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A Way You'll Never Be

Author: Hemingway, Ernest

Genre: Novel

Characters: Nick Adams

Description:

In "A Way You'll Never Be," Nick Adams returns to the place of his physical wounding, Fossalta di Piave, hoping to understand the recurrent images that haunt his memory and imagination and to resolve his crisis of personal identity. Throughout the story, Nick attempts to affirm his sense of self but is repeatedly confronted with obstacles to that goal. By examining not only Nick's two hallucinations but also the significance of the Third Army of Savoia, the details of Hemingway's own return to the place of his wounding, the revisions that Hemingway made to the story, and the subsequent portrayal of Nick Adams in "Big Two-Hearted River," this paper argues that the psychological anxiety that Nick exhibits stems from his loss of identity and his inability to secure a stable sense of self after his wounding.

"A Way You'll Never Be" received little attention in largely negative reviews of Winner Take Nothing criticizing Hemingway's "oversimplified, bachelor values of wartime" (Matthews 24). (1) Likewise, early Hemingway scholars failed to appreciate this neglected and undervalued story, dismissing it as hysterical and otherwise inferior (Paul Smith 274). (2) More recently, it has been recognized as one of Hemingway's "most original, even daring fictions, its challenge has yet to be met," yet the critical history of the story "is something of an embarrassment" since "next to nothing was written about [it] between 1962 and 1982 and little since then" (Paul Smith 275). Part of the problem is that critical attention "has often begun--and sometimes ended--with Nick's two hallucinations" (Paul Smith 273).

One reason the hallucinations have attracted so much scholarly attention is because of the specious nature of Nick's trip to the front. Far from being a mission of international good will, the journey clearly has an ulterior motive. As Kenneth Johnston has noted:

Nick's ostensible mission is to boost the morale of the Italian troops by touring the lines in an American uniform to create the impression that more American troops will soon be coming; and to hand out cigarettes, chocolate, and postcards. But his American uniform is 'not quite correct,' and he was unable to obtain [any of the supplies]. (431)

The questionable objectives of the trip, combined with the fact that Nick is still suffering from the physical wounds he incurred at Fossalta, suggest "that something is slightly out of kilter" about the official nature of Nick's journey (DeFalco 116). For Nick, the trip is meant to resolve the significance of the hallucinations he has been having. These mental images are not new to him because "sometimes his girl was there and sometimes she was with some one else...." (CSS 310). Nick's return to Fossalta, it appears, is an attempt at self-therapy in which he tries to understand the facts and details of his physical wounding in the hope of easing his intense anxiety.

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