What starts the boy's concern over dying in Ernest Hemingway's short story "A Day's Wait"?  

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Little Schatz begins feeling sick early one morning and the illness spawns a giant misunderstanding that leaves him waiting to die in Ernest Hemingway's short story, "A Day's Wait."

    He came into the room to shut the windows while we were still in bed and I saw he looked ill. He was shivering, his face was white, and he walked slowly as though it ached to move.

The father, the narrator, sends his son back to bed.

But when I came downstairs he was dressed, sitting by the fire, looking a very sick and miserable boy of nine years. When I put my hand on his forehead I knew he had a fever.

A doctor is summoned, and it is determined that Schatz has a case of the flu. His temperature is noted and medicine is prescribed. But it soon becomes evident that Schatz has something else on his mind.

    'About what time do you think I'm going to die?' he asked.
    'About how long will it be before I die?'

Schatz has been worried about dying from the flu (which is a slight possibility, of course), but he has been assured that he will soon be better.

    'You aren't going to die. What's the matter with you?'
    Oh, yes, I am. I heard him say a hundred and two.'
    'People don't die with a fever of one hundred and two. That's a silly way to talk.'
    'I know they do. At school in France the boys told me you can't live with forty-four degrees. I've got a hundred and two.'
    He had been waiting to die all day, ever since nine o'clock in the morning.
    '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.'

Schatz had overheard some French friends referring to the inability to live with a 44 degrees temperature. What he did not understand was that they were using the Centigrade scale, rather than the American Fahrenheit calculation.