Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 873
“The Three-Day Blow” has little external action. The story focuses on the conversation of Nick and his friend Bill as they take refuge from an autumn storm in the cottage of Bill’s father. The two close friends get drunk on whiskey belonging to Bill’s father and speak of common interests: baseball, fishing, favorite books and writers, their fathers, and, as the whiskey takes effect, the recent breakup of Nick’s relationship with a girl named Marge. The most important action, however, occurs inside the mind of Nick Adams.
The story begins as Nick walks through an orchard to join Bill at Bill’s cottage while taking note of the way the field and woods are windblown by the autumn storm. Inside the cottage, the boys warm themselves by a roaring fire and reveal that they are eager sportsmen and avid readers. They refer to the talents and limitations of particular ballplayers and speak of unscrupulous trades, corrupt managerial strategies, and baseball monopolies that have ruined many good athletes and kept certain teams on top and others at the bottom of the baseball ladder. Suggesting a conspiracy among owners, Nick says, “There’s always more to it than we know about.” They agree that the “Cards” will never win a pennant—that even when the Cardinals did get going once, a train wreck ruined a promising season.
On their second glass of whiskey, the boys convey their admiration for certain writers over others—favoring writers they perceive as personally honest and whose works issue from firsthand knowledge. Books are as real to the boys as is fishing or whiskey, and they wish that they could share their personal passions with writers to whom they feel close. Gilbert Keith Chesterton is a “better guy” than Horace Walpole, but Walpole is “a better writer.” They would like to take both of them fishing.
With the pouring of a third glass of whiskey, the boys propose to get really drunk and question whether they are not drunk already. Warmed by the whiskey, the fire, and their camaraderie, each praises the other’s father, but it is clear that Nick is bothered by the fact that in contrast to Bill’s father, a painter who is a bit wild, his own teetotaler father, a doctor, has missed out on too much in life. However, Nick notes philosophically, “It all evens up.” As if to prove his father wrong about drinking, Nick vows to show that he can hold his liquor and still be practical. Knocking a pan off the kitchen table, Nick shows that he is far less in control than he pretends, and his unnatural rigidity is comical.
Moving to a fourth glass of whiskey, forgetting their promise to themselves to drink only from the bottle already open, the boys are more than tipsy now. On his way back from fetching water for the whiskey, Bill winks at the “strange” face that peers back at him from the mirror. The intensity of camaraderie, fueled by the biggest drinks yet, climaxes in toasts to writers and to fishing, which the boys declare is better by far than baseball. Filling their glasses a fifth time, they congratulate themselves on their wisdom.
At this point, referring to Nick’s breakup with his girl, Bill speaks of “that Marge business”—which, it seems, has been on the minds of both boys all along. Bill argues that “busting it off” was Nick’s only choice because marriage, especially to a girl who is evidently Nick’s social inferior, would destroy his personal freedom. Bill tells Nick, “Once a man’s married, he’s absolutely bitched. He hasn’t got anything more. Nothing. Not a damn thing. He’s done for. You’ve seen the guys that get married.” For a while, Nick says nothing or merely nods in quiet acquiescence to Bill’s insistence that Nick “came out of it damn well.” However, one can see that Nick is far more affected by the breakup than he is willing to admit; despite a sixth glass of whiskey, the knowledge that the relationship is over forever is dramatically sobering and saddening. When Bill reminds Nick that the marriage would have infringed on their male camaraderie, that they might not even “be going fishing tomorrow,” Nick seems reconciled. “I couldn’t help it,” he says. . . . All of a sudden everything was over. . . . I don’t know why it was. . . . Just like when the three-day blows come now and rip all the leaves off the trees.” They agree that the breakup was no one’s fault—that, as Bill puts it, “That’s the way it works out.”
Rationalizing that he and Marge were not even engaged, Nick determines to get truly drunk and go swimming and simply to avoid thinking about Marge anymore, or he might get back into it again. Ironically, he is consoled by the realization that he can get back into it if he wants to—that nothing was “irrevocable.” Now quite drunk, the boys load shotguns and go out into the blowing gale to hunt. Feeling that he has escaped a trap, Nick concludes, “None of it was important now. The wind blew it out of his head.”
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