First published in 1925 as part of Ernest Hemingway's short story collection In Our Time, "The End of Something" recounts the breakup between Nick Adams and his girlfriend Marjorie. The couple is fishing off Horton's Bay, a former lumbering town left abandoned. Nick and Marjorie row past the "ruins" of the old mill and are trolling where the bottom "drop(s) off suddenly," tying the setting neatly to the theme of a relationship gone bad and a breakup precipitously about to occur.
Marjorie is cheerful, apparently unaware of what is about to happen. She "love(s) to fish," especially with Nick, who taught her how. Nick gives Marjorie tidbits of advice about fishing, but his manner is preoccupied. When they settle on the beach for a picnic, Marjorie asks him what is the matter, and Nick replies that he does not know.
Enacting the traditional woman's role, Marjorie lays out a blanket and unpacks a picnic basket. The two eat in silence, not touching, and Nick comments that there is going to be a moon tonight. When Marjorie "happily" acknowledges his observation, Nick starts a small quarrel, telling her petulantly, "You know everything." When Marjorie pressures him to tell her what is really on his mind, Nick says, "It isn't fun anymore," that love is not fun anymore. With consummate dignity, Marjorie leaves, taking the boat and calling not unkindly to Nick that he should "walk back around the point."
Nick lies alone on the blanket "for a long time" after Marjorie leaves. Eventually, Bill comes into the clearing and asks Nick how it went. Apparently, Nick had planned to break up with Marjorie tonight and had spoken to Bill about it. When Bill asks how he feels, Nick, in obvious misery, tells him to go away. Bill, like Marjorie, does not touch Nick; no one can penetrate his self-imposed isolation. Significantly, the story ends with Bill taking a sandwich from the basket and going over to look at the fishing rods. This is what is left to Nick with the breakup of his relationship—reentry into the masculine world of basic appetites and sports.
Critics are divided on whether the stories in the collection In Our Time are meant to be read as individual works or as part of a whole. Taken independently, "The End of Something" is an artful recounting of the dissolution of a young romance. The following story in the collection, however, continues the account of Nick's breakup with Marjorie, examining his adjustment to the situation and providing background on the conditions that led to the split. Critics use this fact to argue that In Our Time is actually a novel about the development of the character Nick Adams, and that "The End of Things" should be considered as a chapter in a larger work rather than an entity in itself.