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Characters

Character Clues

Character Analysis

Actions

Hemingway is all about actions. We don't necessarily mean actions like bursting into a burning orphanage to save everyone inside or jet-skiing over a shark, but little actions that you might not even find worth describing:

Nick watched his father's hands scrubbing each other with the soap. While his father washed his hands very carefully and thoroughly, he talked. (21)

In a story that is barely five pages long, why does Hemingway devote two precious sentences to Nick's father's good hygiene? It's because these two little sentences tell us a ton:

  • Nick is concentrating on his father's hands instead of all the other stuff going on around him, like watching the action is comforting.
  • Nick's father focuses on meticulous details, like washing his hands carefully (but doesn't catch what's going on in the top bunk).

Wow! And here we thought that Nick's dad just didn't want to spread any germs. The point is, Hemingway doesn't just enjoy describing people doing mundane tasks; he's trying to tell you something with them.

Speech and Dialogue

We don't know if you've been around sullen kids very often, but they tend to talk in two-word sentences like Nick does:

"I know," said Nick. (13)

"I see," Nick said.
(15)

Nick said, "All right." (28)

Okay he says more than that, but he's not talking anyone's ear off. He seems be more paralyzed than anything. Nick's father, on the other hand, tries to keep the conversation in the realm of a learning experience:

"You see, Nick, babies are supposed to be born head first but sometimes they're not." (22)

"See, it's a boy, Nick," he said. (27)

"Now," his father said, "there's some stitches to put in." (31)

If we compare Nick's responses with his father's commentary, we see that Nick is definitely the less enthusiastic of the two—that is, until after the suicide. Then Nick is full of questions and his dad is the one giving short answers:

"Do many men kill themselves, Daddy?"
"Not very many, Nick."
"Do many women?"
"Hardly ever."
"Don't they ever?"
"Oh, yes. They do sometimes."
(52-57)

Now Nick is the one driving the conversation, and based on this shift, we now know what really piques his interest—and it's the opposite of what his father wants.

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