In Our Time: Chapter 3,4
Chapter III, page 29
The narrator remembers a time when he was “in the garden at Mons” with fellow soldiers. They spot a German solider, laden with gear, trying to get over the garden wall, and they shot him. He fell into the garden. They spot three more Germans and shoot them, too. “They all came just like that,” remarks the narrator.
The narrator’s matter-of-fact account of being in a French garden, which represents the height of civilization and beauty, and of shooting German soldiers as if they were animals, presents a statement about war and about men at war: war crushes all that is civilized in men.
“The End of Something,” pages 31- 35
The narrator recounts how “in the old days” the mill at Horton’s Bay kept the town alive. However, a time came when the mill shut down and all its equipment was put aboard a schooner and moved away. After that, the town seemed deserted. Ten years after that, only foundations of the mill building remain.
Nick Adams and Marjorie, his girlfriend, are rowing near the old mill in order to set trout lines. Even though they see trout in the water, feeding on minnows that “sprinkled the surface like a handful of shot thrown into the water,” Nick and Marjorie are disappointed that no trout are “striking.” They beach the boat and prepare a bucket of perch as bait. Marjorie rows the boat out, the bait line in her teeth, until Nick tells her to let it drop in the water. She rows back, then takes out a second line, while Nick sets the reels in the sand.
When Marjorie returns from her second foray, she asks Nick what is the matter. He says he does not know. They make a fire with driftwood, sit on a blanket, and watch evening spread over the lake. Marjorie unpacks a picnic basket. Nick says he does not want to eat, but when Marjorie urges him, he agrees to. Nick says there will be a full moon, and Marjorie agrees. He says, “‘You know everything,’” and Marjorie tells him not to talk silly. She asks him again what is wrong, and he replies that “‘It isn’t fun anymore.’” Marjorie understands what he is saying: he is breaking up with her. She calmly gets in the boat and leaves, telling him he can walk back.
Nick continues to lie by the fire in the dark. Bill comes from the woods and sits beside him, not touching him. He asks if Marjorie made a scene, and Nick replies that she did not. He tells Bill to go away. Bill takes a sandwich from the picnic basket and goes to inspect the rods buried in the sand.
The title of this story, “The End of Something,” suggests that it is a tale about more than the end of a romance or a close friendship. Nick cannot put his unrest into words or tell Marjorie exactly why he is breaking up with her, other than it “isn’t fun” for him anymore. Is he, like the elusive trout they seek, refusing to rise to a girl’s bait and be ensnared by her? Or is he succumbing to pressure from a friend, Bill, who has persuaded him to turn his back on women and love? Nick seems upset with both himself and Bill. For whom has he ended his relationship with Marjorie? For himself, or for Bill? What exactly has he ended, a childhood friendship, a teen romance, or a relationship in which he was not entirely in control? And after ending that relationship, is he still in control of his life?
Chapter IV, page 37
The day, says the narrator, was “frightfully” hot. He and the other soldiers have made an “absolutely priceless” barricade across a bridge using a “big old wrought-iron grating from the front of the house.” It was “absolutely topping” because the enemy could not move such a heavy grating and would have to climb over it, exposing themselves to being shot. The grating proved to be “an absolutely perfect obstacle” when the enemy soldiers do attempt to cross over it and are shot at. When the narrator and his companions heard that they were to fall back, he says, they were “frightfully put out.”
Like all the other vignettes, this one juxtaposes an object of the civilized, pre-war world—a beautiful wrought iron gate—with the realities of war. The gate, which once would have welcomed visitors, perhaps for a meal or a celebration, has now become an invitation to death. The narrator’s exaggeratedly civilized word choices underscore the irony of his situation: war makes civilized people do uncivilized acts for the sake of preserving their particular civilization.
“The Three-Day Blow,” pages 39-49
Nick walks through the orchard towards the cottage where Bill and his father live. It is autumn, and the first cold front is blowing through the area.
Bill comes out of the house when he spots Nick. They stand on the porch, looking across the lake, observing the high winds blowing. Bill comments that the storm will blow for three days. He says his father is out hunting, and he invites Nick inside the house, where a fire roars in the fireplace. He and Nick have a drink of whiskey and water in front of the fire. Nick takes his shoes off to dry them by the fire, but his feet are bare. Bill fetches him some wool socks, which Nick reluctantly puts on. He likes the time of year in which it is too hot to wear socks.
As they continue to drink, they discuss baseball and agree that while they do not know everything that is going on in the sport, they get a lot of “dope” or information for people who live out in the woods. Next, the two of them discuss books. Bill is reading Richard Feverel. Nick comments on the sword in Forest Lovers. They discuss who is the better writer, Walpole or Chesterton, and joke that if both authors were there, they would take them fishing on the river.
They declare that they will get drunk, and they proceed to do so, finishing the whiskey bottle. Bill says his father does not allow him to open a new bottle until the old one is finished because “‘opening bottles is what makes drunkards.’” Nick is impressed with this thought, for he had always assumed drinking by oneself made one into a drunkard.
Nick asks after Bill’s dad. Bill says he is fine but “‘He gets a little wild sometimes.’” Nick says his father claims to have never taken a drink, but Nick thinks his father also feels he has missed a lot in life, too.
Nick gets another log from outside. He wants to prove that he is not too drunk to do so. Yet on his way back inside he knocks over a pan of apricots soaking in water in the kitchen. He puts the spilled apricots back into the pan and refills the water. He feels proud that he is not too drunk to behave so responsibly.
Bill gets down a bottle of Scotch, and Nick goes into the kitchen to get more water for them to mix with the Scotch. He catches his reflection in a mirror, smiles at it, but thinks that it is not his face he sees there.
Back before the fire, the two of them toast to fishing and remark that fishing is far better than baseball. They drink to Chesterton and Walpole. Suddenly, Bill tells Nick he was smart to call off his relationship with Marjorie. Nick remains silent as Bill comments on how getting married would have fettered Nick, on how Nick would have been saddled with Marjorie’s mother. As Bill talks, Nick feels lonely and sad, thinking that “he had once had Marjorie and that he had lost her. She was gone and he had sent her away.” Bill points out that if Nick had married Marjorie, he would not be able to sit with Bill now, drinking before the fire, planning to fish the next day. Nick acknowledges that this is true; he had once planned to be in town, near Marjorie. Now he is not sure what he is going to do. Bill says that he was worried about his pal Nick while Nick was seeing Marjorie. Now he is not worried. He says he will not speak of Marjorie again, lest Nick decide to get back with her again.
At this idea, Nick perks up. He like the notion that he could get back with Marjorie, if he wanted to. “Nothing was finished. Nothing was lost. He would go into town on Saturday. He felt lighter, as he had felt before Bill started to talk about it. There was always a way out.”
The two decide to take the shotguns and go find Bill’s dad. Once outside, Nick feels like his sadness over Marjorie is lifted; the wind seems to blow it away. He feels good that he has the choice to go into town on Saturday, whether he actually does so or not.
Nick continues to contemplate what it means to be a man. Does being a man mean holding your liquor and caring about sports and hunting? Does it mean holding yourself in, as Nick’s father has done? Or does it mean loving a woman and submitting to the married life? According to Bill, being a man means living independently and living outdoors. Nick truly loved Marjorie, but he gave her up in order to preserve his independence. Somehow, that independence is tied to nature, to striding out into the wilderness with a shotgun or tangling with a fish on a line. The wind seems to remind Nick of freedom. Yet, being able to go back to Marjorie is “a good thing to have in reserve.” Nature is well and fine, but civilization is always waiting on the edge.