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In Our Time | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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In Our Time | The End of Something | Summary

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Summary

The story begins with a short history of the town of Hortons Bay: "In the old days Hortons Bay was a lumbering town." The timber industry left the town, and now the sawmill, the workers' bunk houses, and other buildings stand "deserted in the acres of sawdust that covered the swampy meadow by the shore of the bay." When the story starts, it has been 10 years since the timber industry abandoned Hortons Bay.

Nick and Marjorie row along the shore of the bay. Marjorie points out "our old ruin," the abandoned sawmill. They set fishing lines for passively catching trout at night. Then they go ashore and light a campfire. Nick is in some kind of mood and doesn't want to eat. When Marjorie coaxes him into saying what's wrong, he tells her "It isn't fun any more." She understands that he is breaking up with her. She leaves by boat, telling him he can walk back.

Nick stays by the fire. Eventually his friend Bill turns up, knowing the break-up was planned. He asks, "Did she go all right?" Nick answers, "Yes," but the narrator remarks Nick is lying. Nick finds Bill irritating and sends him away.

Analysis

The story starts with two histories, an official one and a personal one. The official history is of Hortons Bay—a history of the town's economic foundations. The town suffers when its economic base collapses, and the narrator suggests the suffering by describing the abandoned buildings. As Marjorie and Nick row past the abandoned sawmill, she calls it "our old ruin." For Marjorie, the landscape is personal, dotted with memories she and Nick share.

The ruin and the abandoned buildings appear in different times. When the timber industry first left Hortons Bay, its empty buildings stood covered in sawdust. The just-halted activity of the mill still laid over them. By the time Marjorie and Nick row past, the wooden structures have rotted away and only the stone foundation of the sawmill remains. The foundation suggests something is left after abandonment. When Nick pushes Marjorie away, perhaps something is left behind there, too.

Nick's break-up speech is ambiguous. He never directly says, "Let's break up." Instead he says something indirect: "It isn't fun any more." He seems to be describing an inner state, a lack of interest in life, which is confirmed when he says, "I feel as though everything was gone to hell inside of me." Marjorie understands him to be breaking up with her. She asks whether love is fun anymore. When he says no, she leaves. However, she seems to have understood him correctly. Bill knows of Nick's break-up plans, so Nick must have discussed it with him.

Hemingway is known for his pared-down style, giving only the most important details. In part, Nick talks indirectly because Hemingway is a skilled writer of dialogue. Dialogue sounds boring and unnatural when characters stick strictly to the point. Imagine a thriller in which a character asks, "Do you have the secret plans?" Another character answers, "Yes, I have the secret plans." There would be no thrill in such a thriller. Thus Nick talks about his inner turmoil rather than make a direct suggestion to Marjorie.

Nick's indirect speech in this story also has other meanings. The Nick Adams stories seem like a sequence. In "The End of Something," Nick rejects love. Things have "gone to hell" inside him and love is no help. In "The Three-Day Blow," Nick tries hunting and drinking to blow these feelings away like a storm. In "The Battler," Nick is introduced to war as a way of life, in the figure of embattled Ad Francis. In Chapter 6 Nick has taken up war, like Ad Francis. However, he rejects war, too. He is not a "patriot." Nick could have said something flat and wooden in "The End of Something," like "Let's break up," but that statement would not align with the other stories' portrayal of him.

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