Literature Study GuidesIn Our TimeBig Two Hearted River Part I Summary

In Our Time | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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In Our Time | Big Two-Hearted River, Part I | Summary

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Summary

Nick returns to his hometown, Seney, after the war. Seney has burned down and all the buildings are gone, but the foundations of the Mansion House hotel remain. "Even the surface had been burned off the ground," the narrator notes.

Nick walks down the railroad track to look at the river and the trout in the river. "He felt all the old feeling," the narrator observes.

Nick enjoys the day, the sunshine, the feeling all his needs have been left behind. He does not mind that Seney is "burned over and changed." He thinks, "It could not all be burned."

He walks uphill along a road and notices black grasshoppers. The forest fire was a year ago, but the grasshoppers are still black. He walks on, wanting to head far upstream on the river. He lies down in the shade and takes a nap. When he wakes, it is near sunset.

He walks to the river where he makes camp and heats up canned food. He eats and makes coffee. While doing so, he remembers a friend named Hopkins, who had strong opinions about how to make coffee. Hopkins got rich in Texas oil. The friends parted, promising to get together again, but they never did. Nick drinks the coffee, then enters his tent, and goes to sleep.

Analysis

For a war veteran whose hometown has been devastated, Nick is seems oddly happy. Everything seems gone in Seney—there isn't even a train station to stop at. Nick gets off the train and the conductor tosses his backpack onto the ground. Seney is ravaged like the towns Nick has seen in the war. Even "the surface of the ground" has been burned away. There is something apocalyptic to the black grasshoppers, like a biblical plague of locusts.

Sometimes military spouses are advised not to make big changes while a service member is away—no redecorating the house or changing one's look or getting a new pet. Such changes remind the returning veteran that life has gone on without them. The veteran is supposed to want to return to the exact home they left. Nick, however, takes the destruction of Seney in stride. He seems almost comforted by the fact the war is still there when he gets back. He doesn't have to miss the war because the fire and the destruction come home with him.

Nick is also comforted by the fact that some things remain. "The river was still there," for example. "It could not all be burned. He knew that." He feels connected to the trout he sees in the river. The narrator describes the big trout as "tightening" to stay in place in the river's current. In the next sentence, Nick's heart also "tighten[s] as the trout move[s]." This connection to the trout brings back "all the old feeling."

On Nick's solitary fishing trip, he has a little company in the form of his memories of Hopkins. Hopkins was "the most serious man Nick had ever known." That was the Nick before the war. Now Nick seems at least as serious as Hopkins, maybe more. In fact, Hopkins's concerns seem youthful and naïve now: how to make perfect coffee and the yacht they will all sail on Lake Superior.

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