In Our Time

Summary and Analysis of Chapter XIV

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Vignette

Maera is rammed by a bull's horn. He feels his own blood and the horn going through him. Finally, the bull is pulled off him. He is taken to the infirmary and put on a cot. The doctor arrives and must wash his hands. Then Maera dies.

"Big Two-Hearted River: Part I"

Nick gets off a train with his few belongings at the remnants of the old town of Seney. The landscape is burned. He watches the trout in a nearby river for a long time, and the experience brings back old feelings.

He finally picks up his luggage and starts up a hill. He feels happy and as if he has left everything behind him. He feels as though everything changed once he got off the train at Seney. He walks and enjoys the landscape. He sees the faraway blue hills that mark Lake Superior. He stops to smoke a cigarette and notices a black grasshopper. He realizes that they are all black. He speaks to it and urges it on its way.

Nick keeps walking, guided by the sun, until he arrives at a patch of pine trees. He lies down and falls asleep. When he wakes it is evening, and he moves toward the river. He soon stops and sets up camp. He takes immense joy in setting up his tent, organizing his camp, and cooking his food. He talks to himself, noting that he deserves to eat this food since he carried it. After dinner he makes coffee and has to decide between two ways of making it, but he cannot remember which way is his and which is that of a friend named Hopkins. He remembers the story of Hopkins, a man who made millions of dollars from oil in Texas. He has not seen him for a long time. He decides to make and drink the coffee in the way Hopkins would do it. He finally falls asleep.

Analysis

The vignette describes Maera's experience of death. The violence of bullfighting kills Maera, as though his death is a natural or inevitable response to the violence.

In "Big Two-Hearted River: Part I," Nick is happy as he starts out, feeling relieved to be away from society and back in touch with nature. Near the ruins of Seney, the scene of the fertile river with plentiful trout captivates him, and the contrast between the ruins of civilization and the bountiful river suggests that society is linked with destruction. With the absence of the town, the river has become incredibly bountiful. The imagery suggests the value Hemingway places on isolation from society, a value Nick also holds in this narrative.

When he releases the grasshopper from his grasp, he speaks for the first time, almost as if this experience marks a new beginning for him. From here, as he makes his way to the spot where he will camp, he shows his experience, for he already knows the landscape. He takes pleasure in enjoying the rewards of his efforts, setting up his camp and then eating the food that he carried himself. With the tent set up, he feels a different kind of happiness, a complete sense of satisfaction and safety. He is in charge, here; he can make the coffee whichever way he likes. Making the the way Hopkins made it is his way of honoring Hopkins, although the many years separate him from any deep emotions. His memory of a fishing trip with Hopkins that never came to fruition represents their discontinued friendship.

This chapter's power lies in the way it contrasts with previous chapters. It does not engage with many of the themes in the rest of the book. There is a solitary satisfaction invested in this chapter that we do not see in the other chapters, where failed relationships tend to produce loneliness. The chapter is devoid of overt violence or relationships other than the memory of Hopkins. This story represents a new beginning for Nick, a refreshment of his nature through his separation from the rest of society.