Style and Technique

“Big Two-Hearted River” is one of the most accomplished of Hemingway’s early stories, ranked in the top half-dozen of this master storyteller’s major achievements. The story is carried almost single-handedly through Hemingway’s style. There is only one character in “Big Two-Hearted River” and very little plot or action. However, much occurs. Hemingway has written a story that is much like the Big Two-Hearted River itself—so spare and clean that the reader looks down into its clear water for meaning.

The power of the story comes in large part from its descriptions, which give the action with an economy of word and picture. There is no dialogue, and only a few times does Nick Adams allow himself to think. For most of the story, readers are observing Nick moving simply in this natural setting:Nick went over to the pack and found, with his fingers, a long nail in a paper sack of nails, in the bottom of the pack. He drove it into the pine tree, holding it close and hitting it gently with the flat of the ax. He hung the pack up on the nail. All his supplies were in the pack. They were off the ground and sheltered now.

This lean, economical prose actually intensifies the psychological situation of the story. The prose is dramatic and objective, but right below the surface (or, in the other seven-eighths of Hemingway’s “iceberg”) is a man barely under control, who must cut off his own thoughts. The tightly controlled surface of...

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