Aspects of Initiation in Hemingway´s Short Fiction

Seminar Paper, 2002

16 Pages, Grade: 1 (A)

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1. Introduction

2. What is a ‘story of initiation’?
2.1 Origins of the term
2.2 Theoretic approaches to the initiation-theme in literature
2.2.1 Views on the characteristics of stories of initiation
2.2.2 The aspect of movement in stories of initiation
2.2.3 The aspect of effect in stories of initiation

3. Analysis of Hemingway’s short fiction
3.1 Childhood: “Indian Camp”
3.2 Adolescence: “The Battler”
3.3 Maturity: “Fathers and Sons”

4. Conclusion


“A typical Nick Adams story is [one] of an initiation [...].” (Young, 96)

1. Introduction

This paper will be concerned with the question whether - and if so, why - Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories can be regarded as stories of initiation. As the above citation shows, the possibility of reading Hemingway’s short fiction as stories of initiation is supported in literary theory. There are, however, some controversies on this topic, which can be seen in the essay “What is an Initiation Story?“ by Mordecai Marcus (1976), for example.

The following report will deal with three selected short stories by Ernest Hemingway focussing on the protagonist Nick Adams, namely „Indian Camp“, „The Battler“ and „Fathers and Sons“. These stories have been selected due to the fact that they give a representative overlook on different chapters of life of the protagonist, which are childhood, adolescence and maturity. Therefore, they are suitable for investigation of constituents and characteristics of stories of initiation. Furthermore, their different topics as well as arrangements offer a broad range of material for investigation.

As the analysis will focus on the definition of stories of initiation and the appliance of these criteria on Hemingway’s short fiction, other aspects of interpretation (e.g. the often mentioned autobiographical content or stylistic devices which are characteristic for Hemingway’s iceberg-principle) have to be neglected. They should, however, be kept in mind as they are important constituents of Hemingway’s work.

2. What is a ‘story of initiation’?

In general, one can say that there is no single precise and universally applicable definition of stories of initiation in literary theory. This is mainly due to the fact that many theorists (as well as fiction authors) made statements about the character of the initiation-story only as a kind of by-product while analyzing specific examples of the genre. There are some attempts to build a concise theory, though, on which the following chapter will focus.

2.1 Origins of the term

Initiation as an anthropologic term means “the passage from childhood or adolescence to maturity and full membership in adult society” (Marcus, 189), which usually involves some kind of symbolic rite. In American literary theory the term first appears after World War II (Freese 94). As the term ‘initiation’ is borrowed from anthropology, many of the definitions of the literary equivalent are oriented on the original concept. As nowadays initiation rites are seldom found (especially in western societies) (Freese 128f), the term had to be adapted, though. The ritual aspects have been replaced by other characteristics to define stories of initiation which will be discussed in the following chapters. There are, however, still some definitions which also find parts of rituality in literary realizations of the initiation-theme (Marcus 190). This hypothesis is controversial in as much as it is difficult to define ritualistic behavior in everyday (western) life. Furthermore, these ritualistic initiation stories include “adult society deliberately testing and indoctrinating the young” (Marcus 190), which is only found in a “very small proportion of works called initiation stories” (Marcus 190).

2.2 Theoretic approaches to the initiation-theme in literature

Here, some attempts to define and categorize stories of initiation regarding typical elements will be shortly presented.

2.2.1 Views on the characteristics of stories of initiation

As mentioned in chapter 2.1, ‘initiation’ in literature focuses on different aspects of the passage from childhood or adolescence to adulthood than the anthropologic term denoting mainly rituals of primitive societies. In general, four aspects of initiation can be found in literature (Freese 95). This chapter will give a brief overview about these characteristics.

First of all, initiation as a process in literary descriptions denotes the disillusioning process of the discovery of the existence of evil, which is depicted as a confrontation of the innocent protagonist with guilt and atonement (Freese 95) and often has the notion of a shocking experience. This confrontation usually includes a progress in the protagonists character or marks a step towards self-understanding. Thus, the first type describes an episode which leads the protagonist to gaining insight and gaining in experience, in which this experience is generally regarded as an important stage towards maturity (Freese 97).

