A Day's Wait Theme
What is the theme of "A Day's Wait"?
Ernest Hemingway’s short story “A Day’s Wait” reveals the threat of imprecision in language. This theme is expressed through the narrative itself, but it is also enhanced through the story’s use of irony and juxtaposed sentence structures.
In “A Day’s Wait,” Schatz misinterprets the gravity of his fever when he confuses Celsius and Fahrenheit. Thinking that he is much sicker than he is, Schatz resigns himself to behave stoically in the face of certain death. Schatz’s misunderstanding of the situation is clear to the reader throughout the short story, and it is exacerbated by the minimalist nature of his dialogue with his father. Notice how short the sentences are when the two speak to one another. Through this style of dialogue, we see the theme of imprecise language manifest.
This short sentence structure is juxtaposed with the much longer structure that the narrator uses to describe hunting. This juxtaposition further emphasizes the lack of communication between the boy and his father. Just as the boy withdraws from his father, he withdraws from language itself, refusing to speak or to listen to the stories that his father attempts to read.
The threat of imprecise language is ironically emphasized in the final sentence of the story. While the narrator suggests that “[the boy] cried very easily at little things that were of no importance,” the logic of the story suggests that it is the little things that can be most important. It is the smallest of things—such as the unclear communication of a metric—that produce the narrative’s conflict.
This "slice of life" short story explores the philosophical implications of a few moments in a life that often make so much difference in one's life. Here are two themes to this story:
- Miscommunication can have tragic effects
Nine-year-old Schatz's psyche is shattered after a doctor pronounces his temperature as one hundred and two degrees because he misinterprets this number as Celsius degrees and not Farenheit. Thus, his interpretation of his fever creates traumatic effects because Schatz fears he will die. As a result of his fear, Schatz tries to be brave and tells his father that he can leave his room if he would like. When his father does leave because he does not perceive danger in Schatz's fever, not comprehending the circumstances regarding Schatz's decision, Schatz is affected by what he interprets as his father's desertion. He, therefore, loses his courageous determination,
The hold over himself relaxed too, finally, and the next day it was very slack and he cried very easily at little things that were of no importance.
- A single event can have lasting effects
After his great scare of death, Schatz is no longer the happy, confident boy he has once been. His "hold over himself relaxed too...." He is overly sensitive, crying over insignificant things as the memory of his trauma looms over him. For, the memory and threat of death has altered Schatz forever.