Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 659

In a story such as “The Three-Day Blow,” the reader must be warned against too easily accepting what happens literally in the tale, which hardly seems to constitute a story at all. What holds this story together is not its developing action but its haunting vision of a world in which human ideals and aspirations are too often thwarted by cupidity or incompetence or by the destructive forces of nature. Love ends just as suddenly and without warning as “when the three-day blows come now and rip all the leaves off the trees.” When Bill says, “That’s the way it works out,” he refers specifically to the end of young love. However, he also voices the growing awareness of the young men that the world is unceasingly hostile and unsympathetic, that nothing of value lasts very long, and that only the tough-skinned survive.

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As with life itself, love is subject to the cruel flux and dissolution of nature. It, too, has its seasons, like baseball or hunting, youth or old age. The fire that blazes up and dies down, the “second growth timber,” even the autumn storm itself, reminds one that cyclical change is the great law of life. “All of a sudden,” Nick says, “everything was over. I don’t know why it was. I couldn’t help it.” At first Nick condemns himself, but then he consoles himself with the thought that everything in life dissolves into nothingness and that no one is to blame.

Marrying and settling down represent the stifling of soul, the death of male independence that every Ernest Hemingway hero abhors. This is evidently what Bill has in mind when he tells Nick, “If you’d have married her you would have had to marry the whole family. Remember her mother and that guy she married.” Domesticity is seen also as a condition in which one is more vulnerable to life’s storms, more subject to self-betrayal or the kind of double-cross that has ruined many good baseball players and writers. Fishing is preferred to baseball and living alone is preferred to marriage. The solitary game allows one to guard against losing control of oneself and to guide one’s own destiny.

Nick’s disenchantment with love may say more about his own disturbed emotional condition than about the institution of marriage. However, if sensitivity to life’s traps and storms makes both boys a bit paranoid about marriage, that same sensitivity heightens their love of that perishable physical world whose loss they know is one day inevitable—that lovely fire, for example, that warms Nick but that may “bake” him if he is not careful. Nick is especially attuned to the sensual delights of the world about him—he is intoxicated with life. The shiny apple he puts in his coat pocket, the “swell smoky taste of the whiskey,” the “dried apricots, soaking in water,” the feel of the heavy wool socks, even the storm itself—all are simple, concrete experiences safely removed from the troublesome world of women.

Not only do such pleasures seem most available in the out-of-doors world of male camaraderie—the world of hunting, fishing, and baseball—but also the rules for survival in that world are clear and manageable. The boys are competent with guns just as they expect writers and baseball players to be competent and to behave with integrity. It is understandably to this world that they look for consolation against the threat of the “Marge business” at the end of the story. Nick, however, may still be more pained than consoled about this world of sudden, unpredictable storms. He has not really resolved the paradox of life as both preserver and destroyer. He knows that even the lasting power of the best of logs, one to be saved against bad weather that “will burn all night,” is short-lived, yet his youthful illusions lead him to insist that nothing is “absolute,” nothing is “irrevocable.”

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