Provide a critical analysis of "A Canary for One" by Ernest Hemingway. What is the subtext of the story?

“A Canary for One” is a modernist critique of American values and relationships in the post-WWI world. Consider how the American woman only wants her daughter to marry an American man. This woman represents pompous American values, and Hemingway suggests these values lead to a lack of loving relationships. The younger couple’s separation echoes this critique of emotional values, suggesting that the postwar society has caused a destructive lack of emotional authenticity in relationships.

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Although Hemingway’s short story “A Canary for One” is quite short, it contains several underlying themes that reflect his modernist literary perspective.

The story echoes several of his novels’ critiques about the hopeless state of romantic relationships in the aftermath of World War I. Consider how the American woman prevents her daughter from marrying the Swiss man she loves. The younger woman on the train inquires if the woman’s daughter has recovered from this heartbreak. The reader later discovers that the younger woman is separating from her husband, which explains her interest in the American daughter’s fate. The tumultuous state of the characters’ relationships demonstrates Hemingway’s view that emotionally stable relationships are unable to thrive in the current social climate.

Hemingway also critiques American perspectives in the postwar world in this story. Consider how the American woman detests foreigners and refuses to allow her daughter to marry a Swiss man, even though the daughter was in love. The mother is keeping her daughter trapped, just like the canary she bought that is trapped in a cage. This woman represents Americans’ perspectives about themselves at this time. Her ideas suggest that Americans are unjustly pompous and materialistic to a fault.

Ultimately Hemingway uses this story to suggest that misguided and shallow postwar values prevent strong, authentic relationships.

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