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Literature Study GuidesIn Our TimeBig Two Hearted River Part Ii Summary

In Our Time | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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



Nick wakes up in his fishing camp and makes coffee. He catches grasshoppers for bait. They are cold and wet with dew, so they move slowly and are easy to catch. He fills a bottle with about 50 grasshoppers. Nick then makes pancakes for breakfast and sandwiches for his lunch later that day. He looks around with satisfaction: "It was a good camp," he thinks.

Nick sets out to find a fishing spot. The narrator describes his fishing gear in detail, including a "heavy, double-tapered fly line" he paid eight dollars for. Carrying all his gear and the bottle of grasshoppers, Nick feels "awkward and professionally happy."

He enters the stream and baits a hook. The first grasshopper escapes. With the second grasshopper, he catches a trout too small to keep. He is careful to wet his hands before touching the trout because dry hands can disturb the trout's mucus coating, leaving it vulnerable to disease. He remembers seeing dead, fungus-laden trout, the result of careless fishermen.

He hooks a large trout, and it leaps into the air, "as broad as a salmon." The line then breaks and the trout swims away. Nick takes a break. "Slowly the feeling of disappointment [leaves] him."

He wades to deeper water and hooks another large trout. It gives him a fight, but he catches it in the end. He puts the trout in a sack submerged in the stream. In another hole, he catches a second trout. He stops to eat his sandwiches.

He looks at the river where it enters the swamp, and decides the fishing would be difficult there. "In the swamp fishing was a tragic adventure," he thinks. He cleans the two fish, which are both male, and heads back to camp.


Nick feels at home in his camp, even though it is temporary. Camping reproduces some of the conditions of battle. Nick sleeps and cooks outdoors; he carries his belongings in a pack. On the fishing trip, he finds these conditions pleasing. In contrast to Krebs in "Soldier's Home," Nick is solitary. Krebs is burdened by the trivial girls and the courting rituals of his hometown. Nick has come back to find his hometown conveniently razed. He is in splendid isolation. He doesn't even have to share the river with other fishermen, which is good because other fishermen "spoil it."

The landscape Nick wakes up to is different from the one in Part I of "Big Two-Hearted River." In Part I, the landscape is treeless and "burned over;" even the grasshoppers are black. In Part II, there is a meadow, birch trees, and "the green of the swamp." Now the grasshoppers he finds are brown.

Nick's camp may be temporary, but he plans to stay a while. He rolls a log back into place so "he [can] get grasshoppers there every morning." He looks ahead to more fishing: "There were plenty of days coming when he could fish the swamp."

Nick is still at war, but the combat is transformed. He fights trout, and he sends them to death beautifully with skill and dispatch. Other fishermen botch the job, putting their dry hands on the fish, causing them to die slow, ugly deaths from white fungus. Nick breaks his trouts' necks cleanly. He guts them neatly: "all the insides clean and compact, coming out altogether." Nick is thoughtful about where he tosses the fish guts and doesn't pollute the river with them. He "tossed the offal ashore for the minks to find."

The two hearts of the Two-Hearted River could be Nick's and the trouts'. Already, in Part I, Nick connects to the trout he sees in the river. His heart tightens as the trout tighten in the current. In Part II, the connection comes through in the fishing line.

However, the double nature of the Two-Hearted River could also be in the past and present. In Part I, Nick remembers fishing with Hopkins and other friends on the Black River. In Part II, Nick again recalls the Black River. He looks at the banks of this river and remembers where you could find fish on the Black River, "in the cool shadows." "You could always pick them up there on the Black River," he thinks. In fishing this river, he is also returning to his pre-war past.

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