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Short Stories by Ernest Hemingway

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It was a bright, cold day, the ground covered with a sleet that had frozen so that it seemed as if all the bare trees, the bushes, the cut brush and all the grass had been varnished with ice. I took the young Irish setter for a little walk up the road and along a frozen creek, but it was difficult to stand or walk on the glassy surface and the red dog slipped and slithered and I fell twice, hard, once dropping my gun and having it slide away over the ice.

A Day´s Wait

A Day´s Wait by Ernest Hemingway
In the story "A Day´s Wait" a nine-year-old boy living in America falls ill with influenza and has to stay in bed. The father calls for the doctor who takes the boy´s
temperature, which turns out to be one hundred and two degrees. He is given medicine and is told that there is nothing to worry about unless the fever goes over one hundred and four degrees. The boy stays in bed, but does not pay any attention to his surrounding, he does not listen to the story his father reads to him. He only stares at the foot of the bed, looking very strangely.
His father goes out to hunt for a while and tells the boy to sleep, but when he returns from hunting he is informed that the boy would not let anyone enter the room because he is afraid that they will get what he himself got.
The father goes to his son and finds him in the same position as he left him. Again he takes his temperature and it is still one hundred and two, nothing to worry about. So he tells his son to take it easy. The son agrees but suddenly asks the question how long it will take until he will die. The father is shocked and explains to the son that people never die from a fever of one hundred and two.
After a while the son tells the father that he heard from a boy in France that people will die when they get a fever over 44 and he himself has one hundred and
two. The father explains to him that there is a difference between the thermometers in America and Europe, which is the same with kilometers and miles. The boy relaxes and the next day he begins to complain about little things that are of no importance.

The fateful misunderstanding
Obviously there is an invisible wall between father and his son. They talk about two different things, the father about the disease and the son about his death but they do not know that they misunderstand each other.
hem_dayswait.jpg (13986 Byte) This fateful misunderstanding appears in different scenes where the father and son talk about "it", meaning two different things. One example is when the father asks his son why he does not go to sleep.
"You don´t have to stay in here with me, Papa, if it bothers you." The son is talking about his death but does not mention his fear. He must be shocked when the father answers "It doesn´t bother me".

Because the father does not know of the fear of his son there is no reason for him to explain that he won´t die. Instead he goes out to hunt. The boy must think that his father does not even care that he will die, but prefers going out to hunt.
This fateful misunderstanding happens another time, again Hemingway uses the word "it" to descibe two different things.
Father: "It´s nothing to worry about." He means the fever. "Just take it easy."
Since the son always thinks of death he assumes his father tells him to take dying easy so he answers: "I am taking it easy".

The hunting scene
In the story "A Day´s Wait" there is a story in a story. In this part of the story the father goes out to hunt for a while while his son is in bed thinking about death. In the passage there is a description of nature which is covered with a "glassy surface": you can see it, but you cannot touch it. This is the same as in the story, the father sees that his son feels bad, but he does not know why. In the hunting scene the circle of life appears. The quails are shot by the father as long as he is able to catch them. They have to die, but some are able to escape. Between the father and nature there is an invisible wall (glassy surface) and between the father and his son there is an invisible wall, too.

The point of view
One interesting point in the story "A Day´s Wait" is the point of view which is very limited. Hemingway use the first-person narrator in this story because this way the father cannot read the boy´s mind and the reader is forced to see everything through the father´s eyes.

The theme
At the end of the story when the boy knows that he will not die he becomes his old self again: he starts to complain about little things that are of no importance just like before he thought he would die. This shows how death lets things appear in a different way, everything that seemed to be important before is not important anymore.

Looking at Hemingway´s biography we can find parallels between the story "A Day´s Wait" and the author´s real life. When Hemingway took part in Word War I he was wounded twice. When he was in hospital he heard the doctor talk about his health and since he did not know any better he thought he would have to die. His own fear, the behaviour and the feelings in this situation Hemingway expresses through the character of the son. The boy only knows that you will die with a fever of 44 degrees but does not know that he lives in a country with different thermometers.

This also is the theme of the story: the innocence of a child. The boy would never talk about his feelings and fear, probably because he does not want other people to worry about him. He might not want to hurt them.

The question arises why the boy does not want to sleep. The father does not worry about it, because he knows there is nothing to worry about, but the son maybe does not want to miss how it feels to die since he really believes he has to die. He does not know if it hurts and since death means endless sleeping he might be afraid that he will never wake up again.

I personally like the story because it shows how a bad or difficult situation can chance to influence a person´s life. It becomes clear that especially children need the help of adults to understand what death and illness means. We learn that we have to help children to grow up and that we have to help them to understand the world around them, because as we can see in this story without the help they worry too much about things that they do not have to worry about.


Copyright ©Leistungskurs13/2000-2002 Gymnasium Steglitz

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