Symbolism In A River Runs Through It By Norman Maclean, It And Big Two Hearted River By Ernest Hemingway
In Ernest Hemingway’s “Big Two Hearted River” we are first introduced to the scenery as Hemingway presents it. ‘there was no town, nothing but the rails and the burned-over country, it was all that was left of the town of Seney.” The way that Hemingway presents this suggests that he wants to put importance on Nick’s past. The burned over town represents Nick leaving the destroyed parts of his life behind. Nick enlisted in WW1 and experienced trauma. Nick is left very unwell and fails to cope and fully address his trauma. The result of Nick not addressing his issues presents itself in Nick being strung out and on a thin wire. Nick Adams is described by Hemingway as a very fragile person. Nick’s actions throughout the book seem to be meticulous and with a purpose beyond just catching fish.
In the book Big Two Hearted River Hemingway uses allegory and symbolism consistently. The river for Nick represents consistency in a world that is changing all the time. Nick feels comfort and safety around the river and uses it as an anchor in the book. The scenery used by Hemingway is used to allude to Nick’s past and perhaps his unaddressed issues. In the beginning of the book we are introduced to nick’s small problems by showing his issues pitching a tent. He drives his stakes into the ground and throws down his pack full of items. Symbolism in big two hearted river is used with different things such as the river, grasshopper, and the camping supplies. The river represents a symbol of safety for Nick. After serving in WW1 Nick feels out of control of his life.
When Nick is around and, in the river, he feels stability and begins to address his issues and feel slightly more enlightened. Nick seems to be on the edge of a breakdown. He isn’t very stable, and Hemingway alludes to this with fog, the swamp, and grasshoppers. All Nick’s actions are shown to have purpose and be very deliberate. The grasshopper for Nick reflects on his past how things seem dark and Nick seems to have a heavy burden. ‘These were just ordinary hoppers, but all a sooty black in color. Nick had wondered about them as he walked, without really thinking about them. Now, as he watched the black hopper that was nibbling at the wool of his sock with its Fourway lip, he realized that they had all turned black from living in the burned-over land. He realized that the fire must have come the year before, but the grasshoppers were all black now. He wondered how long they would stay that way” after the grasshopper crosses his path, he tells it to “Fly away somewhere” which reflects life moving on after his past.
Before the camping trip begins Nick makes sure he is more than prepared. Nick packs cans of food, a can opener, plates, silverware and other items that aren’t necessary for camping on short periods of time. Nick’s packing assesses his need to have control. What gives Nick control is being able to choose what he takes with him and what he leaves behind. His heavy load shows that Nick carries a great burden on him. What further shows Nick’s instability is when he attempts to catch a trout and fails. When Nick tries to catch the trout and fails, he becomes visibly affected and begins to mirror frantic symptoms. Nick’s reaction to the failed catch shows his feeling of not having enough control over his own life after serving in World War 1. Nick packs his supplies with more than he needs. Nick shows a very strong feeling about the river and fishing which is supported by “The water was very cold. Nick tried to take a grasshopper out of the jar, but the first one hopped into the river and was taken by a trout. The second one he hooked and let out on a line. He caught a small trout with this grasshopper. He carefully picked up the fish with a wet hand, unhooked it, and set it free. He picked up the fish with a wet hand because he did not want to harm the mucus on the fish. If he did, a fish would grow white fungus in that spot. Nick hated it when fishermen did that to fish. He even disliked fishing with anyone around but his friends. They ruined it.” Not only is the fishing trip one of the key moments in taking back control for Nick but it shows true respect for what he does, and he shows respect for his art of fishing.
By going on the fishing trip Nick begins to take back his life. By utilizing the river Nick begins to assert control. In Norman Maclean’s book “A River Runs Through It” Maclean shows many similar styles of symbolism. Maclean introduces the readers to the Maclean brothers. Both brothers Paul and Norman struggle with addiction. Paul struggles with gambling because he hangs around very dangerous people and is in debt. His life is shown to have no consistency or stability other than the river. Norman was raised by their father in Missoula alongside Paul. The river is shown to be important to both brothers throughout their entire life. The river shares importance in both books and relies on symbolism and allegory that helps the reader understand just why the river is important and how God plays a part in the lives of Norman and Paul. God has always been important to the brothers because they were raised to respect God and the natural order of the world. Blackfoot is where Norman and Paul’s father taught them the basics and where they began to develop respect for nature and understand the importance of fly-fishing. On one level the river represents the natural world. On another level the water flowing through the rocks represents new life in the world.
Both brothers are taught fly fishing from a very young age. Fly fishing is thought to demonstrate in the book A River Runs Through It, man’s understanding of nature, or god. Throughout the book Fishing becomes a steady anchor for both brothers and they use it with great respect. In the book both Norman and Paul have a great fondness towards the Blackfoot because not only does their father fish there with them, but they spend a lot of time in reflection. Norman uses the river to think about his life and struggle with alcoholism and Paul attempts to ground himself in the chaos that he’s created for himself. In the book it seems that nobody can help Paul in the end. Norman makes attempts to help but, in the end, nothing is enough to save him from the mess he has created.
In both A River Runs Through it and Big throughout Two Hearted River both stories share a heavy similarity and both authors use allegory and symbolism to represent how the characters cope with their issues. Paul utilizes the river for a stable anchor. With his life out of control and getting into the wrong crowd Paul always comes back to the river and God to get back to stability. Nick Adams in in A Big Two Hearted River has instability in his own life.
Serving in WW1 left Nick with a feeling of being out of control. His town is described as burned over the ground and empty. When Nick fishes he uses the river to get control of his life again. He meticulously stakes the tent, packs way more than he needs, and catches many fish to repair what had caused him to feel out of control. The river repairs and gives new insight in all characters between both books but what they share is a reliance and significance of the river. The river emotionally brings each character close to what they need to fulfill themselves and what they need for closure because the river gives that to them. Both stories allow the characters to draw healing from the river and both Maclean and Hemingway use allegory paired with symbolism to move the reader.
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