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The End of Something - Ernest Hemingway

Guest Author - Siobhain M Cullen

Unusual gifts for men include books for the thinking man! The complete short stories of Ernest Hemingway are very popular with young and old, although sometimes it's hard to see why they like them so much! (They are a smidgeon depressing!)

For example, in looking for stories about relationships and couples, who would want to read a story called 'The End Of Something?' Like the poor girl in the story, all we girls want is for 'things to be nice' yet, sometimes some men have to get all heavy, thoughtful, broody and depressing - just like Nick in the story!Yet with summer on the horizon, there should be happy talk of teen vacations and summer camp with all their trappings of camping away, fishing rivers, lighting lakeside barbeque fires and boating... but no!

Here is a topical teen sweetheart story where boy and girl set out for a moonlight fishing trip together. Sounds romantic? Opinions are divided on what happens at the end. What do you think? Read the walk-through and see if you agree with my theory!

I always like a little controversy or a puzzle in the short stories that I read and Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The End of Something’ provided me with a mystery that was sufficiently interesting to make me re-read the story to look for more clues.

In language as short and sharp as the staccato blasts from a gun, Hemingway introduces his story backdrop in style reminiscent of an unwilling teen boy delivering a piece of composition homework with as little work as possible. These unwilling students sometimes produce work whose skills at economy of style are awesome!

Hemingway is no different as he paints a decrepit lumber town landscape on the banks of the river where teens, Marjorie and Nick, go to fish. As they are setting night-lines for trout, the backdrop of the lake should be as romantic as the time of day – evening twilight- and Hemingway conveys the still silence well with his words ‘trolling along the edge of the channel bank’ and ‘swampy second growth.’ His sentence ‘Nick and Marjorie rowed along the shore’ seems to produce an effect of slowing down the story action to a rhythmical sculling pace.

However, nothing is romantic in the boat where all is brooding silence. Marjorie tries to engage the seemingly sullen Nick in cheery, nostalgic chat about their ‘special place’ as they row past it on the bank. He will not be drawn and simply cryptically retorts

‘There it is.’

Those girls among us who have ‘been there’ in this situation, with non-communicative sweethearts who appear ‘hacked off’ about something, may recognise these warning signs! Nick is not a happy chappy. Something has gone wrong somewhere – but what?

Marjorie chirps on, trying to lighten things up, but Nick suddenly cuts across the lake – and her efforts at loving conversation – and sharply changes the conversation onto the fish with:

‘They aren’t striking.’

Neither is he taking any bait, it would seem, from her efforts to sweeten his temper.
Marjorie, Hemingway notes, has been concentrating on the fishing lines all the time Nick has been talking to her, and disagrees:

‘They’re feeding.’

Here Hemingway makes two important points, but leaves out the third, perhaps most important one. ‘She loved to fish. She loved to fish with Nick.’ He doesn’t however, say that she loves Nick himself. Perhaps this is a clue about Nick’s feelings.

Again a potentially romantic lake-fishing scene is brought back to earth violently.

‘A big trout ... broke the surface of the water.’ Nick spins the boat and the bait lines expertly so that the minnows jump wildly just where the trout is feeding. The beautiful silver evening illusion of the minnows sprinkling the surface is pierced by the reality of the description of Ernest Hemingway’s description of them:

‘.... like a handful of shot thrown on the water.’

Perhaps Nick, too, is disillusioned about some unshared unuttered grievance?
No less expertly than Nick, Marjorie implements her accomplished fishing skills and despite the mood, the two work effectively as a perfectly synchronised team, both equally adept at reeling in, decapitating and gutting fish, and rowing. Nick tries to advise his girlfriend about the benefits of leaving the ventral fins in the fish before baiting the lines. She doesn’t argue. She even calls back from the centre of the lake to check with him about the best placing for the lines. Still Nick is not happy, even though he hauls the boat up the lake shore for her after she effortlessly delivers it back.

‘What’s the matter Nick?’
she asks and he comes out with that often predictable reply from guys who are ‘Not Happy About Something!’ ...

‘I don’t know.’

But he does know, and Marjorie knows it. In what should be an idyllic scene, they prepare a twilight picnic before a lakeside driftwood fire and the smoke gently drifts towards a rising moon. Marjorie fetches a blanket for them both to sit on, but Nick has to be coaxed to eat. Eventually he gives in but they still eat in silence, not touching.

Things look bad for them – and they are.
Nick eventually remarks that he thinks there will be a moon that night. Happy for a minute (maybe to hear him speak of something beautiful at last) Marjorie responds that she knows there will be a moon too. Nick’s curt

‘You know everything’

shatters her hopes of a mellow evening and Marjorie is finally goaded into responding to her sweetheart’s ‘silent treatment.’

‘Oh Nick, please cut it out. Please, please don’t be that way.’ Hemingway may be showing us here that Marjorie is used to these moods of Nick’s.

‘You know everything. That’s the trouble.’ complains Nick, adding ‘I’ve taught you everything.

‘What’s really the matter?’ questions the all-too-knowing Marjorie with a ‘let’s bring it on’ attitude:

‘Go on and say it.’

Inevitably, the words that many a partner dreads come dragging out of Nick’s mouth:
‘It isn’t fun any more.’
Carefully checking him out, so as to be quite sure of his meaning, Marjorie gives it one last shot:

‘Isn’t love fun?’

is the plain single one word answer and Marjorie doesn’t waste another minute of her time. Hemingway places her half-way to the boat by the time she calls to Nick that she is taking it but that she can launch it herself. Then she is gone with nothing more said.

The interpretation of the end of the short story is debatable. Some readers see a friend who comes to console Nick, some say Nick is glad to get rid of Marjorie. But perhaps there is a darker twist?

Out of the undergrowth comes Nick’s friend Bill. Arriving upon a scene where Nick is lying face-down on the blanket listening to the lapping of his girlfriend sailing out of his life - perhaps for ever carried away on a boat like all that was productive about the long-gone lumber industry, Bill does not seem surprised at the developments in the sweethearts’ relationship.

This is suspicious to some readers including yours truly. In asking...
‘Did she go alright?
‘Have a scene?’
Bill may be displaying prior knowledge of the ‘girlfriend dumping’ – and even worse – implying that he was the real, jealous perpetrator. Certainly poor Nick is not ‘over the moon’ about the split. Instead of male bonding, backslapping and fishing with his buddy in their new-found freedom he remains almost mute and miserable on the rug, rejecting Bill’s social interactions just as strongly as he had rejected Marjorie’s ten minutes earlier.

Coldly, Bill takes a leftover sandwich from Marjorie’s picnic basket and goes to inspect the fishing lines – as if that was how things should be. Could it be that Nick did not mean that Marjorie was not fun but that his whole life was not fun? – and that he is in fact displaying depressive emotions where everything and everyone in his life is painted with the same dark, bleak blackness?

One line in his earlier end-game dialogue with Marjorie would seem to suggest this:
‘I feel as though everything was gone to hell inside of me.’
If so it seems a chilling portent of Hemingway’s own early self-inflicted demise at the end of a shotgun years later.

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Content copyright © 2018 by Siobhain M Cullen. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Siobhain M Cullen. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Michelle Anne Cope for details.


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