The Three-Day Blow

by Ernest Hemingway

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Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 425

“I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg,” Hemingway said about his craft. “There is seven-eighths of it under water for every part that shows.” In drawing attention to the often unsuspected depths in his work, Hemingway provides the ground for instruction in one of the major aesthetic principles of modern fiction: the art of indirection. What most modern writers have realized, and what is achieved so well in “The Three-Day Blow,” is that it is possible to convey a great many things on paper without stating them at all. The art of implication, of making one sentence say two or more different things with a minimum of description, and the possibilities of conveying depths of emotion and the most intimate and subtle of moods through the interplay of image and symbol were grasped by Hemingway as well as by any modern writer.

The surface effects of this story are so astonishingly clear and simple at first encounter, and its language so unambiguous and lucid, that the casual reader may be deceived as to the actual movement of the iceberg beneath the water. The unadorned dialogue and lack of emotional commentary, for example, reflect the boys’ fear of emotional complexity as well as their emerging stoic attitudes about life and love. The concentrated use of concrete, specific physical details and the avoidance of philosophical generalities reflect in turn the boys’ reliance on physical experience as an antidote to moral complexity. Finally, the essential worldview of Nick and Bill is portrayed through a series of subtle, interlocking contrasts: dry and warm, wet and cold; country and city; weak and dishonest men, strong men of integrity; male camaraderie, marriage and domesticity. On the one hand are the initiated, such as Bill’s father and those writers and sportsmen who function honestly and courageously in the world. These men know about life’s treacherous storms but also know how to cope. On the other hand are the uninitiated or the defeated, such as Nick’s father or the husband of Marge’s mother—those who have been unalterably “bitched” or ruined by life.

On encountering the stylistic subtleties of “The Three-Day Blow,” the casual reader might worry that little of importance is happening. However, Hemingway obtains a maximum emotional response from his reader more by what is not said than by what is. Understanding this should enable the reader to see that indirection in storytelling may be an integral part of the meaning of the story and a way of distinguishing fiction of genuine value.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 186

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