Hemingway's "A Way You'll Never Be" and Nick Adams's search for identity

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Author: Paul S. Quick
Date: Spring 2003
From: The Hemingway Review(Vol. 22, Issue 2)
Publisher: Chestnut Hill College
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 5,496 words

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In "A Way You'll Never Be," Nick Adams returns to the place of his physical wounding, Fossalta di Piave, hoping to understand the recurrent images that haunt his memory and imagination and to resolve his crisis of personal identity. Throughout the story, Nick attempts to affirm his sense of self but is repeatedly confronted with obstacles to that goal. By examining not only Nick's two hallucinations but also the significance of the Third Army of Savoia, the details of Hemingway's own return to the place of his wounding, the revisions that Hemingway made to the story, and the subsequent portrayal of Nick Adams in "Big Two-Hearted River," this paper argues that the psychological anxiety that Nick exhibits stems from his loss of identity and his inability to secure a stable sense of self after his wounding.

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IN ERNEST HEMINGWAY'S "A WAY YOU'LL NEVER BE," Nick Adams returns to the place of his physical wounding, Fossalta di Piave, hoping to confirm the details surrounding his injury and to understand the recurrent images that haunt his memory and imagination. Though he discovers a few facts related to his injury, he leaves the river bank encampment as frustrated as. when he arrived because he fails to realize the real reason for his neuroses--his crisis of personal identity. Throughout the story, Nick attempts to affirm his sense of self but is repeatedly confronted with obstacles to that goal. He retreats from Fossalta knowing more about his wounding but still feeling his original anxiety about his sense of self. By examining not only Nick's two hallucinations but also the significance of the Third Army of Savoia, the details of Hemingway's own return to the place of his wounding, the revisions that Hemingway made to the story, and the subsequent portrayal of Nick Adams in "Big Two-Hearted River," this paper argues that the psychological anxiety that Nick exhibits stems from his loss of identity and his inability to secure a stable sense of self after his wounding.

"A Way You'll Never Be" received little attention in largely negative reviews of Winner Take Nothing criticizing Hemingway's "oversimplified, bachelor values of wartime" (Matthews 24). (1) Likewise, early Hemingway scholars failed to appreciate this neglected and undervalued story, dismissing it as hysterical and otherwise inferior (Paul Smith 274). (2) More recently, it has been recognized as one of Hemingway's "most original, even daring fictions, its challenge has yet to be met," yet the critical history of the story "is something of an embarrassment" since "next to nothing was written about [it] between 1962 and 1982 and little since then" (Paul Smith 275). Part of the problem is that critical attention "has often begun--and sometimes ended--with Nick's two hallucinations" (Paul Smith 273).

One reason the hallucinations have attracted so much scholarly attention is because of the specious nature of Nick's trip to the front. Far from being a mission of international good will, the journey clearly has an ulterior motive. As Kenneth Johnston has noted:

Nick's ostensible mission is to...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A105518230