Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Many Voices

In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway

I admit, when I first read The Sun Also Rises for a class on Mondern Literature, I was not enamored. It struck me as overly minimalistic and angst-ridden.

Now that I'm taking another Modern Literature class, four years later, I actually found I enjoyed Hemingway this time around. I read In Our Time through twice before writing an essay on it and found I had a much better grip on it for the redundant reading. Some of the fifteen stories in particular are more striking than others (I personally was drawn to "The Three Day Blow," "Soldier's Home," "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife," "Mr. and Mrs. Eliott," and "Big Two-Hearted River"), but really it takes the collection taken as a whole to achieve its full effect.

Really, each story is made up of two parts: there's the main story, then there is a 40-200 word italicized section at the beginning of each story. The two sections are in no way related to each other plotwise, but they seem to very subtly comment, inform, and enhance each one another.

Hemingway comes at the reader with a plethora of voices, rhythms, and issues that, while they are not always related to one another (though about half the stories employ the same character, Nick Adams), are necessary to be taken as a whole to get the entire experience of what he's trying to say. His favorite themes seem to be war, violence (not necessarily always the war kind), loss (in many, many forms), the healing power of nature, and the right way to live. Each story generally has a little bit to inform the reader about each, and then the last story, "Big Two-Hearted River," picks up and completes all these threads. Especially the second time through, this culmination was quite an experience.

Overall, In Our Time is a very quick and painless read, but rewards deeper contemplation. If the themes I listed above are of interest, then I recommend. If contemplative, minimalist writing is favored, then I recommend. If you're looking for excitement or an obvious message, then I don't recommend. It's as simple and complex as that.


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