What is the theme of "The End of Something" by Ernest Hemingway?

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The short story "The End of Something" by Ernest Hemingway begins with a description of the end of a lumber mill in the town of Hortons Bay. Because there are no more logs to feed the mill, lumber schooners come and carry away the remaining lumber and all...

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The short story "The End of Something" by Ernest Hemingway begins with a description of the end of a lumber mill in the town of Hortons Bay. Because there are no more logs to feed the mill, lumber schooners come and carry away the remaining lumber and all the machinery.

Hemingway then advances the story ten years, when only the limestone foundations of the mill remain. Nick Adams and his girlfriend Marjorie are fishing on the lake. They pull their boat to shore, put out lines, and build a fire. It is then that Nick breaks up with Marjorie. He says that their relationship isn't fun anymore. Marjorie leaves, and Nick's friend Bill shows up. By the conversation between Nick and Bill, the reader understands that the breakup was planned and not spontaneous.

The themes of this story include disillusionment, change, and the difference between Nick's desire for independence and Marjorie's desire for commitment. As they pass the mill, Marjorie imagines a castle. In other words, she sees an idealistic and optimistic vision that simply isn't there. Nick doesn't respond to Marjorie's comment, as he has already decided that he is finished with Marjorie and that their relationship has reached its end. They go through the motions of fishing, but Nick's heart isn't in it. The earlier description of the breakup of the mill is, of course, a metaphor for the breakup of the relationship.

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The theme of this short story quite clearly refers to the way in which ending a relationship and becoming single again impacts individuals as they return to a different kind of identity. This is most obviously shown in the way that Nick is left at the end of the story to contemplate what he has done and the kind of future that awaits him as he becomes single once more. Note what Bill, Nick's friend, does at the end of the story when Nick tells him to leave him alone for a while:

Bill selected a sandwich from the lunch basket and walked over to have a look at the rods.

Having broken up with his girlfriend, Nick has clearly re-entered the masculine, macho world of male company, the satisfaction of basic appetites and engagement in the sporting world. The story, by focusing on the end of a relationship, therefore deals with the impact of such an event on our sense of self and our identity. The interior world of Nick, that neither his girlfriend nor his friend is able to penetrate, suggests that such a transition is not necessarily a smooth process.

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