The End of Something by Ernest Hemingway
About the Author
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), a US novelist, short story writer and journalist, was born in Illinois, in the USA. In the First World War, he joined a volunteer ambulance unit in the Italian army, winning a medal for bravery. After the war he worked as a reporter. He published his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, in 1926, followed by A Farewell to Arms (1929). His most ambitious novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls appeared in 1940, while the short novel The Old Man and the Sea came out in 1952. The End of Something comes from The First Forty Nine Stories, published in 1938.
Hemingway was a keen sportsman and a busy writer. He wrote about straightforward people in conflict with the brutal power of the modern world. Hemingway won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. During his life Hemingway suffered from depression. In July 1961 he took his own life with a shotgun just before his 62nd birthday.
Ernest Hemingway was one of the major figures of 20th century literature. In his prose, Hemingway is well known for expressing himself in few words, without the use of elaborate descriptions. He preferred to understate and allow the reader to work out what is being said 'beneath' the words. Hemingway once said: "I always try to write on the principles of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows." When his writing deals with relationships between men and women as in The End of Something it is often about the failure of communication, or other problems. It has been suggested The End of Something is partly autobiographical; about a relationship he had with a waitress called Marjorie when he was a young man. The End of Something contains many of the recurring themes in his work.
About the Story
The End of Something is apparently a simple story of a boy breaking up with a girl, one that might happen many times in the real world. However, it is the way the characters react and how the setting mirrors the action, which give the story its intensity and depth.
The story starts with setting the scene. Hortons Bay was once a busy town made rich by lumbering (cutting down trees, sawing them up and selling the wood), which goes into decline as the timber runs out and the mill is closed. Everything was taken away from the mill and the town falls into decline. Ten years later the mill is just a ruin. The couple, who feature in the story, Nick and Marjorie, talk about the ruin when they are trollling, rowing past while fishing. They draw up the boat on a beach and begin to talk, while Marjorie brings out a basket of food for supper. Nick seems to be picking a quarrel with Marjorie, and eventually tells her that their relationship is not fun any more. Marjorie leaves, and after a while Nick's friend, Bill, arrives. He asks about Marjorie, and we see that Nick must have told Bill what he was going to do. Nick tells Bill to go away - but Bill does not go far, helping himself to a sandwich and going to look at Nick's fishing rods.
Before answering the questions, watch this video about The End of Something at http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/english_literature/proseendofsomething/endofsomethingplotact.shtml and answer the following questions (some of them are also featured in the video and on the BBC website).
1. Why is the story called The End of Something?
A. Its about the end of a mill town.
B. Its about the end of a relationship.
C. Both of the above.
2. What has ended?
A. A life
B. A holiday
C. An industry, a relationship and a fishing trip
3. To what does Marjorie compare the ruin of the timber mill showing her romantic nature?
A. A factory
B. A castle
C. Their relationship
4. Why does Hemingway describe the fishing in detail, but not the characters?
A. Hes more interested in fishing.
B. It doesnt matter what the characters look like.
C. He wants us to work out what the characters are like from their behaviour.
5. In the third paragraph, the lake bed "dropped off suddenly from sand shallows to 12 feet of dark water". What might this represent?
A. Hidden dangers: theyre no longer in an easygoing place and theres darkness beneath the surface.
B. Nothing. It is just a description.
C. The end of the sand shallows is like the title The End of Something.
6. Why does Hemingway use so much direct speech? (Direct speech is when a writer gives the exact words the character spoke, with speech marks.)
A. To give realistic representation of a conversation.
B. Because it suits his sparse style and makes the reader try to work out the emotion behind the words.
C. Because it is a good way to show an argument.
7. Here are five quotations from The End of Something:
1. "Bill selected a sandwich from the lunch basket and walked over to have a look at the rods."
2. "I don't feel like eating."
3. "It isn't fun any more."
4. "The big mill building had all its machinery that was removable taken out."
5. "there was nothing of the mill left except the broken white limestone of its foundations".
Match the quotations from the story to the points you could use them to support.
a. Hemingway may be suggesting that men and women look for different things in relationships
b. The setting reflects the theme of 'endings'.
c. Throughout the story, Nick is awkward and unhelpful in relation to Marjorie's suggestions, pointing towards his intentions.
d. The story seems to say that when something ends everything associated with it has to end too, which means Marjorie and Nick's friendship is completely over.
e. Hemingway prefers to use action or speech to demonstrate feelings and character, rather than description. For example, Bill's casualness at the end of the story disguises his concern for Nick.
8. Choose from the following adjectives and make a list of those adjectives which are applicable to Nick and which are applicable to Marjorie. You do not need to use them all.
bored / hurt / complicated / quiet / nasty / uncomplicated / moody / lively / capable / friendly / introverted / romantic /
happy / cruel / unromantic / unhappy / careful / practical / careless / mysterious / imaginative / dreamy / contented / discontented
9. With which character do you sympathise more: Nick or Marjorie? Why?
10. Give a description of each of the three characters that are mentioned in The End of Something.
11. Pick out five phrases, which you think are especially important to the story. Briefly describe why you chose each one.