She loved to fish. She loved to fish with Nick.”
Ernest Hemingway wrote that line as the epitaph to a love affair. The story hinges on it. And the following line nearly became the epitaph to this blog post:
Daughter Number One caught me doing an internet search on Hemingway last August and thought she’d put a stop to the madness. I had dedicated my first Hemingway post to her earlier in the summer while she was in Africa and under the shadow of snow-capped Kilimanjaro. Then I got inspired and posted on In Another Country, and then Hills Like White Elephants. But the fourth installment got derailed by a daughter’s indignation. I felt shamed into putting it down.
However! As it turns out, blogs like WordPress have a “schedule” function! One can write something and then set it to post at any month, day and hour. I should have continued, and scheduled it to post safely after she had gone back to school.
Hills Like White Elephants, the previous and my favorite of all Hemingway’s stories (and I think the most economical story ever written) shows a relationship headed toward a cliff. The man and the woman both have seen the wreckage coming, yet are trapped—in a co-dependent affair, a surprise pregnancy, and somewhere along a railroad line in Spain. The story ends (or does not end) with a bitter taste—as if they hate each other—while proclaiming their love. The reader isn’t fooled.
I said at the end of the post on Hills that it would lead into another strained relationship, one that would break up before the end of the story. The characters in these two stories are very different; their settings very different, and in the case of this one (aptly called The End of Something) the ending surprises the reader as it does Marjorie, the woman jilted.
Nick is a jerk. Let’s get that out first. He shows up in many stories, collectively known (naturally) as “The Nick Adams Stories”. Unlike other male characters in Hemingway’s stories, Nick has no dynamic personality. He seems more generic, a flat character, indifferent to his Michigan surroundings and, also unlike other Hemingway stories, Nick reveals nothing of the mind and personality of the author, evident when Hemingway writes about Africa, or Cuba, or Central Europe, or Spain (with exception of Hills). Not Nick. Other than the way he treats his women, Nick is no offspring of Hemingway.
Nick ditches Marjorie, a good woman who loves him, for no reason that he can think of but boredom. There doesn’t even appear to be another woman! Some stories have no ending, and Hemingway proves this in Hills Like White Elephants as well as The End of Something.
Note the similarities between the two stories: the dialogue, the tension, the descriptions of their gazing at the hills. Although the characters are very different, these may have been sketches for a larger idea of the author’s.
Why do I bother with Hemingway? (My wife always wants to know.)
It’s because no matter how ugly the story, no matter how much I dislike the character, Hemingway tells it so well. There. That’s all there is to it. The story is in the telling.
They ate without talking, and watched the two rods and the firelight in the water.
“There’s going to be a moon tonight,” said Nick. He looked across the bay to the hills that were beginning to sharpen against the sky. Beyond the hills he knew the moon was coming up.
“I know it,” Marjorie said happily.
“You know everything,” Nick said.
“Oh, Nick, please cut it out! Please, please don’t be that way!”
“I can’t help it,” Nick said. “You do. You know everything. That’s the trouble. You know you do.”
Marjorie did not say anything.
“I’ve taught you everything. You know you do. What don’t you know, anyway?”
“Oh, shut up,” Marjorie said. “There comes the moon.”
They sat on the blanket without touching each other and watched the moon rise.
“You don’t have to talk silly,” Marjorie said; “what’s really the matter?”
“I don’t know.”
“Of course you know.”
“No I don’t.”
“Go on and say it.”
Nick looked on at the moon, coming up over the hills.
“It isn’t fun any more.”
He was afraid to look at Marjorie. Then he looked at her. She sat there with her back toward him. He looked at her back. “It isn’t fun any more. Not any of it.”
She didn’t say anything. He went on. “I feel as though everything was gone to hell inside of me. I don’t know, Marge. I don’t know what to say.”
He looked on at her back.
“Isn’t love any fun?” Marjorie said.
“No,” Nick said. Marjorie stood up. Nick sat there, his head in his hands.
“I’m going to take the boat,” Marjorie called to him. “You can walk back around the point.”
“All right,” Nick said. “I’ll push the boat off for you.”
“You don’t need to,” she said. She was afloat in the boat on the water with the moonlight on it. Nick went back and lay down with his face in the blanket by the fire. He could hear Marjorie rowing on the water.
He lay there for a long time. He lay there while he heard Bill come into the clearing, walking around through the woods. He felt Bill coming up to the fire. Bill didn’t touch him, either.
“Did she go all right?” Bill said.
“Oh, yes.” Nick said, lying, his face on the blanket.
“Have a scene?”
“No, there wasn’t any scene.”
“How do you feel?”
“Oh, go away, Bill! Go away for a while.”
Bill selected a sandwich from the lunch basket and walked over to have a look at the rods.