During the life and times of Ernest Hemingway, America went through many social, foreign policy, and economics issues. His writing greatly reflects the feelings of the masses of America at the time–dealing with immigration and overcrowding leading to horrible working conditions, World War One, and then the Great Depression, gave Hemingway plenty of experiences to draw from in his writings. The short-story “Big Two-Hearted River” clearly illustrates through metaphors of home and destruction, the difficult adjustment of Nick’s return to society, as well as his metaphorical battle with the fish the hardships felt by a man after returning home from WWI.
The story opens up with Nick walking away from his burnt-down home, and the town in which it was. Nick, carrying his fishing equipment to a place he previously fished in, seemed in no big hurry. In fact, seemed to be relishing the freedom he had, a stark contrast from the rigidity and constant fear an experience in World War I would give. By the same token, Hemingway placed special importance on the “black grasshopper”–a further, and very symbolic metaphor.
Nick, and subsequently Hemingway place so much emphasis on the black grasshopper, because Nick realized the grasshopper was only black from the fire that destroyed his home. This is a great illustration of how many soldiers felt when they returned home from the war–torn, changed, and alien to their homeland. This is a very important metaphor in the short story, and is very reflective of the main idea of the entire story, as a piece.
Nick seemed very disconnected throughout the entire story. It seemed as if he was trying to recapture some former beauty, or a sort-of former innocence, that he lost along the way. He seemed to pay attention to little things in nature, but there was always a sense of disconnect in is vivid descriptions.
Throughout the story, it is clear that Nick is waging many wars at once, many internal, but some external as well. It seems he is at war with the fish he catches, even releasing the first small one he catches. Eventually he is able to kill them by smashing them against rocks.
It is what he did afterwards that is of particular significance–after killing the fish he lined them up on the shore. It seems this was done with an order and precision reminiscent of his military days–perhaps this was the way enemy combatants or friendly soldiers were lined up after the dead were collected.
As layered as this entire story is, the fish lined up along the riverbank was perhaps the most metaphorical of all. It was representative of Nick’s personal external conflicts with assimilation back into a society in which he was isolated, as well as serving to illustrate the clearly very large impact his military service had on him.
This was very representative of many young men returning from the War at the time, as well as Hemingway himself. Though not a soldier, at the age of 18 he enlisted as a Red Cross volunteer. He saw firsthand the horrors of the War–they clearly had a huge impact on his later life (European Graduate School, 2012). This is clearly seen in his depiction of Nick–whom Hemingway probably saw as an extension of himself.
“Ernest Hemingway – Biography.” Ernest Hemingway – Biography. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2013. <http://www.egs.edu/library/ernest-hemingway/biography/>.
Hemingway, Ernest. “Big Two-Hearted River.” American Literature Since the Civil War. McGraw Hill, 2011.