The second group differs from the first in focusing on the result of the initiatory experience. This includes the loss of original innocence concerning the protagonist1 and is often compared to the biblical Fall of Men (Freese 97). Furthermore, this approach generally stresses the aspect of duality in the initiation process, which is the aspect of loss of innocence as a hurtful but necessary experience as well as the aspect of profit in gaining identity (Freese 98).

In contrast to the approaches presented above, which focus on the individual’s experiences and their consequences, the third one emphasizes the sociologic aspect of initiation. This means, that by an initiatory experience (during which rules, duties and manners of behavior are learned) the protagonist is enabled to become a full member of an existing society2 (Freese 99).

The fourth aspect centers on the story of initiation as describing the process of self-discovery and self-realization, which basically means the process of individuation (Freese 101).

It is important to mention, that these aspects of initiation do not comprise the same significance as puberty rites in some societies: the initiatory experiences described in stories of initiation generally represent only one certain stage or one certain aspect in the passage to maturity (Freese 134). This also means that there is no limit to the duration of an individual’s initiation and, first of all, that one cannot find a certain moment of conclusion of this process (Freese 135). This fact should be kept in mind for the analysis of the Hemingway’s stories.

In his work about stories of initiation, Marcus offers a provisional working definition which contains the above mentioned aspects:

An initiation story may be said to show its young protagonist experiencing a significant change of knowledge about the world or himself, or a change of character, or of both, and this change must point or lead him towards an adult world. It may or may not contain some form of ritual, but it should give some evidence that the change is at least likely to have permanent effects. (192)

2.2.2 The aspect of movement in stories of initiation

The aspect of movement plays an important role in many stories dealing with the initiation theme. Often, the inner process of initiation, the gaining of experience and insight, is depicted as a physical movement, a journey. This symbolic trip of the protagonist additionally supports the three-part structure, which is usually found in initiation stories.

The three-part structure of initiation can shortly be described as the three stages of ‘innocence’ - ‘experience’ - ‘maturity’ (Müller 41). The motive of the journey reflects this structure, as the innocent protagonist leaves home (i.e. the secure place of childhood), is confronted with new situations, places and people on his journey and returns back home as a ‘new man’ himself, in a more mature state of mind (Freese 89).

2.2.3 The aspect of effect in stories of initiation

Marcus suggests another classification of initiation in fictional texts “according to their power and effect” (192). He presents three types of initiation which help to analyze stories dealing with this topic:

First, some initiations lead only to the threshold of maturity and understanding, but do not definitely cross it. Such stories emphasize the shocking effect of experience, and their protagonists tend to be distinctly young. Second, some initiations take their protagonists across a threshold of maturity and understanding but leave them enmeshed in a struggle for certainty. These initiations sometimes involve self-discovery. Third, the most decisive initiations carry their protagonists firmly into maturity and understanding, or at least show them decisively embarked toward maturity. These initiations usually center on self-discovery. For convenience, I will call these types tentative, uncompleted, and decisive initiations. (192)

As one can see, the change in the protagonist’s state of mind plays an important role for his definition.

To analyze the dimension of effect usually also involves a consideration of the aspect of willfulness of the initiatory experience, as voluntary initiation experiences are more likely to have direct, permanent effect on the protagonist, whereas forced initiations may be rejected, or rather suppressed so that the effect may be not clearly distinguishable at first (Freese 102).

The advantage of his theoretic approach is that it covers a wide range of stories (which are usually called initiation stories), but subdivides them so that further analysis is simplified. Furthermore, the existence (or non-existence) of effects usually can be easily identified within the stories. Crucial, however, is the aspect of permanency of effect (“one may demand evidence of permanent effect on the protagonist before ascribing initiation to a story” (Marcus 192)), as it may prove difficult to provide evidence of this permanency.

3. Analysis of Hemingway’s short fiction

By taking into account the above considerations about the nature of stories of initiation, the following chapters will give a brief analysis concerning the categorization of three Hemingway-stories in this genre.

