Summary

Islands in the Stream was assembled from Hemingway’s manuscripts by his widow and his publisher ten years after his death, and although the book has a certain unfinished quality, it contains most of the Hemingway ingredients. Like much of his fiction, Islands in the Stream is strongly autobiographical, but this last novel carries even more of the fears and fantasies of this major American writer.

The novel is divided into three separate books, held together mainly by the character of Thomas Hudson. Part 1, “Bimini,” is the longest and most successful of the three. Little happens: Hudson, a painter “respected both in Europe and in his own country,” works; his three sons from two earlier marriages (his third wife never appears) arrive for a summer vacation; they all swim and fish. The descriptions are often rich, the scenes humorous, and the focus is on feelings, particularly on Hudson’s largely unexpressed love for his sons: “He had been able to replace almost everything except the children with work and the steady working life he had built on the island.”

In the longest scene, Hudson’s middle son, David, battles a huge broadbill for hours, only to lose him at the last moment. (In several significant ways, the scene resembles the fight between Santiago and the giant marlin in The Old Man and the Sea, 1952.) In another scene, the boys play drunkards in a local waterfront bar, to the dismay of a group of American tourists. Yet one of the group turns out to be Audrey, an old friend of Hudson and of Roger Davis, and in the end Audrey and Davis leave the island together, and then so do the boys. The ending of book 1 is abrupt and shocking; Hudson gets a telegram: “Your sons David and Andrew killed with their mother in motor accident near Biarritz.”

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Summary

On the island of Bimini in the Bahamas, Thomas Hudson works and confronts his regrets and insecurities. Self-disciplined and successful as an artist, he finds time to fish, socialize at Bobby’s Bar, meet with his art dealer in New York, and host the periodic visits of his three sons. At the bar, Hudson discusses with Bobby possible subjects for future paintings—including the end of the world. Hudson then joins writer and friend Roger Davis on Johnny Goodner’s cruiser at the docks, where fireworks mark the celebration of the queen’s birthday. The wealthy and snobbish owner of a cruiser moored nearby confronts Hudson and his noisy and rowdy friends for waking his wife. Davis betters the man in the ensuing fistfight.

Hudson’s three sons arrive: Tom, the oldest and son of Hudson’s first wife, and Andrew and David, sons of his second wife. They discuss their earlier days in Europe, young Tom recalling notables such as James Joyce and Ezra Pound. While spear fishing, the sons narrowly escape a large hammerhead shark. Deep-sea fishing, David hooks a huge swordfish. For six painful and vividly described hours, David determinedly battles the prize fish, only to have it slip away at the last moment.

Roger Davis becomes reacquainted with a past love, the now-married Audrey Bruce, who happens to be vacationing on Bimini. Roger and Audrey depart shortly before Hudson’s sons also leave. News arrives that David, Andrew, and their mother have died in an automobile accident in Europe. Advised to flee his sorrows through travel, Hudson tries to escape into his art but increasingly finds solace in drink.

After twelve days at sea searching for German U-boats, Hudson...

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Bibliography

Benson, Jackson J., ed. New Critical Approaches to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1990. Section 1 covers critical approaches to Hemingway’s most important long fiction; section 2 concentrates on story techniques and themes; section 3 focuses on critical interpretations of the most important stories; section 4 provides an overview of Hemingway criticism; section 5 contains a comprehensive checklist of Hemingway short fiction criticism from 1975 to 1989.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Ernest Hemingway: Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House, 1985. After an introduction that considers Hemingway in relation to later criticism and to earlier American writers, includes articles by a variety of critics who treat topics such as Hemingway’s style, unifying devices, and visual techniques.

Lynn, Kenneth S. Hemingway. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987. A shrewd, critical look at Hemingway’s life and art, relying somewhat controversially on psychological theory.

Mellow, James R. Hemingway: A Life Without Consequences. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992. A well-informed, sensitive handling of the life and work by a seasoned biographer.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Hemingway: A Biography. New York: Harper and Row, 1985. Meyers is especially good at explaining the biographical sources of Hemingway’s fiction.

Reynolds, Michael. The Young Hemingway. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 1986. The first volume of a painstaking biography devoted to the evolution of Hemingway’s life and writing. Includes chronology and notes.

Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The Paris Years. Vol. 2. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 1989. Includes chronology and maps.

Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The American Homecoming. Vol. 3. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 1992. Includes chronology, maps, and notes.

Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The 1930s. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 1997. Vol. 4 of Reynolds’s biography.