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In Our Time | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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In Our Time | Symbols



In In Our Time, bullfights symbolize everyone's need to confront death. In the context of the bullfight, the confrontation is beautiful, entailing custom, skill, and ritual. In many of the book's stories, death is ugly, haunting, or inglorious. In Chapter 15 Sam loses control of his bowels as he confronts his death. In Chapter 3 the German soldiers die absurdly comic deaths, popping over a wall like rabbits in a shooting gallery, with an "awfully surprised" look on their faces. In "On the Quai at Smyrna" dead bodies bobbing in the harbor haunt the narrator. In contrast, the bullfight vignettes transform death. There is a crowd of enthusiastic spectators. There are special roles, such as picador and monos, and special weapons, such as the lance. Most of all, the bullfight transforms death because the torero does not die—usually. Maera is gored in Chapter 14, but when a skilled and lucky torero succeeds, death is transformed into a beautiful ritual that all people survive.


Camping in In Our Time is a retreat from society where Nick can enjoy the conditions of war without enduring its hardships. In "Big Two-Hearted River," Nick camps in a blasted, blackened landscape similar to the ones he sees in World War I. As in battle, he carries all his belongings and sleeps outdoors. Camping in a time of peace simplifies things for him, allowing him to feel "he had left everything behind, the need for thinking, the need to write, other needs." While camping, Nick can simply focus on a limited number of tasks: "There had been this to do. Now it was done. ... That was done."

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