3.1 Childhood: “Indian Camp”

In “Indian Camp”3 - being the first story of the Nick Adams-cycle and thus marking the starting-point of the “Konglomerat gescheiterter Initiationserlebnisse und traumatischer Schockerfahrungen” (Müller 38) the stories build as a whole - , Hemingway describes the protagonist Nick’s first encounter with childbirth and death. His father, who is a doctor, takes Nick with him to an emergency in the Indian camp near their home during the night, where he has to operate a woman being in labor for two days already. Nick has to bear witness of the Caesarian his father is doing, which is an unusual cruel process as Dr. Adams makes no use of an anaesthetic (“”No. I haven’t any anaesthetic”, his father said” (IC 39)) and operates only with a jack-knife (“”Doing a Caesarian with a jack-knife and sewing it up with nine-foot, tapered gut leaders”” (IC 41)). As one can imagine, this operation in itself is a shocking experience for the young boy, especially as it is a very bloody matter and involves a lot of screaming of the becoming mother. But this elemental experience is even intensified by the suicide of the becoming father of the baby. After the birth, the dead Indian is found by Dr. Adams (“The Indian lay with his face toward the wall. His throat had been cut from ear to ear.” (IC 41)) and Nick watches the scene (“Nick, standing in the door of the kitchen, had a good view of the upper bunk when his father, the lamp in one hand, tipped the Indian’s head back.” (IC 41)).

It is clearly comprehensible that this story is described as “Nick’s initiation to pain, and to the violence of birth and death” (Young 97) or even “initiation into life” (DeFalco 44), especially as it covers two important motives of initiation stories, i.e. death and (re-)birth (Freese 106).

It is obvious, that this initiatory experience does not happen by chance, but is - at least partly - consciously planned by Nick’s father (Müller 40; DeFalco 52), even if he did not foresee the difficulties of the birth and the suicide of the father so that in the end he regrets his decision to force his son to this experience (“”I’m terribly sorry I brought you along, Nickie,”, said his father [...]. “It was an awful mess to put you through.”” (IC 41)). This, as well as the experience of the “father as fallible man” (DeFalco 30), which manifests itself in the Dr. Adam’s inability to stop the woman from screaming and to prevent the suicide and is later on even reinforced by his inability of satisfying answers to his son’s questions (IC 42), add to the dimension of initiatory impact of the episode: the disillusionment concerning the father (or parents in general) is an important step towards maturity, even if it includes the lack of a further guiding figure: “For a young boy the approach to the realities of existence is of tremendous consequence, and the destruction of the infantile father-image is an ultimate necessity for this progress.” (DeFalco 59; cf. also Müller 42).

As this story follows the typical three-part structure of the initiation as a journey (exit - transition - entrance), it is necessary to take a look at the end of the story to find clues of the effect the experience has on the protagonist. This proves particularly interesting in this story, as in the end on the way back home a conversation between Nick and his father is described during which Nick asks his father about the events he has just witnessed and about death in general (“”Is dying hard, Daddy?” “No, I think it’s pretty easy, Nick. It all depends.”” (IC 42)). This conversation leads to the conclusion that Nick “felt quite sure that he would never die.” (IC 42). Despite the limitation which is made in the first part of the sentence (“In the early morning on the lake sitting in the stern of the boat with his father rowing” (IC 42)), it seems obvious that the experiences have no effect on the protagonist. You can say that Nick does not resist the “compelling tendency to revert to the state of naïve innocence once the first contact with forces outside the protected environment has been made” (DeFalco 27), that he “is incapable of accepting the events he has witnessed, and [that] the initial preview of the realities of the world is abortive” (DeFalco 28). On the other hand, DeFalco states that “if he [i.e. the Hemingway hero] denies the validity of the commitment, he merely postpones the inevitable or damns himself eternally to the regions of infantile fantasy.” (27). Thus, the state of regression may well be regarded as a merely temporary condition. Consequently, the story may be categorized as a story of tentative initiation (dealing merely with the experience itself and less with the effect and centering on a quite young protagonist), as it “shows an approach to and a temporary withdrawal from mature realization” (Marcus 193).

3.2 Adolescence: “The Battler”

This story depicts one of the experiences which the now adolescent Nick Adams makes on a trip away from home. It begins with Nick being thrown from a moving train and wandering along the tracks. He soon finds a fire and approaches it. There, he meets the “degenerate, ex-prizefighter Ad Francis” (DeFalco 74) and later on his companion, the Negro Bugs. He is offered something to eat, but then the atmosphere becomes hostile as Ad gets more and more aggressive:

”You’re a hot sketch. Who the hell asked you to butt in here?”


