How does Hemingway highlight Nick's mental and physical condition in "Big Two-Hearted River'?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With its terse style, Hemingway's narrative certainly speaks to a man who concentrates on the small details of life in order to keep from thinking of past experiences, of the absurdity of war and its horrors. In fact, the fixation of Nick on small details, his efforts to avoid thinking about the future, his suppressed survivor guilt--"I got a right to eat this stuff if I'm willing to carry it"--all point to his trauma from war. 

After being dropped off at the burnt town of Seney, a small town that closely resembles war-torn towns where he has been, Nick returns to the river of his youth in order to retrieve something of what he once was, a life that was happier and could prevent him from thinking about the present. With melancholy, Nick remembers how Hopkins had prepared coffee and how he had argued with the man. Out in the woods by the river, Nick can heal; his match touches a mosquito and "it made a satisfactory hiss in the flame."

The next day at the beginning of Part II, Nick feels somewhat restored by nature, and he is ready to fish. As he starts down the stream, Nick feels"professionally happy." Later, he catches a big trout with the grasshoppers he has caught for bait. 

It went away slowly, the feeling of disappointment that cam sharply after the thrill that made his shoulders ache. It was all right now....Nick had one good trout. He did not care about getting many trout.

So, Nick avoids the swamp where so many trout live, but in the swamp, the banks are bare, no sunshine pops through the trees;

in the swamp fishing was a tragic adventure. Nick did not want it. He did not want to go down the stream any further today.....There were plenty of days coming when he could fish the swamp.

Nick has begun to heal with the succor of nature in places where he can control what occurs, in places where he can flee the need for thinking and "other needs."

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Big Two-Hearted River

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