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Hemingway’s Dialogue

June 9, 2007

Writing annotations for Hemingway is kind of a daunting prospect. He is clean and concise in exactly the way I am not. Most of his character development happens through dialog. For this reading I focused on a series of stories from The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway in the section The First Forty-nine starting with The Indian Camp. In particular I am discussing The Three Day Blow, which is one of several stories focusing around the character Nick.

This story is permeated with a sense of pausing as the main character is in a state of internal transition with the story opening with the line, “The rain stopped as Nick turned into the road that went up through the orchard” (85). The weather is pausing as Nick entered the scene. With a small amount of setting Hemingway sets the landscape with a cottage, trees that are stripped from the wind, and a forest line of second growth timber. A storm is brewing as Nick walks up the steps and is greeted by Bill. The two sit down and commence drinking whiskey as the storm picks up. “The wind was blowing straight down the lake” (85). “She’ll blow like that for three days” (85). The arc of the story and Nick’s internal struggle are mirrored by the storm outside, which is virtually the only scene description once the dialog begins.

Both characters are interested in getting drunk, but are concerned with maintaining composure. “He had noticed while looking into the fire that the fire was dying down. Also he wished to show that he could hold his liquor and be practical. Even if his father had never touched a drop Bill was not going to get him drunk before he himself was drunk” (89). Both characters are still interested in keeping up appearance even as they are resolved to get thoroughly drunk. There is a tension between the drive to be responsible, and the drive to lose inhibition, which is mirrored by the weather outside.

The weather is just as much inside Nick as it is outside. As the characters drink more, the conversation turns to Nick’s breakup with Marge. Bill tells him that he was lucky to get out when he did. Bill consoles Nick with,” you can’t mix oil and water and you can’t mix that sort of thing” (91). At this point Nick becomes quiet. “Nick said nothing. The liquor had all died out of him and left him alone” (91). Through the long conversation that ensues, Hemingway repeatedly states “Nick said nothing.” It is a pausing as Nick holds back his judgment. It stands in counterbalance to the platitudes that Bill issues. It is almost a negation of the words Bill offers. His thoughts stand in silent opposition to the flow of the scene. Then once again the storm starts again. ‘All right,’ said Nick. ‘Let’s get drunk,’ followed by ‘All right,’ Bill said. ‘Let’s get really drunk’ (91)

I am really interested in the way that Hemingway constructs his scenes almost totally out of dialogue. I have always struggled with dialog, and get lost when executing such extensive tracts, although I think I am competent with constructing believable conversations. While occupying a loaded interior space, Hemingway’s characters are linked to a world of action and words. I think it is important for me to have a change in the feeling of how my story Stalking America is written once the main character decides to get off the train. I think constructing scenes as mostly dialogue between characters would contrast nicely with the mostly interior space occupied by the character on the train. I think it might highlight my character’s change in focus to live outside of his own head, as well as be a good exercise for me in my writing.

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