There is a lot of symbolism in Hemingway's description of the landscape Nick wanders; many have suggested that the traumatized narrator deliberately focuses his thoughts on his surroundings so they won't return to dwell on his memories of war. To get you started, here are a couple ideas about how...
There is a lot of symbolism in Hemingway's description of the landscape Nick wanders; many have suggested that the traumatized narrator deliberately focuses his thoughts on his surroundings so they won't return to dwell on his memories of war. To get you started, here are a couple ideas about how Nick's environment might reflect his journey from wasteland and injury to natural paradise and recovery.
The story starts with Nick arriving amidst "hills of burnt timber" to discover that the town he once knew is gone, burned to the ground. Nothing remains but "the rails and the burned-over country," and some blackened foundations. The ravaged landscape reflects Nick's internal landscape; his short, deliberate thoughts suggest a mind struggling to keep itself under control after bad psychological trauma.
But the river is there, clear and full of life ("trout keeping themselves steady"), and very different from anything Nick has experienced in a long time ("It was a long time since Nick had looked into a stream and seen trout"). Not only has he rediscovered life, he has found something that is constant; the trout, unlike the town and the war he is leaving behind, know how to keep themselves alive and steady even against the current. It's comforting to him—"very satisfactory." Thus begins his journey toward healing.
Before Nick was lost; now Hemingway uses the landscape to show us that he has direction again: "He did not need to get his map out. He knew where he was from the river."
He moves always toward the country that is "alive again," and finds hope in the grasshopper that has adjusted to the nearby destruction; he may have turned black in the aftermath of the fire, but he lives on and hops just the same as always. The grasshopper survived, and so does Nick.
He makes camp, and he's "happy" (an adjective used many times). He steps into the river (perhaps rejoining life itself) and is pleased with his new home.
He avoids the swamp, with its low branches, deep water, and dim sunlight. Some have suggested the swamp represents society; he plans to venture into it another day, and resolves instead to spend his time recovering by the life-giving river.