In his book Ernest Hemingway: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work, Charles M. Oliver reports that “Wedding Day,” first published in the posthumous collection titled The Nick Adams Stories, is not in fact a completed narrative but is instead a an unfinished short story. Nevertheless, anyone who did not know this might easily assume that the narrative is one of Hemingway’s very short tales, such as “A Very Short Short Story” or “Hills Like White Elephants.” In fact, “Wedding Day” would be a perfect text to use in any debate about whether historical knowledge and knowledge of an author’s intentions affect our reading of a work of literature.
In any case, the narrative opens by describing how Nick Adams, the protagonist in many stories by Hemingway, having just been swimming in a lake, is now washing his feet. Two of his friends, Dutch and Lumen, watch as he dresses in formal fashion, presumably because he is the groom on the “Wedding Day” mentioned in the title. The presence of Dutch and Lumen reminds Nick of “dressing rooms before fights and football games.” His two friends drink from a bottle of whiskey, annoying Nick in the process, since there is only one bottle and Nick himself likes whiskey. He drinks some while lamenting, in his thoughts, that there is not more. He thinks that perhaps other friends, upstairs, may have some. Presumably these friends are also present for the wedding.
The wedding itself is never described. Instead, the narrative jumps to a description of Nick and his unnamed bride being driven to the shore of the lake, where they get into a row boat, which Nick rows to a cottage for their honeymoon:
It was a long row across the lake in the dark. The night was hot and depressing. Neither of them talked much. A few people had spoiled the wedding. [The entire story is printed in italics.]
Nevertheless, the couple kiss fervently when they arrive on shore. They then inspect the cottage.
Nick’s age in this narrative is never stated, although presumably he is in his twenties. Oliver, in his comprehensive study of Hemingway’s fiction, draws no connections between this work and any other works by Hemingway. He implies, in fact, that Hemingway probably would never have published this work in its present state.
Yet the work is in many ways effective just as it is, especially in the way it contrasts Nick’s relaxed relations with his friends, all of whom are named, with the somewhat tense relationship with his unnamed bride. The narrative falls into two fairly self-contained halves, the first set before the wedding, the second set after that event. Little actual speech is quoted, except between some of Nick’s friends, and there the conversation concerns whiskey. In both halves there is an undertone of frustration. The work is written in the laconic, understated style for which Hemingway is justly famous. In both halves of the story, Nick is associated with physical activity and quiet strength.
As is so often the case in Hemingway's fiction, any meanings here are implied rather than openly stated. Readers are left to make up their own minds about the significance, if any, of the events described. Perhaps Hemingway, if he had finished this work, would have made its "meanings" clearer. As it is, the work is tantalizing in its suggestiveness and apparent innuendoes.