The End of Something by Ernest Hemingway
In The End of Something by Ernest Hemingway we have the theme of change, disillusion, commitment, independence and acceptance. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that the title of the story can refer to either the end of logging in Horton’s Bay and the decline of the Mill or the end of Nick and Marjorie’s relationship. These parallels’ are significant as Hemingway is possibly using the beginning of the story, when he describes the Mill in Horton’s Bay (ten years previously), as symbolism for Nick and Marjorie’s relationship. Like the Mill closing down and the production of lumber ending, likewise at the end of the story, Nick and Marjorie’s relationship comes to an end.
There is other symbolism in the story which also may be important. Marjorie describes the old Mill as looking like a ‘castle.’ It is possible that Marjorie is romanticising the old Mill, which the reader already is aware that Hemingway is using as symbolism for Nick’s relationship with Marjorie. This in turn would suggest that Marjorie views the relationship differently to Nick. While she sees it as a loving (romantic) relationship, Nick on the other hand feels that it has run its course. It may also be significant that Nick doesn’t answer Marjorie when she tells him she thinks the Mill looks like a castle. This could suggest that the old Mill resembles no more than a ruin to Nick, which would mirror his feelings about the relationship. If anything Nick appears to be disillusioned with the relationship even going as far as telling Marjorie later in the story that ‘it isn’t fun any more. Not any of it.’
Symbolically the fish are also important as they can be seen as symbolism for Nick himself. Just as Marjorie has difficulty catching any fish at the beginning of the story, Hemingway may be similarly suggesting that Marjorie will not catch (or marry) Nick. It is also possible that Nick does not want to make a commitment to Marjorie. The lack of interest shown by the fish (with the bait) in some ways mirrors the lack of interest that Nick has in the relationship.
Nick’s body language, particularly when he is sitting by the camp fire on the shore with Marjorie may also be significant. Nick finds it difficult to face Marjorie, preferring not to look at her when he tells her that the relationship is over. Some critics suggest this is important as it highlights a degree of cowardice within Nick. Another interesting aspect of the story is the introduction of Bill’s character. Though he is only in the story briefly, his appearance is significant as it is through his discussion with Nick that the reader realises that Nick has planned his break up with Marjorie, having most likely discussed it with Bill prior to going fishing with Marjorie.
Though Nick may have calculated his break up with Marjorie his reaction to her rowing away (he lies on the down on the blanket, facing the ground) suggests that he did have some feelings for her. It is also possible that Hemingway is using Nick’s character to highlight that some men (now and at the time the story was written) are not able to make a commitment (get married). That for their own reasons they prefer to live life as they think it should be lived, as an adventure rather than being confined (as they would feel) to a relationship. Regardless of how Nick is feeling, Hemingway does leave him with some hope. By introducing Bill there is a possibility that Hemingway is suggesting that a new adventure awaits Nick. Just as Marjorie may symbolise an old way of life for Nick, Bill may symbolise the future. It is also interesting that Bill, after he talks to Nick, checks on the two fishing rods. It is possible that Hemingway is suggesting that Bill is picking up from were Marjorie left off.
Marjorie’s reaction to the break up may also be important as through it Hemingway may be exploring the theme of acceptance and independence. Marjorie, makes no pleas with Nick to try and salvage something in the relationship. Rather she quickly tells Nick that she will take the boat while he can walk back around the point. If anything it would appear that Marjorie is accepting that Nick wants to end the relationship and the fact that she takes the boat, may act as symbolism for her independence. Just as Nick was in control of the boat at the beginning of the story, Marjorie takes control of it at the end. Marjorie’s physical movement, of rowing away from Nick may also be important as it suggests, at least symbolically, that she is moving away from Nick. It is quite possible that Marjorie has accepted that the relationship is over and, by rowing away from Nick, is moving on with her life.