Ernest Hemingway: Big Two-Hearted River (Deal Me In 2016-Week 15)

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Is it possible that Ernest Hemingway’s story “Big Two-Hearted River” doesn’t have an iceberg?  Is it possible that there is nothing below the surface of “Big Two-Hearted River” except fish?

From various readings about Hemingway’s life, fishing was a beautiful experience for him. So it comes as no surprise that he needs no other ulterior motive to make writing about fishing a beautiful experience.

In this story, Nick Adams, a recurring Hemingway character, takes a train to somewhere in Michigan. I’m guessing at Michigan, here, simply because Lake Superior is mentioned and other Nick Adams stories are set in Michigan.

All of the Nick Adams stories I’ve read give the sense of a past and a future. “Big Two-Hearted River” is no different; however, the present is more of a focal point than in other stories. And the present involves Nick setting up camp and fishing with vintage Hemingway descriptions. Nick is fishing by himself and while an alone-ness prevails over the story it only enhances the beauty of the experience. There is something different here from loneliness or isolation:

Out through the front of the tent he watched the blow of the fire, when the night wind blew on it. It was a quiet night. The swamp was perfectly quiet. Nick stretched under the blanket comfortably. A mosquito hummed close to his ear. Nick sat up and lit a match. The mosquito was on the canvas, over his head. Nick moved the match quickly up to it. The mosquito made a satisfactory hiss in the flame. The match went out. Nick lay down again under the blanket. He turned on his side and shut his eyes. He was sleepy. He felt sleep coming. He curled up under the blanket and went to sleep.


I read this story because I selected the King of Spades for Week 15 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. “Big Two-Hearted River” is included in my copy of The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway.  My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.





3 responses to “Ernest Hemingway: Big Two-Hearted River (Deal Me In 2016-Week 15)

  1. I’ve always felt like this was one of the more iceberg-ful stories, actually. Nick trying to figure out how to live in the normal world again, and dealing with the isolation he feels from those who weren’t in the war, a tinge of PTSD maybe — this one has a lot of emotion under the surface, for me.

    However, it’s definitely one of his most straight-forward stories, and the one I recommend to people who “don’t like Hemingway.” Like my m-i-l. She said it’s the first (and only) Hemingway story she ever enjoyed.

    • I’ve read a number of Nick Adams stories but I can never really string them together so I end up thinking of them as separate stories as opposed to part of a big story (even though I know they are). I think there is an anthology where the stories are put in chronological order. I just got Nick Adams fishing by himself and Hemingway turns it into a great story. I’m not a fisherman, myself, though, so maybe there is something universal under the surface that makes people like this story.

      • I’ve got that collection, it’s called “The Nick Adams Stories.” It puts them in the order they take place, not the order written, and it’s pretty cool to see how they all fit together. I’m not a fisherman either, really, but I think that feeling of being able to better understand yourself and the world by going off into nature alone is very appealing.

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