Big Two-Hearted River

Discussion for Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River: Parts I and II”

“Big Two-Hearted River” is a perfect example of Hemingway’s theory of good fiction. He once stated, “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader [. . .] will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.” What is NOT said in a Hemingway story is as important as what IS said.

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“Big Two-Hearted River” seems on the surface to be a fairly relaxing and non-descript camping and fishing trip in northern Michigan (Seney is an actual town where Hemingway once went fly fishing). However, the story’s emotional and psychological subtext is intense. Like many other Modernist writers (Anderson, Eliot, Faulkner, etc.) Hemingway relies upon key symbols and images in the story in order to evoke that emotional intensity.

In an essay, “The Art of the Short Story,” Hemingway reveals the subtext of the story: “‘Big Two-Hearted River’ is about a boy coming home beat to wide, from a war [running away and forgetting about World War I]. [. . .] So the war, all mention of the war, is omitted.” Nick is suffering from, what we now call, post-traumatic stress disorder and the stories are about him trying to deal with his traumatic war memories.

1. Part I of the story primarily describes the landscape and Nick’s process of setting up his camp. Even though the story is set near Seney, Michigan, how does the imagery of the landscape evoke the devastation of the war in Europe? List those key images and the appropriate passages from the story. (2 passages)

(Hint: Seney was not part of the war, so Nick sees things there that could not be true. Black grasshoppers, burned-out forests… while those are not possible in Michigan, is Nick really seeing scenes from his past when he fought in WWI in Europe? What are some of the other “odd” things that Nick notices—maybe these details exist only in his memories.)

2. The end of Part I, when Nick sets up camp for the night, and all of Part II, which describes Nick’s fishing in minute detail, seem to reveal a wounded man who is fragile emotionally and psychologically. Find 2 passages that symbolize Nick’s emotional and psychological state.

(Hint: Nick is an expert fisherman and outdoorsman. However, there are many moments during his fishing and camping that seem to disturb him. He gets shaky when he handles the trout. He almost remembers things, then he pushes the thoughts away. Nick wants to wade into the deep parts of the river, but the setting reminds him of some bad things (trench warfare?) and he purposely changes his mind. Find those moments when Nick is close to a mental breakdown.)


Due on Mar. 25, 11:59 pm.

You will submit your answers as a Microsoft Word document to the Turnitin database, which is in the Assignments section of Blackboard.

Please use the Answer Sandwich method to answer each question. The 2 passages you add to your answer should be around 2-4 sentences long. Please include a page reference for the passages ( add page number )

Keep in mind that I may select any of these questions to be the upcoming quiz question. Also, I use these discussion questions to create the exams and the major paper assignment. So do your best on each question.


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