What is thesis of The End of Something by Ernest Hemingway?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Part of the short story collection In Our Time, "The End of Something" by Ernest Hemingway describes how Nick ends his relationship with his girlfriend Marjorie, and in so doing, enters the second stage of what is called Hemingway's concept of the "idealized self." So, the thesis of this short story may be stated as

  • In "The End of Something," Nick finds his unique masculine self through his experience of a male/female relationship that he negates by ending this attachment.

Hemingway manipulates the setting of the now defunct lumber mill to foreshadow the end of the personal relationship of Nick and Marjorie as well as to symbolize the emasculation that Nick feels in his relationship since lumberjacking was an occupation in which only virile men worked at that time. As they row past the old lumber camp, Marjorie asks, "Can you remember when it was a mill?" to which Nick replies significantly, "I can just remember." Once they reach shore with their rowboat, Marjorie spreads the blanket "between the fire and the lake." When Nick remarks that there is going to be a moon that night, Marjorie "replies happily," "I know it."  But Nick is not happy, observing that she "knows everything." Marjorie protests, "Please, please don't be that way."

"I can't help it....You do. You know everything. That's the trouble. You know you do."

Nick feels his masculinity threatened by Marjorie, who now knows all that he knows about nature and can fish and row as well as he can. He tells Marjorie their relationship is not "fun anymore. Not any of it." Then, as Nick sits with his head in his hands, Marjorie simply rises and says she will take the boat back and he can walk around the point. Nick agrees and offers to push off the boat, but Marjorie says, "You don't need to" because she already has the boat afloat.

After she is gone, Nick lies on the blanket for some time. Bill, Nick's Native American friend, comes toward the fire, asking, "Did she go all right?" Still lying face down, Nick replies "Yes," and asks Bill to leave him alone.

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kipling2448's profile pic

kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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I believe there is a little confusion regarding distinctions between themes and a thesis statement, with the former a routine element of fiction and the latter more commonly associated with nonfiction.  A thesis refers to the declaratory sentence or argument that constitutes the central idea that will be argued and that can be counter-argued by those who dissent with the author's argument. That said, if one is compelled to identify a thesis for Hemingway's short story, it could read: 

"Human relationships are perishable, but are more sustainable between men than between men and women."

Usually, a thesis statement is a sentence or sentences that can be isolated from the rest of the text and that provide the central argument to be advanced. Hemingway's story provides no such sentence, so one must go back to the question of the story's theme, which both mwestood and I addressed.  Nick has grown tired of his relationship with Marjorie and, as importantly, feels threatened by her growing capacity to function in the outdoors.  Bill is a guy; he is expected to be capable of functioning in the wild.  Nick is more comfortable with another guy than he is with a female who possesses the same skills.  

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kipling2448's profile pic

kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Ernest Hemingway’s short story The End of Something is widely viewed as autobiographical, and for good reason.  One of the story’s three main characters is a young woman named Marjorie who is soon to be dismissed by her long-time boyfriend, Nick.  The real-life author had, in fact, been involved in a ten-year relationship with Marjorie Bump, with whom he had recently broken up.  It is unsurprisingly assumed that the once-thriving lumber mill past which the two lovers are rowing their small boat serves as a metaphor for this decaying relationship between two human beings.  Note, for instance, the following passage from Hemingway’s story:

Ten years later there was nothing of the mill left except the broken white limestone of its foundations showing through the swampy second growth as Nick and Marjorie rowed along the shore. They were trolling along the edge of the channel-bank where the bottom dropped off suddenly from sandy shallows to twelve feet of dark water. They were trolling on their way to set night lines for rainbow trout.

"There's our old ruin, Nick," Marjorie said.

As the story progresses, and Nick and Marjorie have gone their separate ways, into the picture comes Bill, clearly aware of the developments that have taken place:  “Did she go all right?’ Bill said.”  While Nick indicates that he has no interest at the moment in Bill’s company, and certainly not in Bill’s questions, it is just as clear that Nick has valued his friendship with Bill above his relationship with Marjorie.  Hemingway’s life closely mirrored both the events and the theme of this story.  A “man’s man” who preferred hunting and fishing (and drinking) to a woman’s company, he was more comfortable in a man’s company.  The End of Something is about the end of a phase in life – in this case, a romantic relationship – and the death of the once-thriving mill town where the story takes place symbolizes the natural cycle of the relationship between Hemingway/Nick and Marjorie.  Romantic relationships, Hemingway seems to be saying, come and go, but friendships between men are forever.

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