Sudden, Unexpected Interjection “It is a tale told by an idiot,full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” At one point in hisshort story, “Big Two-Hearted River: Part II”, Hemingway’scharacter Nick speaks in the first person. Why he adopts,for one line only, the first person voice is an interestingquestion, without an easy answer. Sherwood Andersondoes the same thing in the introduction to his work,Winesburg, Ohio. The first piece, called “The Book of theGrotesque”, is told from the first person point of view. Butafter this introduction, Anderson chooses not to allow thefirst person to narrate the work. Anderson and Hemingwayboth wrote collections of short stories told in the thirdperson, and the intrusion of the first person narrator in thesetwo pieces is unsettling. In both instances, though, the readeris left with a much more absorbing story; one in which thereader is, in fact, a main character.
With the exception of”My Old Man”, which is entirely in the first person , and “Onthe Quai at Smyrna”, which is only possibly in the firstperson, there is just one instance in In Our Time in which acharacter speaks in the first person. It occurs in “BigTwo-Hearted River: Part II”, an intensely personal storywhich completely immerses the reader in the actions andthoughts of Nick Adams. Hemingway’s utilization of theomniscient third person narrator allows the reader tovisualize all of Nick’s actions and surroundings, which wouldhave been much more difficult to accomplish using firstperson narration. Nick is seen setting up his camp in “BigTwo-Hearted River: Part I” in intimate detail, from choosingthe perfect place to set his tent to boiling a pot of coffeebefore going to sleep.
The story is completely written the inthird person and is full of images, sounds, and smells. In “BigTwo-Hearted River: Part II” Hemingway exactly describesNick’s actions as he fishes for trout. Details of his fishing tripare told so clearly that the reader is almost an activeparticipant in the expedition instead of someone reading astory. He carefully and expertly finds grasshoppers for bait,goes about breakfast and lunch-making, and sets off into thecold river. By being both inside and outside Nick’s thoughts,the reader can sense precisely the drama that Hemingwaywishes to bring to trout fishing. Nick catches one trout andthrows it back to the river because it is too small. When hehooks a second one, it is an emotional battle between manand fish. Nick tries as hard as he can, but the fish snaps theline and escapes.
Then, as Nick thinks about the fate of thetrout which got away, Hemingway writes, “He felt like arock, too, before he started off. By God, he was a big one.By God, he was the biggest one I ever heard of.” Thissudden switch to first-person narration is startling to thereader. Until this point Hemingway had solely used thirdperson narration, but he did it so well that the reader feels asone with Nick. It is not definite whether this is Nick orHemingway speaking.
It could easily be either of the two.Hemingway doesn’t include, “he thought,” or, “he said tohimself,” and so it is unclear. The result is the sameregardless. Using first person narration at this point serves tomake the story more alive, more personal. It jolts the readerinto realizing the humanity of Nick; he is no longer the objectof a story but a real person.
If Nick is making so much stirover it that he speaks directly to the reader, he must feelpassionately about it. Or if Hemingway is so moved by thesize of the trout that he exclaims at its size, I can only acceptthat Nick also feels this excitement. The sudden intrusion ofthe first person narrator makes the story more complete andits only character more life-like. It also brings the reader intothe story as a listener. Sherwood Anderson’s collection ofshort stories, Winesburg, Ohio, also has a moment of firstperson narration. The introductory story, “The Book of theGrotesque”, is written in first person. The story begins as athird person narration, a tale about an old writer. Using athird person narration, Anderson writes about an old manand his episode with a carpenter.
Then the old man goes tobed and the reader learns his thoughts. In the middle ofdescribing what he is thinking, Anderson switches to firstperson narration. Suddenly there is a narrator speakingdirectly to the reader. The narrator says, “And then, ofcourse, he had known people, many people, known them ina peculiarly intimate way that was different from the way inwhich you and I know people.
” At this point the storybecomes more than just a static piece, for the reader issomehow now in it. There is an ambiguity, however,because the reader does not know if the narrator isAnderson himself or another completely distinct character.As when Hemingway used this ploy, the result is the sameregardless. The reader is no longer merely a reader, but hasunexpectedly been transformed into an active participant inthe book. Throughout the rest of “The Book of theGrotesque”, the narrator is speaking to the reader. Not onlythat, but the narrator is telling the reader about a book whichwas never published, but is almost surely the one the readeris in fact reading. In case the reader should forget, there isone other instance, several stories later, in which Andersonadopts first person narration. In “Respectability” he writes, “Igo to fast.
” Like Hemingway would do years later,Anderson was forcing the reader to become a part of thestory. The entire book is a dialogue between narrator andreader. The effect is that the reader becomes even moreinvolved in the stories.
Both of these works are unlike othersfrom the same time period which are told completely usingfirst person narration. Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiographyof Alice B. Toklas and Anita Loos’ Gentlemen PreferBlondes are both written wholly in the first person. But bothof these read like diaries, of which the reader is just that – areader. Neither one has a point at which the reader is sodefinitely brought into the story consciously by the author.
By jumping abruptly into first person instead of using it allalong, Hemingway and Anderson more effectively do this.Anderson’s and Hemingway’s sudden switches to firstperson narration of course could not have been meremistakes, and their reasons may have been even moreconvoluted than imaginable to late twentieth century readers.What is left are two collections of short stories in which thereader plays an actual role. The intrusion of first personnarration makes these stories come alive in a way that a thirdperson narration cannot, a tribute to the skill of both of theseauthors.Category: Book Reports