What are the images, symbols, and allusions found in the story "A Canary for One" by Ernest Hemingway? Is it a modernist short story?

In Ernest Hemingway's story "A Canary for One," images include the speeding train and the landscape outside its windows. The caged canary and train wrecks are important symbols. The author employs allusions to Henry James’s novel Daisy Miller, such as the references to Vevey.

Expert Answers

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

Ernest Hemingway’s story “A Canary for One” takes place on a train. The train speeding through the landscape and the different scenes in that landscape provide most of the images. The canary of the title is a caged bird that the middle-aged mother intends to give her daughter; it symbolizes both misunderstandings between people and the restrictions of marriage. Train wrecks, both real and imaginary, are also significant symbols that stand for the couple’s upcoming divorce and the devastation of the Great War. Allusions occur in various places. Overall, the story pays homage to Daisy Miller, a nineteenth-century novel by Henry James that is also concerned with Americans in Europe. One specific allusion is to Vevey, Switzerland, where James set part of his novel.

Throughout the story, Hemingway connects personal disaster to the aftermath of World War One. Although the reader does not know it until the end, the young couple is planning to divorce. The author shows how badly the middle-aged mother misunderstands their situation through his use of the symbols of the caged bird and the train wreck. The mother believes that her daughter will be happy with a bird instead of a husband, but the caged canary represents the daughter herself and the mother’s control over her. The rapid post-war changes are symbolized by the speeding train. The mother is fearful of change, such as an American girl marrying a European man. She worries about train wrecks. As the narrator/ young husband looks out the window, he sees actual wrecked trains. For him, they represent not only the aftermath of war but also the state of his marriage.

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 Team