Ernest Hemingway's Big Two-Hearted River

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The world of Ernest Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River” exists through the mostly unemotional eyes of the character Nick. Stemming from his reactions and the suppression of some of his feelings, the reader gets a sense of how Nick is living in a temporary escape from society and his troubles in life. Despite the disaster that befell the town of Seney, this tale remains one of an optimistic ideal because of the various themes of survival and the continuation of life. Although Seney itself is a wasteland, the pine plain and the campsite could easily be seen as an Eden, lush with life and ripe with the survival of nature.

The world in the story exists as two separate but connected places. The first that Nick encounters is the charred remains of the town of Seney, where there is “nothing but the rails and the burned-over country.” The second place is the “alive” pine plain. The river, interestingly, runs through both parts, showing how they are interconnected. The river is a means of natural connection, while the man-made railroad is another form of connecting one town to the next. By combining these two forms of connection, it could be said that every place is interconnected. Using only the river as the natural form, it connects all forms of life within the world to one another.

Seney exists as the wasteland, having been ravaged and destroyed by fire to the point of complete desolation. The town is described by what it is lacking as a contrast to what Nick had remembered to have been there, yet Nick does not display any sensation of loss. He had merely “expected to find” the town as it was before the fire, but when he does not, he simply goes to the river to watch the trout. It the trout that s...

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...Nick is not yet ready for. In this way it could represent his return to civilization, which he is not yet ready for, and he therefore will continue his Edenic hiatus.

While Nick himself does not react to his world as either specifically wasteland or Eden, the reader must realize that the story is a commentary on survival. Survival is a quality of an anti-wasteland, and although the town of Seney has been destroyed it will someday re-emerge. Even if it does not happen immediately, survival will go on in other places, and this is certainly an optimistic view of life. Whether it is Nick and the black grasshoppers’ temporary means, or the eternal survival of all of nature, the entire world cannot ever become an all enveloping wasteland.

Work Cited

Hemingway, Ernest. “Big Two Hearted River.” In Our Time. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970.
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