The End of Something

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"The End of Something" is a short story written by Ernest Hemingway, published in 1925 in his collection of short stories In Our Time.

Publication history[edit]

According to notes on the manuscript, Hemingway wrote “The End of Something” in March 1924. Paul Smith claimed that based on the different kinds of paper used for the manuscript, it is possible that the story had “an earlier start”. [1] “The End of Something” was published in 1925 in Hemingway’s first collection of short stories, In Our Time. In May 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald reviewed In Our Time for Bookman, and called “The End of Something” “something fundamentally new.” [1] Critics received the entire collection well, and “The End of Something” has been called a “harbinger of stories to come” [2] because of its plot involving a man choosing the companionship of another man over the companionship of a woman, which became a common theme in Hemingway’s stories.


“The End of Something” begins with a description of Horton Bay, Michigan, a town that exists because of the lumber industry. Once the logs disappear, the lumber mill does, too, taking away “everything that had made… Hortons Bay a town.” [3] By the time of the story, the town is deserted, and only the white limestone foundation of the mill is left. In this setting, Nick Adams and Marjorie, two teenagers in a relationship, fish in a small boat. While Marjorie daydreams that the remains of the mill are like a castle, Nick expresses his frustration over their unsuccessful fishing. The two then set up long lines and fish from the shore. Sitting by a driftwood fire the pair made, Marjorie asks Nick what is bothering him, and Nick expresses that “It isn’t fun anymore.” [4] Marjorie recognizes his words as the end of the relationship and leaves, while Nick lies face down on a blanket. When Nick’s friend Bill arrives to ask how the breakup went, he proves that Nick had previously planned the breakup. When Nick yells at Bill to go away, however, Nick shows dissatisfaction with his decision.


  • The one town – The town that they row past during the first part of the story is described as having passed its peak years ago, and it is now very worn-out and broken-looking. No one lives there anymore. It represents the state of Nick's and Marjorie's relationship.
  • The fish – Marjorie, in an attempt to make conversation, comments that the fish are plentiful nearby. "But they won't bite," Nick replies. In this case, Nick is supposed to be a fish, and Marjorie the fisherman, trying to "lure" or "bait" Nick into marriage. However, Nick doesn't want to get married and won't "bite".
  • Resolution – Despite, or maybe because of, the break-up, Nick is clearly depressed at the end of the story. He cannot escape his feeling of loss.


  • Nick Adams is a recurring character throughout this collection and other works by Hemingway. Considered an autobiographical character for Hemingway, Nick experiences the many struggles of coming of age throughout Hemingway's works.
  • Marjorie is Nick's girlfriend. Like Nick, she exhibits an appreciation for fishing.
  • Bill is Nick's friend who encouraged Nick to end his relationship with Marjorie. Bill appears again in "The Three-Day Blow".

Autobiographical elements[edit]

Many literary analysts have noted the connection of “The End of Something” to events in Hemingway’s life. In Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story, Baker notes that Hemingway had “a brief romance with Marjorie Bump, at Horton Bay in the summer of 1919.” [5] H.R. Stoneback provided an explanation for the autobiographical elements of the story in his essay “'Nothing was ever lost': Another Look at 'That Marge Business'". Stoneback claimed that “Marge and Hemingway met long before the summer of 1919.”[6] According to Stoneback, Marjorie came to Horton Bay to visit her uncle, Professor Ernest L. Ohle of Washington University of St. Louis, who had his summer cottage there.”[7] William Ohle in How it was in Horton Bay explained that Hemingway and Marge met in 1915 when Marge “was walking back from the creek to her uncle’s house, a speckled trouth on a stringer in one hand and a long cane pole in the other.” [8] Bernice Kert described Marge as “softly vulnerable and good-natured, the right degree of woman for Ernest.”[9] Stoneback disdained such quaint descriptions of the real-life Marjorie. He claimed that the “competence, skill, discipline, humility, pride, and poise” shown by Marge in the story reflected the Marjorie Hemingway knew.[10]