“You’re damn right nobody did. Nobody asked you to stay either. You come in here and act snotty about my face and smoke my cigars and drink my liquor and then talk snotty. Where the hell do you think you get off?”

Nick said nothing. Ad stood up

“I’ll tell you, you yellow-livered Chicago bastard. You’re going to get your can knocked off. Do you get that?” (TB 101)

until at last, Bugs knocks Ad down and sends Nick away.

In this story, one may find several characteristics of an initiation story. First of all, there is the motif of the journey (cf. chapter 2.2.2) and the challenging aspect of it as “Nick [...] is out on his own for the first time” (Young 99), although in this case the protagonist does not return home as a changed man.

Furthermore, the story deals with the motif of “promise given and the promise withdrawn” (DeFalco 71) which implies the loss of security in Nick’s world. There is a definitive disillusionment concerning other people’s reliability. This motif is doubled in the story. First, he is deceived by the brakeman, who lures Nick to come closer by telling him: “”Come here, kid, I got something for you”” (TB 97), just to throw him off the train afterwards: “Then wham and he lit on his hands and knees beside the track.” (TB 97). Secondly, he is attracted by the promising fire of the two men, which symbolizes the promise of food and company, and leaves “the tried and proved pathway” (DeFalco 73) to get there. But he soon has to discover that this promise also will not be kept, that it even changes to the opposite as Ad turns to threaten Nick. As DeFalco puts it, this “withdrawal of the promise and the threat of personal violence points [sic!] to an important learning experience for Nick” (75). Generally, one can say that - similar to “The Killers” - “The Battler” is “a story of a boy coming in contact with violence and evil” (Young 101), with the ugly sides of life (including not only violence but also “masochism, psychosis, pain, and in the background incest and homosexuality” (Hovey 20)) which is also emphasized by Ad’s outward appearance:

In the firelight Nick saw that his face was misshapen. His nose was sunken, his eyes were slits, he had queer-shaped lips. Nick did not perceive all this at once, he only saw the man’s face was queerly formed and mutilated. It was like putty in color. Dead looking in the firelight. [...]

He had only one ear. It was thickened and tight against the side of his head. Where the other ear should have been there was a stump. (TB 99)

Here, one gets a first impression of the impact this encounter has on Nick: “”Ever see one like that?” ”No,” said Nick. It made him a little sick.” (TB 99). It seems that the protagonist, even though being on a journey on his own, is not ready yet to take the things he gets to see and hear at the campfire. The discrepancy between Nick and his hosts is further underlined by the conversation about Ad’s mental illness: “”I’m crazy.” He put on his cap. Nick felt like laughing. “You’re all right,” he said. “No, I’m not. I’m crazy. Listen, you ever been crazy?” “No,” Nick said.” (TB 99). The motif of mental illness is taken up again later on: “”He says he’s never been crazy, Bugs,” Ad said. “He’s got a lot coming to him,” the negro said.” (TB 100). This dialogue seems to have a prophetic significance concerning Nick’s coming experiences in life (especially concerning his war experiences).

In contrast to “Indian Camp”, in “The Battler” one can see which direct effect the episode has on Nick. As he is sent away by Bugs, he is given a sandwich by the Negro, but he already walked some time until he “found he had a ham sandwich in his hand and put in his pocket.” (TB 104). Even though “at his stage of development Nick can only feel a sense of uncertainty and repulsion” (DeFalco 76), it is clearly noticeable that “the insight the encounter with Bugs and Francis provides at least paves the way for a later, conscious awareness of evil.” (DeFalco 76). This view is at least more precise than Gurko’s when he states that the “controlled fusion of violence and love” depicted in the story “initiates Nick into another representative moment of life.” (185) but does not give further details about which moment of life he means or in how far it is representative. Marcus categorizes “The Battler” as a tentative initiation (193f), although it would be worthy of discussion if it could also be taken as an uncompleted initiation, as there is definitely a higher conscious impact of the episode on the protagonist than there is in “Indian Camp”.

