An essay on In Our Time by David Gagne

Half-way through reading Hemmingway’s collection In Our Time I was interrupted by my roommate, George. He wanted to know how I liked the story. He seems to be very impressed that I’m reading Hemmingway. I explained to him that it was, in fact, not one story, but a collection of short stories. He asked if they had a common theme or not, and I found it difficult to answer. “Yes and no,” I said. I then went on to explain that although one character, Nick, appeared occasionally, the stories didn’t flow as one large story. “It’s sort of like a painting,” I told him, “If you could pick out any one individual brush-stroke and study it, it would be meaningless. But if you pull back and see all the brush-strokes, you can view the painting in its entirety.” He thought this was very wise and went away, contented that I was a literate genius.

Myself, I didn’t really know what to gather from the stories. I’ve never honestly read any Hemingway previously. I’ve started to read The Sun Also Rises about ten times and gotten waylaid by Batman, Robert B. Parker, and the like each time. I think I read The Old Man and the Sea ages ago in high school, but it was so long ago that it has slipped completely from my memory. He is one of those authors that I always connect with my father and his college years for some reason, although I’m not entirely sure why. I’ve always wanted to read Hemmingway, but I’ve always wanted to read all of Shakespeare, Homer, and Eliot, too.

The edition I’m reading has the short stories separated by “Chapters” which do and don’t tell a story. The “Chapters” strongly remind me of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I was also surprised at how simple it is to read them. They are perfect examples of how Poe defined the short story: quick, (sometimes) powerful, and written to evoke one feeling. After reading The End of Something, for example, I was struck by how easily Hemmingway made me sad. The ending to A Very Short Story was pure torture. All the stories are simply constructed, no superfluous words, no extra images to clutter the feeling. They seem to be written with Strunk and White’s Elements of Style in mind. After not one of them was I wanting for more. Each was a universe unto itself. Out of Season was difficult because I wasn’t sure of how it made me feel, almost as if it was beyond me to understand what was happening to the characters and therefore I wasn’t supposed to have read it.

I enjoyed reading In Our Time, sitting on a float in a pool in the sun. The whole time, though, I was worried about what sort of “response” I was having to each story. I think it clouded my mind while I was reading and I must try to avoid that. If I had simply picked the book from a shelf and read it on a summer day, I think my responses would have been subtly different, although I’m sure I don’t know in what way. I am never sure what kind of “response” a professor is looking for in these “response” papers, or how formal they should be, but this is obviously the first of many and I will learn from your response to it.

In Our Time

This post is part of The Hemingway Collection, an archive of essays, images, and hyperlinks to interesting articles about the great American author.

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There is one comment on this post

  1. My teacher used your metaphor of the painting in class, and I’m going to tell him he got it from you. 😀 I’m sure he read this exact site.

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What Is This? is the personal weblog of me, David Vincent Gagne. I've been publishing here since 1999, which makes this one of the oldest continuously-updated websites on the Internet.

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You can read dozens of essays and articles and find hundreds of links to other sites with stories and information about Ernest Hemingway in The Hemingway Collection.