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Nicks tension and escapism in big two hearted river by ernest hemingway

Short Story Wednesdays: “Big Two-Hearted River” by Hemingway

As Hemingway was himself a veteran of war, In Our Time has usually been interpreted as a book dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder in the wake of World War I, presenting wounded characters trying to cope with loss through alcohol, travel, or immersion in everyday minutia.

He had sobbed during almost every story — it touched something deep within him.

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In context, this is a story about war, woundedness, and living with memories and ghosts. In moving into the unpredictability, excitement, and spontaneity of fishing, Nick finds small emotional thrills. It provides him with excitement and purpose which help him reengage the emotional side of him repressed since the war, but he will be assaulted by the temptation to become obsessed with the thrill, sacrificing his stability.

He did not speak again. But his consolation rings hollow and empty; his voice is detached from himself, and he cannot believe it, no matter how much he wants to.

Nicks tension and escapism in big two hearted river by ernest hemingway

He took a mortar between the legs during WWI himself. He had not been unhappy all day.

  1. Nick's tension and escapism in big two-hearted river by ernest hemingway. In order to do the simple things he wants to do, Nick must take risks.
  2. He felt, vaguely, a little sick, as though it would be better to sit down…. He had not been unhappy all day.
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Now things were done. There had been this to do.

Nicks tension and escapism in big two hearted river by ernest hemingway

It had been a hard trip. He was very tired. He had made his camp. Nothing could touch him. He was there, in the good place. Now he was hungry. Psychologically, there are two ways to take this last detail. Unhappiness from an unquenchable desire for self-justification as a response to guilt…sounding familiar?

And his style matches his subject matter perfectly: Nick is not one to engage directly with his emotions, so Hemingway denies his readers that possibility, too. So we know about Nick, his past, and his current struggles — the stage is set. And thus ends Part 1 of the story. Nick has found a purpose in fishing — a telos, if you will — and so he eats his breakfast hurriedly.

His happiness is moving from the undisturbed happiness of negating his problems into the positive happiness of having a purpose. Hemingway himself was a severely depressed sportsman, so he may be empathizing with Nick and writing part of himself into the story.

In order to do the simple things he wants to do, Nick must take risks. Now the water deepened up his thighs sharply and coldly. Ahead was the smooth dammed-back flood of water above the logs.

He risks doing the latter after losing a huge trout: He reeled in slowly. The thrill had been too much. He felt, vaguely, a nicks tension and escapism in big two hearted river by ernest hemingway sick, as though it would be better to sit down…. He went over and sat on the logs. He did not want to rush his sensations any.

The excitement of fishing is giving him the same sort of purpose he felt during the War or at least at some point in his previous lifebut the excitement is a threat to coping, to stability. Nick knows himself well enough to know that he can only take in a limited amount of excitement, of sensation, at a time.

Besides evoking images of excitement and simultaneously mental duress, the image of a shaking hand lighting a cigarette also evokes a man trying to gain some emotional detachment from the excitement.

The cigarette, in a very limited way, provides this distance and restores a small sense of stability, of control, of self. He will deal with excitement; he will return to the emotional world, but not too quickly for him to process. He very nearly does it too quickly, but a break from the river equilibrates him. Nick can tell his position from the river; the river allows him to engage his emotions for the first time all trip; the river exerts pressure upon him and is dangerous. The emotional avoidance is far from ideal, but Nick is wise about knowing himself and processing only as much as he is capable of handling at a given time.

Temptation tells him to immerse himself in the river and process everything at once; the voice of grace gives him room to take it in as he must — it gives him time, space, and permission to engage his emotional life gradually, without too much excitement all at once.

The voice of grace frees him to listen to the voice of simple prudence. Finally he contemplates fishing in the swamp, which provides incredible fishing at the cost of exhaustion: Nick did not want it. But living there, as much as one can, is certainly better than living in the artificial world of control and meticulous detail, of terse repression.