A Canary for One by Ernest Hemingway
In A Canary for One by Ernest Hemingway we have the theme of control, identity, discontent and separation. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed man and after reading the story the reader realises that Hemingway may be exploring the theme of control. There is a sense that the American lady wishes to control her daughter’s life or at least control who she falls in love with. This may be important as in many ways the American Lady’s daughter may feel trapped by her mother. Just as the canary is trapped in the cage. It might also be a case that Hemingway is exploring the theme of identity. Not only does he not name any of the characters in the story but the reader’s perception of what is happening between characters is also being guided by assumption. It is only in the final line of the story that the reader realises that the narrator and his wife are separating. There is no hint in the story apart from the final line to suggest anything is wrong with the narrator’s marriage. They are courteous at all times throughout the story and not even the American lady suspects that the narrator and his wife may be going their separate ways.
However the fact that the narrator only speaks once in the story might be a sign that all is not well. He also seems to be preoccupied and doesn’t take much interest in the conversation that his wife is having with the American lady. It might be a case that the narrator feels as though the separation is being imposed on him. That the idea was not his. In fact it is also noticeable that at no stage in the story does the narrator speak to his wife or her to him. All verbal exchanges are directed towards the American lady. Which may highlight the discontent (with each other) that the narrator and his wife feel. There is also a sense of irony that the American lady thinks American women should only marry American men because the narrator, who is American, is separating from his American wife. The fact that the reader does not know as to why the narrator is separating from his wife could also be important as Hemingway could be suggesting that nobody really knows what happens inside a marriage. Just as it is difficult to gauge the mood between the narrator and his wife likewise it is difficult for an individual to understand what happens inside a marriage.
There may also be some symbolism in the story that is important. The canary as mentioned mirrors the American lady’s daughter. Just as the canary is under the control of the American lady and trapped. So too is the America lady’s daughter. The house that is mentioned at the beginning of the story may symbolise happiness, a home for two people to live in. While the burning farmhouse may represent unhappiness. Something that would mirror the narrator’s relationship with his wife. It started off happy but it has turned to sadness or unhappiness. The fact that the American lady is partially deaf could also have some symbolic significance as Hemingway may be suggesting that the American lady does not hear things. Things like the fact that her daughter was in love with a Swiss man. Rather she allows her own prejudices towards European men get in the way. Instead of being happy for her daughter the American lady only makes her daughter’s life miserable.
The American lady’s judgement also comes into question. Not only because she has a bias towards European men but because she never realises that the narrator’s marriage is over. Where previously she had asserted that American men where the best men to marry. She has no realisation that the narrator’s marriage is in trouble. The fact that the war is over may also be important. While the war was on-going both the narrator and his wife had other things to worry about. Now that the war is over they have both probably realised that the marriage has come to an end. The war in many ways may have acted as a distraction for the inevitable. Just as the American lady is controlling her daughter the war may have controlled the direction of the narrator’s marriage. The American lady also seems to be the one who is guiding the conversation throughout the story. Telling the narrator and his wife more about herself than anything else. If anything the American lady has been so self-absorbed in her own world that she has not really taken the time to get a clear insight into either the narrator or his wife. Through her own insecurities she has not been able to notice that the narrator remained silent for most of the train journey. A sure sign to some that something was wrong. Instead the American lady believes the canary will mend her daughter’s broken heart.