3.3 Maturity: “Fathers and Sons”

In the basic plot of “Fathers and Sons”, nothing much really happens: Nick, now an adult himself, drives through the landscape with his son sitting next to him. The important parts mainly take place in Nick’s mind as he hangs on to memories of his father, who has committed suicide, and events of his adolescence.

The analysis of the initiation theme in this story is complicated in as much as one can find several levels on which an initiation or a initiatory experience is represented which is due to the fact that there are the two basic memories on the one hand plus the actual plot, as well as the doubled structure of father and son.

The landscape through which Nick is driving causes him to start “hunting the country in his mind as he went by” (FS 151). In his reflections about quail-hunting, mentioning that “you must not get between them and their habitual cover, once the dogs have found them, or when hey flush they will come pouring at you” (FS 151), it becomes clear that the same process applies to unconsciously rising memories. Thus, it is only too natural, that “[h]unting this country for quail as his father had taught him, Nicholas Adams started thinking about his father.” (FS 152). These reminiscences are positive at first, as Nick appreciates his father’s eyesight and hunting skills (FS 152f) and is “very grateful to his father for bringing him to know [fishing and shooting]” (FS 153).

This first instance of positive initiation (i.e. in this case the introduction to typically male activities) gradually changes, as the memory focuses on another important initiatory experience: the sexual education. As Nick’s “father was unsound on sex” (FS 153), Nick only gets “two pieces of information” (FS 153) from his father on that topic. These pieces of information (the first about the meaning of the word “bugger” and the second about “mashing”) seem both ridiculous and unsatisfactory and leave the boy more confused than he was before. His father’s “inadequacy as a sexual instructor” (Boutelle 142) gets obvious when he “sum[s] up the whole matter by stating that masturbation produced blindness, insanity, and death, while a man who went with prostitutes would contract hideous venereal diseases and that the thing to do was to keep your hands off of people.” (FS 154). The fact that “[on] the other hand his father had the finest pair of eyes he had ever seen” (FS 154) clearly gets a touch of irony by his statements about sexuality.

His memories then change to more recent events, namely the suicide of his father. Although his thoughts touch this subject, it is clear that he does not want to or cannot cope with it more closely. He cannot even name the fact of his father’s suicide directly, but alludes to it as “a trap he had helped only a little to set” (FS 153). The aspect of “art as a therapy” (Hovey 46), the writing of a story to “get rid of it” (FS 154) is mentioned, but is delayed, apparently because “it was still too early for that” and “[t]here were still too many people” (FS 154). However, one gets the impression that Nick himself is not ready to face his memories completely, even though he states that “he had thought it all through many times” (FS 154).

As even the memories on his father are intermingled with sexual reminiscences, it is almost logical that his thoughts turn to first sexual experiences he made with an Indian girl called Trudy. This “initiation into sex” is “an initiation that is permeated with violent and incestuous suggestions” (Boutelle 142). Apart from Nick’s sexual experiences he makes with the Indian children, who “regard sexuality as completely natural, unfettered by any cultural imposed notions of wrongdoing” (Beegel 87) and therefore build a contrast to Nick’s father’s attitude toward sexuality, there is also a short interlude in which he threatens to kill the Indians’ older half-brother. Again, sexual and violent notions intermingle and the initiatory effect of this is parodied as in his imagination “Nick had killed Eddie Gilby, then pardoned him his life, and he was a man now.” (FS 157).

Although seemingly the description of Nick’s experiences with Trudy is the “central section” (Boutelle 142) of the story, it would be too simplifying to state that “Nick Adams describes his sexual initiation in “Fathers and Sons”” (Hovey 7), especially as “the story of the man who taught him to hunt and of the girl who taught him of sex are subtly aligned” (Strong 56). This is emphasized by the fact that directly after having recalled the episode with Trudy, it is said that “Nick was all through thinking about his father” (FS 159), even though apparently the passage before does not represent a memory of his father. Furthermore, his mind starts to be occupied with thoughts on his father again as he recalls further details about their relationship.

