A Canary for One Analysis
by Ernest Hemingway

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Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

More than fifty years after their publication, Hemingway’s short stories still strike the reader as highly experimental. The action and conflicts are usually internal rather than external. The traditional conclusion is abbreviated or eliminated; all authorial intrusion, by which past authors told their readers how to respond, is stripped away. Hemingway instead depends on highly stylized dialogue and carefully selected, realistic detail to produce the correct response to the story. His clean, pure line, his economy and exactness of diction, his rhythms and repetitions are here perfectly matched to the self-effacing, tightly controlled objectivity of his first-person narrator. It is only after the final sentence that the reader realizes that the story must be reassessed as an ironic tour de force. The narrator’s seeming disinterest in the conversation on marriage is really a protective device to keep his emotions under control. The reader sees, however, those images on which the narrator’s mind dwells. Through the train window, he notes a burning farmhouse with many spectators merely watching. He sees the fortifications around Paris, still barren from the recently ended war. He focuses on the remnants of a train wreck—splintered, sagging rail cars pulled off the main line. Each image that catches his attention is, in fact, a metaphor for the state of his marriage. Even his strange, repetitious comparisons reflect his emotional state: He is stupefied, not fully alert—unkempt and unready to face life.

Finally, Hemingway calls attention to the modernism of his story by deliberately creating ironic parallels with Henry James’s famous Daisy Miller (1878). The references to Vevey, Switzerland, and the Trois Couronnes Hotel are unmistakable, for that is where James’s story begins. The marriage tale that the American mother relates is a variation of Daisy Miller’s disastrous courtship. Like Daisy, the American woman’s daughter is from upstate New York. As in James’s story, the father is at home, working. The daughter’s courtship is a variation on the courtship of Daisy Miller. However, the traditional values and morality that sustained the world of Henry James have disappeared in the postwar world that Hemingway has inherited. Here nothing—not marriage or train schedules—can be counted on to be the same after the war. Nor is the form of the short story the same. The authorial presence, the drawn-out plot line, and the laborious, well-mannered sentence have all disappeared. In a challenge match, Hemingway has taken on James to show that the art of fiction has been just as radically altered by the war as have the lives...

(The entire section is 618 words.)