What is the theme of “Big Two Hearted River” and how is it communicated?
Also, I do not understand why it is important that the war is not directly analyzed or discussed as well as Nick’s efforts at self reconstruction.
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Hemingway communicates his theme in “Big Two-Hearted River” by paralleling and contrasting Nick Adams experience in World War I with his homecoming to Seney, Michigan. Upon arriving at the burned over town, Nick is in a place much like that of the battlefields of WWI. Seney is burned over so that no building is left standing and even the foundation stones of the Mansion Hotel are cracked. Hemingway does not directly recount Nick’s war experiences, because leaving them as haunting memories adds both to the mystery of the story and the enigmatic character of Nick Adams.
One of the major themes of the story is the healing of nature. Nick first encounters this when he spies the trout at the bottom of the river. The trout are in their right place with nature. Nick has been out of place with nature for years, but has now come home and desires to fit in once again.
Another major theme of the story is the river itself. Just what the two hearts are, is the subject of much speculation. Are they the hearts of Nick and his father? Of nature and humankind? Of the past and the present? Perhaps the river represents all of these and more. One thing is certain, the river represents a journey (like rivers do in most literature) and Nick takes a journey up the river to find himself.
A third major theme of the story is the swamp. The swamp has deep psychological significance for Nick Adams. The fact that he does not wish to go into the swamp suggests that it represents repressed memor
in essence, this story is about a soldier's return to nature as a means of recovering from the trauma and disillusionment of the first modern war (WWI). nature has a healing effect for nick, whose experiences camping and fishing serve as a metaphor (and means) of his healing. a freudian/psychoanalytic theory best explains the fish in the stream as the memories nick has repressed, as nick seems to have a fascination with the fish.
the effect of the war is reflected in nick's indifferent, detatched, catatonic state. when nick finds that his hometown has been completely burned down by fire, his subsequent walk through the woods, his meticulous fishing rituals, his fascination with fish -- nothing can be read at face value. here we see the war's aftermath, its legacy.
The Big Two Hearted River is the actual name of an actual river in Michigan's northern Pennisula. And like Hemingway, I have waded this stream and fished for brook trout along its pebbly banks.
Hemingway was in love with this part of Michigan. Maybe he was never as happy anywhere else. Coming back to the river makes everything good and fine again for Nick Adams after the war. It exemplifies the "noble fight" of man against nature where victory over nature is not always a given and sometimes it is more about the fight than the win. It wipes clean the "man against man" conflict of the war where there is no nobility, only confusion and fear and grief and sadness.
The fish are fish, perfect as they are (as every true sportsman knows, and Hemingway was definitely a Sportsman with a capital S). The river is cleansing. The coffee tastes good and the air is clean. But the swamp at the end of the story definitely foreshadows trouble better left for another day.
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