Study Guide

Islands in the Stream

by Ernest Hemingway

Islands in the Stream Characters

The Characters (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The only complete character in Islands in the Stream is Thomas Hudson—although readers never learn very much about him either. All the other characters are either reflections of Hudson (his sons, Roger Davis) or antagonists (women and some of his crew, such as Willie). Hudson stands in the direct line of Hemingway heroes, from Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises (1926) through Frederic Henry in A Farewell to Arms (1929) to Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). All of these characters have lost something crucial and stand in imminent danger of losing much more. There is a tension in all of them, both because the surface of life may explode at any moment (as it does in the end for Thomas Hudson) and because the characters themselves are often in the process of repressing thoughts and feelings (as Thomas Hudson does throughout the last two parts).

In part 1, Hudson has built a secure life through work: “He knew he must keep working now or he would lose the security he had built for himself with work.” In parts 2 and 3, he holds to the concept of “duty” to keep himself intact: “Duty is a wonderful thing. I do not know what I would have done without duty since young Tom died.” Yet there is always the danger that he may come apart or give in to drink. By the end of part 3, Hudson can barely cover up “all the hollownesses in him.”

Thomas Hudson resembles Hemingway even more than the...

(The entire section is 512 words.)

Islands in the Stream Characters Discussed (Great Characters in Literature)

Thomas Hudson

Thomas Hudson, a successful American painter living in Bimini, a big man, well proportioned and tanned, with hair faded and streaked by the sun. He is twice divorced and still in love with his first wife. Generally a casual person, Hudson is intense and private in his love for his sons, yet he allows them space to be themselves and to grow. Some might see him as a permissive parent, allowing this as the normal behavior of a divorced parent who sees his children sporadically throughout a year, but Hudson appears to grant these same measures to all whom he encounters. His is a quiet strength, almost passive; he lives by remembering rather than by pursuing. Long ago, he ceased to worry about things in general, replacing guilt with work. In fact, his work has replaced almost everything but his three sons. Although he cares little for success, he has been successful in almost every way except marriage. Women are welcomed in his life, but he is always glad to see them go, and most important, he has learned how not to get married. He is resolved to be selfish only for his painting and ruthless only for his work; once sorely lacking discipline, he now enjoys life within the limits of a self-imposed discipline and hard work.

Tom

Tom, the only child of Hudson’s first marriage. He has attended an expensive school and has good, “expensive” manners; he is free and easy, quiet and polite. Long and dark, he has his father’s neck and shoulders, as well as long swimmer’s legs and big feet. His is a rather Indian face that looks almost tragic when in deep thought or simple repose yet light and full of life at other times. He remembers when he and his parents lived in Paris and often recounts certain episodes to his brothers, who urge him to do so. He is thoughtful, serious, and dutiful; he lives long enough to die in action during World War II.

Tom’s mother

Tom’s mother, a beautiful woman, a film actress, and the first and only woman that Hudson admits to having “really” loved. He still loves her and she him. She visits him in Cuba during the war.

David

David, the middle son, the older child of Hudson’s second marriage. His hair has both the color and the texture...

(The entire section is 935 words.)