Most readers agree the opening description "represents a vivid (if disturbing) metaphor for the relationship Nick and Marjorie share.” [11] Analysts like Paul Smith claimed that the use of a descriptive and symbolic introduction is rather common in writing, but this does not reduce the introduction's usefulness in conveying the state of Marjorie and Nick's relationship at the beginning of the story. In “False Wilderness”, Frederic Svoboda emphasized the significance of the description of the old lumber town when he explained that “Horton Bay in Hemingway’s time was hardly the ghost town of "The End of Something." While the lumber mills indeed had moved away… the village was not abandoned. It was rather a small summer resort.” [12] We[who?] can conclude from Svoboda’s research that Hemingway was not simply representing Horton Bay as he remembered it, but instead making a distinct choice to create a setting representative of the plot of the story. Laura Gruber Godfrey agreed that “The End of Something” shows “the careful interweaving of human characters with their communities and their landscapes.” [13] In losing the mill, the town lost the linchpin that held it together, so when Nick and Marjorie row by ten years later, “there was nothing of the mill left except the broken white limestone of its foundations.” [14] The mill was once something, like the relationship of Nick and Marjorie, but, as reflected in the title of the short story, time and change has reduced it to brokenness.

Lisa Turner took the comparison even further in claiming that Hemingway parallels Nick’s behavior towards Marjorie with loggers’ treatment of the forests of Michigan, so that “Nick, like the loggers, is all too aware of the damage he is doing,” but he has simply ignored the harm he causes Marjorie until it is too late.[15] Turner argued that “Hemingway uses the imagery of an irreparably damaged environment in “The End of Something” and elsewhere throughout the stories of In Our Time to link violence against nature with other forms of violence depicted in that collection, including violence against… women,… suggesting that he was more ecofeminist in his sympathies that his readers have yet acknowledged.” [16] While many view Turner's argument as rather radical, she was correct that the environment surrounding Nick and Marjorie represents their relationship.

As the story moves into dialogue between Nick and Marjorie, Marjorie begins to prove her emotional maturity. Nick merely complains about the fish and resists any conversation outside of what is necessary for their fishing. By avoiding conversation, Nick acknowledges that something is wrong, but he does not communicate it with Marjorie. Showing both her knowledge of Nick and her maturity, Marjorie recognizes the tension when she asks, “What’s the matter, Nick?” [17] When Nick avoids the question, she asks again, “What’s really the matter?” (Hemingway, 81) According to Turner, Marjorie’s questioning proves her “sensitivity to Nick’s emotional state.” [18] She understands Nick, and in her questioning, she gives Nick a chance to express his problems. As exhibited in her understanding, Marjorie could help Nick with the emotional struggles he is facing, but he resists her because he simply does not know what he wants ("everything was gone to hell inside of me"). In his refusal to communicate even when Marjorie encourages him, Nick shows his emotional immaturity.

When Nick expresses the frustrations he has with the relationship, he shows his own emotional immaturity, but his failures give Marjorie an opportunity to show her responsibility and sensibleness. Nick declares to Marjorie that “You know everything. That’s the trouble.” [4] The claim is false, at least in relation to Marjorie’s outdoor skills, since Nick has to explain to Marjorie how to properly gut a fish, telling her that “You don’t want to take the ventral fin out” [17] It is, however, an accurate description of Marjorie’s maturity. When she recognizes Nick’s unhappiness, she questions him about it. She refuses to ignore and overlook difficult problems. Instead, she confronts them in order to find solutions. When Nick expresses his dissatisfaction with the relationship, instead of drawing out the conversation or pleading with Nick to reconsider, she declares “I’m going to take the boat.” [4] When Nick offers to push it off for her, she informs him that “You don’t need to.”[19] Marjorie handles the situation calmly and maturely, especially in comparison to the emotionally stricken Nick who has his head in his hands. Once she is aware of Nick’s feelings, she makes a rational decision and leaves. She even asserts her independence and her by rejecting Nick’s offer to assist her. She is capable, strong, and far more serene than Nick. H.R. Stoneback claims that Marjorie’s handling of the entire situation shows “competence, skill, discipline, humility, pride, and poise.” [10] Perhaps Nick is right that “It isn’t fun any more. Not any of it.” [4] Perhaps Marjorie has outgrown him, and he is not ready to move from being playful and young to making a commitment and solving difficult problems.

