The world of Ernest Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River” exists through the mostly unemotional eyes of the character Nick. Stemming from his reactions and the suppression of some of his feelings, the reader gets a sense of how Nick is living in a temporary escape from society and his troubles in life. Despite the disaster that befell the town of Seney, this tale remains one of an optimistic ideal because of the various themes of survival and the continuation of life. Although Seney itself is a wasteland, the pine plain and the campsite could easily be seen as an Eden, lush with life and ripe with the survival of nature.
The world in the story exists as two separate but connected places. The first that Nick encounters is the charred remains of the town of Seney, where there is “nothing but the rails and the burned-over country.” The second place is the “alive” pine plain. The river, interestingly, runs through both parts, showing how they are interconnected. The river is a means of natural connection, while the man-made railroad is another form of connecting one town to the next. By combining these two forms of connection, it could be said that every place is interconnected. Using only the river as the natural form, it connects all forms of life within the world to one another.
Seney exists as the wasteland, having been ravaged and destroyed by fire to the point of complete desolation. The town is described by what it is lacking as a contrast to what Nick had remembered to have been there, yet Nick does not display any sensation of loss. He had merely “expected to find” the town as it was before the fire, but when he does not, he simply goes to the river to watch the trout. It the trout that seem to cause Nick’s first emotional response, when his “heart tightened” and he feels “all the old feeling.” While the specificity of the “old feeling” is unclear, his emotion is an indication that he is moved by the life of the fish more so than by the death of the town.
Nick’s lack of emotional response and the brevity of the description of the town seem to downplay whatever tragedy had befallen it, perhaps making it seem to not be a tragedy at all. While the cause of the fire is not explained, Nick comments on how it had happened within the previous year, but does not ponder the causes or even the effects.
What Nick does concentrate on at this point is the color of the grasshoppers that he has so far encountered. The black grasshoppers are a symbol of a means of survival, having adapted through natural selection to be all black in only a year’s time. In this way they blend in better with their charred surroundings and have become less noticeable to predators. Nick wonders “how long they would stay that way,” indicating his belief that this is a temporary mode of survival for them, and by extension that the charred landscape is also temporary. When it returns to its former state, the...