The Economy of Love: Why Young Love Fails in Hemingway’s “the End of Something”

Topics: Love, Lumber, Interpersonal relationship Pages: 7 (2977 words) Published: August 27, 2013
James Keil
Dr. Love
Sophomore Seminar I
15 October 2012
The Economy of Love: Why Young Love Fails in Hemingway’s “The End of Something” There is a lot of speculation about what causes the end of the relationship between Nick Adams and Marjorie in Hemingway’s early story of young love, “The End of Something.” Indeed, there does seem to be some vagueness in the narrative as to the reason for the breakup: Nick says when Marjorie asks what the trouble is: “’I don’t know.’” Even the title suggests this vagueness. Freudian theories abound, however: some suspect impotence; homoeroticism, Nick’s love for Bill, is another theory. However, these speculations ignore too often the reasons proposed by the text, indeed, at one point, by Nick himself. Nick’s explanation, too often ignored, is abetted by the story’s beginning; here Hemingway describes the mill town that once stood near the site of the story and the mill ruins that are all that remain and where we learn why the love relationship failed. Throughout the story we get hints as to why the relationship will fail. Nick and Marjorie are on an evening date near the old mill and along the lake shore at Horton’s Bay. Marjorie is aware as they prepare to eat that Nick is irritated about something and she asks him what’s wrong, but Nick doesn’t want to talk about why he is irritable. Nick is about to break up with Marjorie, something that he apparently isn’t prepared to announce just yet. This is the “end” to which the title refers, the end of the relationship. Just what kind of romantic relationship is ended or why it is ended remains quite vague, especially in Nick’s mind, but we know from the title that it was “something.” When pressed by Marjorie near the end of the story to explain what is bothering him, Nick finally tells her that “It,” their romance, “isn’t fun any more.” At this point it appears that we have clarification of the vagueness in the title as well as the cause of Nick’s irritation; it’s hard to imagine why so many critics don’t take Nick at his word. However, the beginning of the story also describes the end of something, even though the description occurs in the beginning: the end of the town of Horton’s Bay, a lumbering town on the waters of Lake Charlevoix in northcentral Michigan. Before all the hints about the relationship and what is to come, Hemingway begins his story with a description of the ghost town instead of the lively community that once thrived there. Unlike the love relationship and its ending, the town and the reasons for its rise and death are very clear. It was a “lumbering town,” its real-life equivalent built on these shores at the end of the nineteenth century because of the nearly ideal proximity of the site to timber and easy water transport to markets local, domestic, and international. Horse- or ox-drawn sleds, streams swollen by snowmelt, or temporary small-gauge railroads would have carried timber to the mills of Hortons Bay at a feverish pace for a dozen or more years. It was not a large town, it seems, for Hemingway tells us that “[n]o one who lived in it was out of sound of the big saws in the mill.” But just as quickly as it arrived on the shores of the lake, the town died—like many of the boom-to-bust towns that extraction industries like logging and mining create. There being no more reason for the relationships built among the laborers and between the workers and the merchants who supplied them, many of those relationships dried up and the people of Hortons Bay dispersed as quickly as they came. No mystery here. No vagueness. Americans had by the time this story appears in 1925 seen such boomtowns come and go on a regular basis for two hundred years. This economy of instability, we might say, was one of the few constants of American life. The busy mill town that Hemingway knew as a boy and that was the site of his first wedding had a lifespan of about fifteen years. Its reason for existing and the reason for its death are,...
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