In his short story, “Big Two-Hearted River”, Ernest Hemingway focuses on the mental and emotional state of Nick, the protagonist, who “le[aves] everything behind” during a wilderness fishing trip. Traumatic thoughts and memories haunt Nick, but the cause of his inner turmoil is not disclosed in the story. Other short stories by Hemingway, however, reveal that Nick Adams is a wounded veteran who served in the First World War. To distract himself from these painful memories, Nick concentrates on the physical details of his journey such as making camp and preparing food. In addition to self-distraction, he attempts to inhibit his ability to think through hunger and physical exhaustion. By examining how Nick uses these techniques of mental control in “Big Two-Hearted River”, one can gain a deeper understanding into his behaviour and fragile psyche. Thus, through analysis of his methods of rehabilitation, this examination will illustrate the central conflict between Nick’s subconscious thoughts and his conscious effort to repress them.
Nick attempts to avoid his traumatic memories through intentional self-distraction while he meticulously controls his external environment. Furthermore, by carefully constructing his surroundings, he is able to offer some stability to his traumatized mind. In particular, his fastidious assembly of the camp provides him with a great sense of satisfaction, for he feels that “he was there, in the good place” and “nothing could touch him.” By performing simple tasks in a methodical and systematic manner, he demands his own full attention and therefore prevents his mind from drifting. With his complete focus directed on levelling and smoothing out his campsite, his subconscious is unable to return to h...
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Hemingway, Ernest. “Big Two-Hearted River.” In Mercury Reader, edited by Janice Neuleib, Kathleen Shine Cain, and Stephen Ruffus, 93-111. Boston, MA: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2014.
Stewart, Matthew. Modernism and Tradition in Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time: A Guide for Students and Readers. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2001.
Summerhayes, Don. “Fish story: ways of telling in ‘Big Two-Hearted River’.” Hemingway Review 15 no. 1 (1995): 10-26. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true