The central, climactic memory of his father is Nick’s “Oedipal urge to kill the father” (Hovey 47). This wish arises in a situation when Nick is forced to wear his father’s used underwear, which “made him feel sick”, mainly because he “hated the smell of [his father]” (FS 159). Therefore he “took it off and put it under two stones in the creek and said that he had lost it” (FS 159), which ends up in being “whipped for lying” (FS 159). Afterwards, the “wish for the father’s death reaches a conscious level of the mind” (Boutelle 141), as he stands with “his shotgun loaded and cocked” and thinks “”I can blow him to hell. I can kill him.”” (FS 159). This memory, to a certain point, gives reasons for Nick’s disability to face the memories of his father’s suicide: “Knowledge of the guilt surfaces in Nick’s consciousness: he had wished his father dead; he had helped to make that shattered face.” (Boutelle 146).

Just in this moment of reminiscence, Nick’s son - previously “asleep on the seat by his side” (FS 151) - suddenly addresses his father. His question “”What was it like, Papa, when you were a little boy and used to hunt with the Indians?”” (FS 160) indicates a kind of mental connection between the two of them, as it takes up the thoughts Nick is hanging on to. Here, the doubled structure of the father-and-son- conflict becomes the central aspect of the story, as Nick “is both a son, preoccupied with memories of his dead father, and a father, driving with his own son, committing some of the same mistakes that his father committed.” (Boutelle 141f). In his answers to the child’s questions about the Indians, Nick seems to construct “an abridged, bowdlerized, and age-appropriate story” (Beegel 95) and is definitely evasive: “”But tell me what they were like.” “They were Ojibways,” Nick said. “And they were very nice.” “But what were they like to be with?” “It’s hard to say,” Nick Adams said.”” (FS 160). Nick is not able to tell his son about his “sole memory of joy unalloyed” (Beegel 96) with the Indians, about the girl who “did first what no one has ever done better” (FS 160), he “does not tell the boy “how things are” with the Indians, nor does he disillusion the child when he asks, “Will I ever live with them?”” (Beegel 97). Nick, one can say, does not confront his son with the harsh facts of life like his own father did with him (cf. chapter 3.1), he does not force his sons initiation.

However, one gets the impression that Nick’s son is willing to get initiated, that he has a “deep need to connect with his past” (Beegel 97), which is represented by his wish for a shotgun and his questions about his grandfather. Nick promises to give him a shotgun when he is twelve which means that he is willing to take the part of the father, the one who helps his child during his initiation to manhood, yet in this story where flocking birds are associated with painful memories and orgasmic sexuality, guns with patricide and suicide, and hunting with sublimated rage, the promised shotgun seems a dubious “gift” for a boy on the threshold of manhood, one that may make him too full a participant in his family’s history. (Beegel 98)

In the end, Nick also accepts his son’s wish to visit his grandfather’s tomb. The recognition of the inevitable necessity to fulfill his son’s wish sooner or later - even if it is a resigned recognition as he says “”We’ll have to go, [...] I can see we’ll have to go.” (FS 162) - marks a double change in mind. First of all, Nick accepts the fact that his son will not always stay a child but will soon become a man himself, that “his son will eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge and be expelled from childhood’s Eden” (Beegel 100f). Furthermore, Nick himself is forced to face his past by his son: he can no longer evade a confrontation. The acceptance of this insight, even though it is not a voluntary one, is another important step in Nick’s own learning process.

As mentioned in the beginning, this story is particularly difficult to analyze due to its several levels of plot. In regard to the episode with Trudy, one can easily speak of an initiatory experience. Marcus states that “[i]nitiation into knowledge of sex and into sexual desire might easily fit all three categories of initiation stories”. Most fitting for “Fathers and Sons” in this regard would probably be the type of the uncompleted initiation. The initiation of the son at this stage is only a promise, an inevitable event in the future, so one cannot categorize this coming initiation. Nick’s insight in the end of the story has the notion of a kind of ‘reversed initiation’, as it is aroused by his son’s (obviously the reversed order of a ‘usual’ initiation). It is, however, problematic to call this process ‘initiation’, as this term is usually restricted to experiences of young protagonists (cf. Marcus 192). On the other hand it has already been stated (cf. chapter 2.2.1) that there is no specific limit of duration f the initiatory process of the individual. Taking this as a given fact, one could also employ the term ‘initiation’ for Nick’s process of gaining insight as an adult.

