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In Our Time

In Our Time is the first collection of short stories by Ernest Hemingway. Published by New York by Boni & Liveright in 1925, the book contains stories about the times before, during, and after the first World War.

The book began with six vignettes, written in prose, and commissioned for The Little Review in Paris. The first edition contained additional fourteen short stories, all intertwined with themes of grief, loss, separation, and alienation. He also included his stories “Big Two-Hearted River” and “Indian Camp”.

After the first story, which introduces the war, the next few stories are about the life of Nick Adams as he grows up during wartime. Nick eventually ends up as a soldier in the war, but after that, the stories change subject. One story recounts the homecoming of a soldier after war, two others are about American couples in Europe, another is about a jockey and his son, and one is about two men skiing together. Two later chapters recount Nick Adams and his return to his fishing ground. The stories between these are about various things, bullfighting being a major one, while the last one is a story about visiting a king of Greece. 

Based on World War I

The major theme of In Our Time is World War I. Hemingway wrote about everything from masculinity, often connected to battles and athletics, to relationships of both the hetero- and homosexual variety, personal development and adaptation, maturity, love, and responsibility (which is why he is considered a famous person in modern history). His works accurately capture life for Americans before, during, and after the war. Many people were able to identify with the stories in In Our Time, as they greatly resembled the lives of countless Americans. 

Nick Adams experiences all of the above mentioned themes in the saga of his growth and development from a boy into a man. As a child, he learns about birth and death in the story “Indian Camp”, while later stories recount his relationships between his friends and girlfriends. In the story of “The Battler”, Nick speaks to an older, more experienced soldier and learns more information about living during war time and surviving. Finally, in “Big Two-Hearted River”, we meet a Nick who is much more grateful, mature, and masculine than before. By the end of the book, he has come full-circle in his development as a person.

Author's influence on In Our Time

Some see Nick Adams as a semi-biographical character who is a sort of alter ego for Hemingway himself. Nick Adams was noted as vital to Hemingway’s career and served as a conduit for him to express his own experiences and reactions to them. In the story “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife”, Hemingway was able to write about his own childhood and parents by writing about Nick’s. This was something that Hemingway rarely did, as he often avoided the subject of his childhood. Nick’s father is angry and violent, while his mother is a Christian Scientist who keeps her son at a cold distance. 

In these stories, Hemingway writes about the juxtaposition of life and death, presenting death as a necessary consequence of life. There are reoccurring images of water and darkness, which represent safety. His stories paint a picture of an environment in which the weak are exploited by the strong. It is no wonder that the events of World War I and its aftermath influenced Hemingway’s stories, as this was the experience of his generation - the young and old suffered the effects of the war and too many ended up in hospitals, shell-holes, and graves. Everywhere he looked, people were being affected by this war and its consequences. Click here to read a summary of A Farewell to Arms, another work by Hemingway concerning WWI.

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