My boyfriend left me last night. This morning, amidst my favorite Fleetwood Mac (that he never liked anyway), all I can think about is Hemingway’s “The End of Something” (and of course, the subsequent “The Three Day Blow”). I feel it like a chorus in my brain, that damning question that Marge asks Nick Adams. Isn’t love any fun? Of course, Nick says no, and Marge takes the boat, leaving Nick to walk back on his own.
It’s in stories like these that the misogynist Hemingway some people love to talk about reveals much more egalitarian tendencies. Marge has eight times Nick’s dignity and just the right edge of anger as she sails off. She has human compassion in the way she asks Nick to share what is bothering him. The pair’s bickering shows how their relationship has soured.
The way Hemingway navigates Nick and Marge’s dialogue builds two full human characters in the short space of twenty-four exchanges. The length of their relationship, never stated, makes itself felt in the rising of the moon, in Nick’s accusation that Marge knows everything. When Nick comments on the rising moon, he is focused on the nightfall and the “hills that were beginning to sharpen against the sky.” Marge acknowledges the coming brightness of the moon “happily.” Marge is happy.
Nick, however, is ready to leave. In their argument, Nick distances himself from Marge and from love by throwing insults at her. Marge cuts through Nick’s defenses and gets to his heart, and he confesses that he feels “as though everything was gone to hell inside of [himself].”
Nick takes the break up worse than Marge. She leaves him on the shore with his head in his hands, but she is able to stand up and sail on. At this moment, the story becomes rather feminist*. Nick, though the protagonist, has wronged Marge and is suffering the emotional consequences. Marge, on the other hand, is a stronger human being; she boldly asserts control over the situation. Nick has hurt her, but he has not devastated her. Marge is a complete person without him.
My first relationship did not end well. I was frantically in “love” with someone who was controlling and manipulative, and I clung to the idea of him for much longer than seemed healthy because I could not accept how greatly I had been wronged and how poorly I had been treated (it was really bad, folks). My first relationship ended nothing like this Hemingway story.
But I swear, nearly 100 years after In Our Time was published, my second relationship ended in a conversation that was nearly identical to the text. Isn’t love any fun? I almost said it just like that. The conversation even started because I asked what was wrong and wouldn’t take nothing for an answer (just like Marge**).
So good job, Hemingway. Way to capture that. And in the same way that “nothing was finished” and “nothing was ever lost,” at the end of “The Three Day Blow,” perhaps this chapter in our lives doesn’t close the way we think it does (yes, that was vague).
*Isn’t it sad that whenever a male author completely nails it with a strong female character, it automatically becomes “feminist” because women are people, too, but only a feminist author could realize that? Nothing against feminism, only a flaw feminist literary criticism.
**Coincidentally, my parents almost named me Marjorie, which is my grandmother’s name.
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