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A Man's Struggle to Heal Himself in Big Two-Hearted River Essays

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A Man's Struggle to Heal Himself in Big Two-Hearted River


Ernest Hemingway's "Big Two-Hearted River"* is such a rich text that it has probably received more literary critical attention than many novels of several times its length. Hemingway's ardent use of intricate detail and his intentional, calculated use of short, simple sentences help to make "River" a treasure chest of critical ideas and possible interpretations. Historically, much of the criticism of "River" has examined the dark underlying themes of the story, such as the alleged omission of some preceding, devastating event and Nick's wounded spiritual and mental state. These sentences, such as "There was no town, nothing but the rails and the burned-over country," are representative of the abundance of similar language throughout the story and make it easy to understand why many critics focus on dark themes, devastation and mental instability. Without denying or dispelling any of the valid "dark" critiques, I intend to show that "River" may also be easily understood in a more positive light as an account of one man's struggle to heal himself by returning to what he knows and loves.

The intense detail that abounds within the story makes an easy job for the deconstructionist. The intricate descriptions of Nick's actions are susceptible to deconstructive criticism, as may be seen in James Twitchell's "The Swamp in Hemingway's 'Big Two-Hearted River." Twitchell focuses on the physical improbability of the swamp existing adjacent to the river as it is described in the story. A swamp is an area where the water moves very slowly, if at all; however, Nick describes the river as being lined with boulders, having a pebbly bottom, and "fast moving water" (209). Twitchell po...


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Green, James L. "Symbolic Sentences in 'Big Two-Hearted River.'" Modern Fiction Studies 14 (1968): 307-312.

Kyle, Frank B. "Parallel and Complementary Themes in Hemingway's Big Two-Hearted River Stories and 'The Battler.'" Studies in Short Fiction 16 (1979): 295-300.

Smith, B.J. "' Big Two-Hearted River:' The Artist and the Art." Studies in Short Fiction 20 (1983): 129-32.

Stewart, John F. "Christian Allusions in 'Big Two-Hearted River.'" Studies in Short Fiction 18 (1978): 194-96.

Svoboda, Frederic J. "Landscapes Real and Imagined: 'Big Two-Hearted River.'" Hemingway Review 16 (1996): 33-42.

Twitchell, James. "The Swamp in Hemingway's 'Big Two-Hearted River.'" Studies in Short Fiction 9 (1972): 275-76.

Weeks, Lewis E. Jr. "Two Types of Tension: Art Vs Campcraft in Hemingway's 'Big Two-Hearted River.'" Studies in Short Fiction 11 (1974): 433-34.


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