Up in Michigan

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"Up in Michigan" is a short story by American writer Ernest Hemingway, written in 1921 and revised in 1938. It is collected in Three Stories and Ten Poems (1923) and The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories (1938).

Summary[edit]

A young woman's romantic notions of life are crushed over the course of a night.

"Up in Michigan" appeared in Ernest Hemingway's first published work, Three Stories and Ten Poems. Three hundred copies were printed in Paris by Robert Almon in 1923. It reappeared in 1938 in The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories and later still in 1997 in The Short Stories, a Scribner Classic Edition. The story is set in Hortons Bay, Michigan, close to where Hemingway spent his adolescent summers.

Jim, a blacksmith, comes to Hortons Bay and buys the blacksmith shop. Liz Coates, who has a crush on Jim, is a young woman who works as a waitress for the Smiths. Jim, D. J. Smith, and Charley Wyman go on a deer-hunting trip. When the hunters return, they have a few drinks to celebrate their kill. After supper and a few more drinks, Jim goes into the kitchen and fondles Liz, and says, "Come on for a walk." They go to the end of the dock where Jim's hands explore Liz's body. She is frightened and begs him to stop. He forces himself upon her and passes out on top of her. She gets out from under him and tries to awaken him, but covers him with her coat. Then she walks home to go to bed.

Point of view[edit]

Though there are two main characters, the point of view is almost entirely Liz's. Jim only speaks five sentences, and readers get only a few brief glimpses inside his head. Liz has fallen in love with the "things" of Jim—his mustache, his white teeth, his walk—but knows nothing about him as a person. Hemingway sympathetically explores her conflicting emotions. He understands the adolescent fantasies of this naive young woman, even as they lead to a brutal conclusion. Like many young women before and after her, she is surely disillusioned, but she will learn from her painful experience. Jim, on the other hand, will wake up and not remember a thing.

Themes[edit]

Truth
Hemingway tells his story with a lack of wordy fillers. Hemingway's narrator tells the "Up in Michigan" narrative with a black-and-white appeal that purposefully creates little space for misinterpretation. That said, Hemingway's sparse style allows the reader to re-create the "background" of the story, which recalls Hemingway's iceberg theory. Most of the story's content is actually submerged for the reader to imagine.
Objectivity
In "Up in Michigan," Hemingway uses his writing style to make his characters and events clear for the reader. He does this by utilizing objectivity -- his way of keeping things in their simplest form and not confusing what is occurring within the story.
Isolation
The early part of the story establishes that Hortons Bay is isolated in Northern Michigan; there are only five houses in the village. For two young people like Liz and Jim, there would likely be pressure to couple from the few people in the community. For example, Mrs. Smith thinks Liz is "neat." Simple proximity could also lead to sexual attraction. This is true for Liz, as she is infatuated with Jim, but not for Jim, as he "never thought about [Liz]" (156).

Analysis of major characters[edit]

Liz Coates
As a waitress and general worker at D. J. Smith’s restaurant, Liz has taken a liking to Jim, one of the regulars at the restaurant. Hemingway’s narrator describes the teenager-style infatuation Liz has for Jim. Sexually inexperienced even to the point of not having been touched, Liz Coates communicates her desire for Jim in an inartful fashion.
Jim Gilmore
Jim, originally from Canada, has bought a blacksmith shop in Hortons Bay and is a regular at D. J. Smith’s. He notices Liz’s interest in him, but does not dwell on Liz. The narrator does not offer insight into Jim’s thought processes, making it appear as if Jim is inarticulate and dull—in stark contrast with how Liz perceives Jim (i.e. positively and longingly). After a few shots of whiskey after the successful deer hunt and finding himself alone with Liz, Jim makes sexual advances on Liz despite her demands that he stop. The narrator does not describe Jim as being concerned with what Liz wants; in fact, Jim only stops after he falls asleep on top of her.

Gender roles[edit]

Hemingway writes “Up in Michigan” in his classic masculine prose. His male characters are portrayed as very masculine, although Jim is described as not looking like a blacksmith. There is little dialogue from the males yet a lot of physical description. In fact, one paragraph shows how Liz objectifies Jim sexually, repeating the phrase "she liked it." Liz Coates is described as small, neat, and clean.

The gender roles in this story are very clearly defined. The final four lines, however, introduce a possible interpretation that Jim is emasculated, curled up in a drunken ball, possibly cold, and Liz takes off her coat and carefully wraps him up, and then she leaves him lying on the dock in the middle of the night.

The story utilizes stereotypical masculine and feminine gender roles, with Jim as not thoughtful yet active, and Liz as more perceptive but passive.