Nick’s incapacity to acknowledge difficult problems plays a significant role in the end of the relationship, but in the final sentences, Hemingway reveals the breakup might have been encouraged by Bill. Based on the “Three Day Blow,” Bill had supported Nick's decision to end things with Marjorie because of differences in class and because women “ruin you”.[20] Some analysts, like Gerry Brenner, interpret the Bill interlude as expressing Hemingway's “latent homoeroticism.” [21] According to Smith, such an argument explores how Nick and Marjorie sat on the blanket “without touching each other,” and afterwards how Nick notices that “Bill didn’t touch him, either.” [19] By adding “either” to the end of the second phrase, Hemingway definitely intended to connect the two, but most literary analysts believe that the lines do not express Nick’s unfulfilled romantic desire for Bill, as there is little other evidence to support such an argument. Instead, the lines show an isolation of Nick from the rest of humanity. Stoneback claims that the theme of “touch and being touched” runs throughout In Our Time, with a culmination of the theme in "Big Two-Hearted River", when Nick reaches a place where “Nothing could touch him.”[22] This corresponds with the emotional angst Nick expresses with his revelation that “I feel as though everything was gone to hell inside of me.”[4] Smith takes a different route from Stoneback in claiming that Bill and Marjorie are “disembodied representations of a conflict within [Nick’s] mind,” but his analysis is also consistent with Nick’s expression of his inner hell.[23] and this is the true meaning of this analysis.


  1. ^ a b Smith, 50
  2. ^ Smith, 51
  3. ^ Hemingway, 79
  4. ^ a b c d e Hemingway, 81
  5. ^ Baker, 132–33
  6. ^ Stoneback, 60
  7. ^ Stoneback, 63
  8. ^ Ohle, 105
  9. ^ Kert, The Hemingway Women
  10. ^ a b Stoneback, 66
  11. ^ Tyler, 62
  12. ^ Svoboda, 19
  13. ^ Godfrey, 60
  14. ^ Hemingway, 79
  15. ^ Turner, 64
  16. ^ Tyler, 70
  17. ^ a b Hemingway, 80
  18. ^ Turner, 63
  19. ^ a b Hemingway 81, 82
  20. ^ Hemingway, 90
  21. ^ Brenner 20–21
  22. ^ Hemingway, 167
  23. ^ Smith, 54


  • Baker, Carlos. Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story. New York: Scribner, 1969.
  • Brenner, Gerry. Concealments In Hemingway's Works. Columbus:Ohio State University Press, 1983.
  • Godfrey, Laura Gruber. "The Landscape of Logging in 'The End of Something.'" The Hemingway Review 26.1 (Fall 2006): 47-62.
  • Hemingway, Ernest. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York:Simon & Schulster, 1987.
  • Kert, Bernice. The Hemingway Women. New York: Norton, 1983.
  • Ohle, William H.How it Was in Horton Bay. Charlevoix, MI, 1983.
  • Smith, Paul. "The End of Something," A Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Ed. James Nagel. Boston. G.K. Hall & Co, 1989.
  • Stoneback, H.R. "'Nothing Was Ever Lost": Another Look at 'That Marge Business,'" Hemingway: Up in Michigan Perspectives." Ed. Frederick J. Svoboda and Joseph J. Waldmier. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995.
  • Svoboda, Frederic J. "False Wilderness: Northern Michigan as Created in the Nick Adams Stories," Hemingway: Up in Michigan Perspectives. Ed. Frederick J. Svoboda and Joseph J. Waldmier. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995.
  • Tyler, Lisa. "'How Beautiful the Virgin Forrests Were Before the Loggers Came': an Ecofeminist's Reading of Hemingway's 'End of Something.'" The Hemingway Review (Spring 2008).