4. Conclusion

As the above analysis of three exemplary short stories by Hemingway shows, aspects of initiation can be found in all of them, at least to a certain degree. It is, however, crucial whether the experiences depicted in the stories really mark initiations, or whether they merely represent some kind of an introduction.

To read Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories as stories of initiation it is important to keep in mind that his “purpose in these short stories is not to relate the final outcome of the learning experiences Nick undergoes”, but “the dramatization of the experiences themselves and the revelation of the impact they have upon the central character.” (DeFalco 81). This “revelation of the impact”, however, is difficult to locate in Hemingway’s short fiction, especially because of his employment of the iceberg- principle which implies that emotional changes, the ‘invisible impact’, generally have to be concluded from actions or statements of the protagonists, the ‘visible reaction’. Furthermore, “Hemingway’s heroes are always initiated into a select group” (Marcus 194), which complicates a general categorization.

Following Freese’s suggestions for a catalogue of questions to analyze stories of initiation (Freese 103), one can certainly mostly guess about the answers concerning single Hemingway stories. Generally, one can state that Hemingway does not evaluate the initiatory processes directly, but prefers open endings: the outcome of the initiations is not stated in the stories themselves. By reading the Nick Adams stories as matching parts of a single story, however, one can identify certain outcomes of the several initiatory experiences the protagonist makes. Thus, Young’s statement that a “typical Nick Adams story is of an initiation, is the telling of an event which is violent or evil, or both, or at the very least is the description of an incident which brings the boy into contact with something that is perplexing and unpleasant” (96), can be regarded as true, even if the results of these initiatory experiences are not explicitly mentioned.


Primary texts:

Hemingway, Ernest, “Fathers and Sons”, in: Winner Take Nothing, New York (Collier Books/Macmillan Publishing Company) 1986, 149-162.

“Indian Camp”, in: The Snows of Kilimanjaro and other Stories, London (Grafton Books) 1977, 38-42.

“The Battler”, in: The Complete Stories of Ernest Hemingway. The Finca Vig í a Edition, New York (Charles Scribner’s Sons) 1987, 97-104.

Secondary texts:

Beegel, Susan F., “Second Growth: The Ecology of Loss in “Fathers and Sons””, in: Smith, Paul (ed.), New Essays on Hemingway ’ s Short Fiction, Cambridge (Cambridge University Press) 1998, 75-110.

Boutelle, Ann Edwards, “Hemingway and ‘Papa’: Killing of the Father in the Nick Adams Fiction”, in: Journal of Modern Literature 9, 1981-82, 133-146.

DeFalco, Joseph, The Hero in Hemingway ’ s Short Stories, Pittsburgh (University of Pittsburgh Press) 1968.

Freese, Peter, Die Initiationsreise. Studien zum jugendlichen Helden im modernen amerikanischen Roman, Tübingen (Stauffenburg Verlag), 1998.

Gurko, Leo, Ernest Hemingway and the Pursuit of Heroism, New York (Thomas Y. Crowell Company) 1968.

Hovey, Richard B., Hemingway: The Inward Terrain, Seattle, London (University of Washington Press) 1968.

Marcus, Mordecai, “What is an Initiation Story?”, in: May, Charles (ed.), Short Story Theories, Ohio (Ohio University Press) 1976, 189-201.

Müller, Kurt, Ernest Hemingway: der Mensch, der Schriftsteller, das Werk, Darmstadt (Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft) 1999.

Strong, Paul, “Gathering the Pieces and Filling in the Gaps: Hemingway’s ‘Fathers and Sons’”, in: Studies in Short Fiction 26.1, 1989, 49-58.

Young, Philip, “Adventures of Nick Adams”, in: Weeks, Robert P. (ed.), Hemingway. A Collection of Critical Essays, Englewood Cliffs, N.J. (Prentice Hall, Inc.) 1962, 95-111.


1 This view shows clear parallels to the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau who believes in the original innocence of mankind which is only corrupted by civilization.

2 However, this ability to become a member of society may be rejected by the protagonist (Freese 101).

3 In the further discussion, the short stories will be abbreviated as follows: „Indian Camp“: IC; „The Battler“: TB; „Fathers and Sons“: FS.

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