Toward a better understanding of Nicholas Adams in Hemingway's "A Way You'll Never Be"

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Date: Spring 2016
From: The Hemingway Review(Vol. 35, Issue 2)
Publisher: Chestnut Hill College
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 7,215 words
Lexile Measure: 1340L

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Although Ernest Hemingway chose "A Way You'll Never Be" as one of the stories that he "liked the best," the judgment of both the story and its protagonist, Nicholas Adams, has widely varied since the story was published in 1933. Examining the history of the Italian front in World War I as well as investigating current literary, biographical, and scientific information provides new insights into Nick Adams's character and leads to a fuller understanding of his experience on his return to Fossalta di Piave and in turn an increased appreciation for the story.

KEY WORDS: World War I, Bicycles, Wounding, Trauma "After You, Baroness!"


Ernest Hemingway selected "A Way You'll Never Be" as one of seven stories that he "liked the best" (CSS 3), but reviewers and critics from 1933 on have often disagreed with his judgment. Sample critical opinion includes T. S. Matthews's 1933 review in The New Republic characterizing Winner Take Nothing (1933), the volume containing "A Way You'll Never Be," as Hemingway's "oversimplified bachelor values of wartime"(24). In the 1960s, Earl Rovit finds that "obvious hysteria ... fails to create a meaningful tension" (qtd. in R Smith 274), and Arthur Waldhorn concludes that "A Way You'll Never Be" is "technically one of Hemingway's weakest stories" (64). On the other hand, James Nagel (1989) calls the story "one of [Hemingway's] finest" (Hemingway in Love and War 265), and Paul Smith (1989) concludes that the "critical history of A Way You'll Never Be,'... is something of an embarrassment ....[the story] deserves a place among Hemingway's major stories. One of his most original, even daring fictions, its challenge has yet to be met" (275).

Recent scholarship has revived interest in "A Way You'll Never Be," particularly examining the character of Nick Adams, but critics' opinions of Nick Adams also vary widely and have lead to inaccurate judgments of the story. (1) This examination of the historical record of the World War I Italian front on the Piave River (the setting of the story), as well as literary, biographical, and scientific information that has come to light recently provides new perspectives on understanding Nick Adams's character and in turn on interpretations of the story.

The historical context of the Italian front on the Piave River in World War I helps readers understand the appearance of Nicholas Adams and his mission as the story opens. Without such knowledge, readers may not be able to follow the subtle depiction of Nick's mental condition until his fragile hold on rationality dissolves in a burst of stream-of-conscious dialogue and thoughts out of which he suddenly realizes the key to his nightmare images. The first paragraph of "A Way You'll Never Be" plunges the reader into a narrative of what has happened on a recent battlefield and introduces Nick as an objective observer coming upon the scene after the attack: "The attack had gone across the field, been held up by machine-gun fire from the sunken road and ... Nicholas Adams saw what had happened by...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A452373282