Adams’ attempt to achieve a bonding with nature, to escape the stresses of being in war.
If, however, one has read Thoreau’s Walden, it is relatively easy to see that Hemingway is portraying Nick Adams’ attempt to achieve a bonding with nature that Thoreau, in 1845, was seeking when he decided to live a simple, semi-solitary life at Walden Pond. In Walden, Thoreau says: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately . . . and see if I could learn what it had to teach. . . . I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”
This “living deliberately” is the key to what Nick is seeking through the restorative and recuperative powers of nature. He has seen first-hand the horrors of war (World War I), was seriously injured himself and suffered a mental breakdown. He is searching for some way to put the horrors of these experiences behind him and restore himself to a healthy emotional life. To do so, he feels that he must isolate himself from the rest of humanity until he regains his own sense of sanity and humanity.
Big Two Hearted River is a river in the eastern Upper Peninsula of the US state of Michigan.
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