On the surface, nothing important happens in Hemingway’s story. The author portrays a wounded combat hero who has seen many damages and losses in lives and property. Nick, the main character in the novel, is similar to a grasshopper and a fish in that he must return to life through his unhealed wound. The forests where he grew up was ideal for his recovery and recuperation. His profession is distinguished by the outdoor activity of camping and fishing in the natural world. When he comes home from the war, he discovers everything burned out and deserted. Nick must learn to adjust to his unfamiliar surroundings and situations. Nick faces a new experience in life after returning to find his home burnt beyond recognition. The train drops him at Seney where he cannot trace any mark that indicates the town was vibrant the way it used to be before the outbreak of way. He is infused with the issues faced by a man coming back from war, and his experience is not different from that felt by other veterans returning home. The war seems to have changed his way of thinking and functioning, and he believes that it does not matter to a soldier whether or not the home is actually and physically demolished, they were symbolically destroyed. A soldier only best describes the experience of the war, his loss of Hopkins keeps him delusional (Mei 178). The mental torture he has experienced from the battlefield blinded him to think that the best way to spend time is staying alone. Nick does not feel the world being the same again, the bombing of the town; this circumstance has taunted him and made him see as if the war has also destroyed his home.
Nick is experiencing freedom for the first time after the service as a soldier. He is free to make his choice, decide where to go, who to visit and how to do things. Nick has the freedom to choose to carry the heavy cans of food or not. When he feels hungry, he opens and empties a can of pork and beans and that of spaghetti into a flying pan. Nick pronounce to no particular person that he has the right to eat the food if he is willing to carry it (Hemingway & Steffens 167). He decides to on the place he can put up the camp and the time to wake up. The sense of freedom Nick experiences is demonstrated by his actions of deciding when to make his bed without disturbances or direction from any person. Nick is a happy person and enjoys his freedom to the fullest, and he has the discretion to determine where to go and how fast. After eating the food, he rests and is carried away by thoughts, and he drifts to his friend Hopkins who is a wealthy man. The delusion takes him to the times he was arguing with Hopkins who went away when that telegram come, even if it took eight days for it to reach him (Hemingway & Steffens169). Hopkins gave his gun to Nick and a camera to Bill, and he has never seen again. He returns to his present sense and realizes that the coffee is bitter.
The circumstances have changed; Nick feels that everything has taken a new form which has to take a lot of time to change. He understands that the condition and experiences of war have hardened him. Nature has also hardened creatures such as the grasshopper; the insect has become black due to the burnings encountered in the region. Nick realizes that they are not black, but they have become dark to adapt to the new environment that they cannot change. Nick and other soldiers had to adjust to the environment they were during the war, and he has seen soldiers die, others being wounded and others devising ways to survive on the battlefield. Just like the soldiers who have been hardened by the war experience, the grasshopper is hardened by the harsh environment it is exposed (Irvine 8). Nick still feels that the hardening process is not over yet, even if he is enjoying the freedom and no longer in war. He is not sure how long the hardening will continue. The experience is meant to give Nick a chance to learn from his past and start over.
The war has changed the way of living of the people. Soldiers returning from the war are faced with various challenges including meeting their homes and towns burnt. The sense of freedom is exciting as well as thrilling. The grasshoppers are a symbol of leaping into a new life that Nick has to fit. Life is offering Nick various opportunities that he can exploit to his benefit such as the big trout that he could get if he went further into the swamp, bet he chooses not to go there.
Hemingway, E., & Steffens, R. (1995). Big two-hearted river. NorthWord Audio Press.
Irvine, C. (2014). Teaching ‘The Big Two-Hearted River’: A Cognitive Approach to Leading Students into the Swamp. Journal of Ecocriticism, 6(2), 1-9.
Mei, Y. (2016). Ecocriticism in “Big Two-Hearted River”. In Proceedings of The Fifth Northeast Asia International Symposium on Language, Literature and Translation (p. 276).