What are some literary elements in Hemingway's "A Day's Wait"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Literary elements are tools of authorship used in narratives; that is, they are tools for the construction of the plot and characters.

In his style of writing, Ernest Hemingway often limits some of these literary elements, such as dialogue or characterization. For instance, in "A Day's Wait" it is what is unspoken that is the cause of the boy's internal conflict, because the father is unaware that he has mistaken the doctor's temperature reading as being in degrees Celsius rather than in Fahrenheit. There is really no character who is the antagonist since there is no external conflict. Characterization is limited, as there are only three personages in this story: the father, his son, and the physician. (In the first sentence "we" implies the mother, but she is never mentioned again.) The doctor and the father are static characters; on the other hand, Schatz, who is the protagonist, is a dynamic character, as he is profoundly changed by his traumatic experience of believing that he will soon die.

Another literary element employed by Hemingway is the narrative method of minimalism. The father and son have brief exchanges, but the dialogue is fairly simple, and the story is only three pages. The mood of the story is one of distress, because Shatz believes he is going to die. Later, the father feels terrible that his son has misunderstood the temperature and been so distraught in thinking he would die while the father went hunting in the belief that there was nothing to really worry about. The father is especially distressed because Schatz has been traumatized by the experience:

...the next day it [the hold over himself] was very slack and he cried very easily at little things that were of no importance.

Finally, the setting is an important element in this story, because Schatz knows Celsius only because he has gone to school in France, where this temperature measurement is used.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Ernest Hemingway uses internal conflict in the short story "A Day's Wait." He also employs a first person narrator by having the Papa tell the story surrounding his young son's illness. Papa sees how sick his son is, sends him to bed, and has the doctor stop in to examine the boy. In Papa's conversation with the doctor he finds out that his boy has a minor flu with a temperature around 102 degrees. The boy overhears this conversation and believes he is going to die due to a mix-up in his understanding of the thermometer's measurement. The boy lays in his bed listlessly, simply waiting to die, thus creating the internal conflict. Finally, the boy asks his father when he will pass, telling him he heard at school that you cannot live with a temperature as high as his. The father explains,

“You poor Schatz,” I said. “Poor old Schatz. It’s like miles and kilometers. You aren’t going to die. That’s a different thermometer. On that thermometer thirty-seven is normal. On this kind it’s ninety-eight.

Once the internal conflict is resolved, the boy relaxes and begins to feel better.

Hemingway also makes use of strong visual imagery, especially when he is describing his adventures in the ice storm:

...it seemed as if all the bare trees, the bushes, the cut brush and all the grass and the bare ground and been varnished with ice.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial