The Economy of Love: Why Young Love
Why Young Love Fails in Hemingway “The End of Something” There is a lot of speculation about what causes the end of the relationship between Nick Adams and Marjorie in Hemingway early story of young love, “The End of Something. ” Indeed, there does seem to be some vagueness in the narrative as to the reason for the breakup: Nick says when Marjorie asks what the trouble is: “l don’t know. ” Even the title suggests this vagueness.
Freudian theories abound, however: some suspect impotence; homoerotic, Nicks love for Bill, is another theory. However, these speculations ignore too often the reasons proposed by the text, indeed, at one point, by Nick himself. Nicks explanation, too often ignored, is abetted by the story’s beginning; here Hemingway describes the mill town that once stood near the site of the story and the mill ruins that are all that remain and where we learn why the love relationship failed. Throughout the story we get hints as to why the relationship will fail.
Nick and Marjorie are on an evening date near the old mill and along the lake shore at Horror’s Bay. Marjorie is aware as they prepare to eat hat Nick is irritated about something and she asks him what’s wrong, but Nick doesn’t want to talk about why he is irritable. Nick is about to break up with Marjorie, something that he apparently isn’t prepared to announce Just yet. This is the “end” to which the title refers, the end of the relationship. Just what kind of romantic relationship is ended or why it is ended remains quite vague, especially in Nicks mind, but we know from the title that it was “something. When pressed by Marjorie near the end of the story to explain what is bothering him, Nick finally tells her that It,” their romance, “isn’t fun any more. ” At this point it appears that we have clarification of the vagueness in the title as well as the cause of Nicks irritation; it’s hard to imagine why so many critics don’t take Nick at his word. However, the beginning of the story also describes the end of something, even though the description occurs in the beginning: the end of the town of Horror’s Bay, a lumbering town on the waters of Lake Chargeable in northeastern Michigan.
Before all the hints about the relationship and what is to come, Hemingway begins his story with a ascription of the ghost town instead of the lively community that once thrived there. Unlike the love relationship and its ending, the town and the reasons for its rise and death are very clear. It was a “lumbering town,” its real-life equivalent built on these shores at the end of the nineteenth century because of the nearly ideal proximity of the site to timber and easy water transport to markets local, domestic, and international.
Horse- or ox-drawn sleds, streams swollen by snowbell, or temporary small-gauge railroads would have carried timber to the mills of Horton Bay at a feverish pace for a dozen or more years. It was not a large town, it seems, for the mill. ” But Just as quickly as it arrived on the shores of the lake, the town died like many of the boom-to-bust towns that extraction industries like logging and mining create. There being no more reason for the relationships built among the laborers and between the workers and the merchants who supplied them, many of those relationships dried up and the people of Horton Bay dispersed as quickly as they came.
No mystery here. No vagueness. Americans had by the time this story appears in 1925 seen such boomtowns come and go on a regular basis for two endured years. This economy of instability, we might say, was one of the few constants of American life. The busy mill town that Hemingway knew as a boy and that was the site of his first wedding had a lifespan of about fifteen years. Its reason for existing and the reason for its death are, according to Hemingway, unambiguous. He writes of the end, “[t]hen one year there were no more logs to make lumber. The reason for the town’s existence is crystal clear here: the proximity of the logging camps to the mill. The reason for the death of the town is equally plain: it was no anger profitable to run the mill in Horton Bay because after a dozen years of harvest the loggers had to travel so far from the town to find timber that the town’s location made the mill unprofitable. The end of the town is a simple matter of the costs of bringing the crop to market eating up the profits.
The easy money had dried up, and so the mill equipment was picked up and quite matter-of-faculty moved to a site presumably much closer to virgin timber and transportation. Indeed, these lumber mills skipped their way around the coasts of the waters of Lake Michigan in such the way that Hemingway suggests the mill at Horton Bay does in his first paragraph. What is left of the lumber town is there as Nick and Marjorie row out to the point where they will set their lines, have their picnic, and end their relationship.
Hemingway writes that the reason for the town’s existence, the trees, became too costly to acquire, and so “there was nothing of the mill left except the broken white limestone of its foundations showing through the swampy second growth. ” Nick is rowing and Marjorie is watching avidly the tips of the fishing rods poked out over the ransom of the boat as the two troll for trout along the dropout from the beach to the deeper channel. The couple has been dating for some time, and they have spent quite a few dates doing Just what they’re doing now.
Marjorie remarks, “There’s our old ruin, Nick,” and Nick replies, “There it is. ” It is here that that readers might first sense something amiss in the relationship. Nick seems to be replying automatically, as if he knows what Marjorie is going to say, perhaps because she says the same thing every time they row past the “ruins. ” Despite having Just referred to the moonstone remains as a ruin, and perhaps in response to Nicks unenthusiastic reply, Marjorie now changes her mind about the remains of the town and says they seem “more like a castle. It is not surprising that Marjorie should prefer a castle to a ruin, but there’s little about the remains of the town to suggest “castle” except that the ruins–the friable, water-soluble limestone foundation and footers–were built of stone. We learn from “The Three-Day Blow,” the story that follows “The End of Something” in In Our Time, that perhaps Marjorie has been building castles in the air n recent weeks. Nicks friend Bill, who will appear unexpectedly at the end of this story, reports to Nick that Marjoram’s mother “is sore as hell” about the breakup and built this castle-in-the-air without the recent help of Nick.
The relationship is in ruin, and only Marjoram’s reference to “our ruins” suggests that she has any idea that something wrong. Hemingway seems to be suggesting by his introduction that not only is the end of the relationship predicted by the ruins of the lumber mill but that the economic reasons for the loss of the mill are not unlike the reasons for the loss of he relationship. Indeed, we might say that the story suggests that Hemingway himself thinks of this relationship as an economy not unlike the timber economy by which the mill operates. The mill is successful because the resource that it exploits is readily available.
Yes, men have to work very hard to harvest the timber, but the economy of the operation is as limited as any other economy, in this case by the proximity of the timber and inexpensive transport. As the site of harvest moves farther away from the mill, the costs of transportation of men, supplies, and timber increase yearly. The mill can continue to operate profitably until these always increasing costs narrow company profits to the point at which the managers find that it will be cheaper to pick up the mill and move it some place where the mill is closer to the timber.
This is the economy of the timber industry and any extraction industry: the closer the mineral is to the surface the easier it is to extract. After that, expenditures increase and the harder work begins. It is also the economy of young love, particularly the love of Nick for Marjorie. The narrator of “The End of Something” never tells us that Nick and Marjorie are in eve. When the word “love” is used, the narrator talks about an activity that lies at the center of their relationship.
In response to Marjoram’s remark about the ruins looking like a “castle,” “Nick said nothing. ” Nicks next words are “They aren’t striking,” but Marjorie refuses to participate in Nicks downer mood. Her brief “No” is followed by the narrator’s observation that Marjorie “was intent on the rod all the time they trolled, even when she talked. ” Not only does she love fishing, but she knows that there’s nothing to drag Nick out of his blues like a bent rod tip. Here is where we first mind the word “love”: “She loved to fish. She loved to fish with Nick. The strength and the weakness of this relationship is right in front of us here: Marjorie and Nick love each other because the fishing and the love have been easy thus far. This night as on several previous nights, Marjorie sits in the back of the boat as Nick rows, hoping a fish will pick up the bait gliding eight or ten feet down and thirty or forty feet behind the boat. The take of the bait could well be subtle, a slight nod of the rod tip as the fish bites and releases the bait or bites and swims in the same direction as the boat.
If Marjorie can Just block out everything else and concentrate on the rod tips, searching for the irregular vibration of the rod tip that would indicate a fish has taken the bait, she knows she has a good chance of eliminating whatever irritation or anxiety Nick is bringing to the relationship this night. She knows that her success with identifying the irregular vibration of a rod tip could return the relationship to the status quo: she is pupil, Nick is teacher, and a fish on the line and into the boat meaner a successful relationship.
When as they troll they come across fish breaking the surface to feed, Marjorie excitedly points this out, but her teacher repeats a mantra many a veteran angler has know that fish feeding on the surface does not necessarily mean that there will be fish feeding down where Nicks bait whirls behind the boat. Nonetheless, Nick changes direction to bring their bait past the spot where they have seen trout chasing minnows into the air above the lake.
But Nick and Marjorie have the wrong equipment to catch these rising fish and there is really nothing they can do about that now. We see how important this student-teacher relationship is to Marjorie when we watch the care with which she later sets the night lines off the point. Nick props up and adjusts the rods on shore and Marjorie rows the boat out from shore, a task Nick not only had commandeered earlier in the evening but no doubt a task that he performed the first half dozen times the two went fishing. Marjorie can now be trusted to set the lines out properly.
She rows the boat out, holding the line in her teeth (no doubt as he once did), bait dropped on the floor of the boat, and watching for Nicks signal from shore; when she receives the signal to drop the line in the deeper water where the stream channel abuts the sandy beach, she watches the bait ND the leaded line drop into the darker water. Nick and Marjorie expect that the rainbow trout they seek will soon come in numbers out of the deepest water of the lake to feed in the shallower water as they do every day after the sun sets.
At this point, Nick is still teaching Marjorie because she is not so familiar with the lake and with fishing that she can tell in the dark precisely where the shore drops off into the channel. However, Nick no longer has to instruct Marjorie to row away from the bait before returning to shore for the other line; she is an apt student who no longer deeds to be told to avoid spooking whatever trout might have come in to check out the bait she has Just dropped. She moves the boat quietly away from the drop zone before returning to Nick for the second line.
Upton this point, the student-teacher relationship is intact: Marjorie needed to hear from Nick that she was in the correct position to drop the bait (“Should I let it drop? ” she asks), and in the scene Just before this one Nick must still correct Marjorie in her preparation of the faiths for their quarry. It is at this point in the narrative that the teaching stops, the relationship ends, ND we discover why. The lines are set, and there is nothing left for the anglers to do but wait. Soon enough, Marjorie and Nick are at each other. She asks him to eat, he replies that he isn’t hungry, she insists, and he concedes.
Hoping to continue his teaching, Nick points out there’s going to be a full or near-full moon this night, and Marjorie “happily’ replies, “l know it. ” Here then is the first clear indication of the cause of the ‘end of something,’ the end of the relationship. She knows that there will be a bright moon and celebrates both the moon and her knowledge of it, but Nicks espouse is unexpectedly glum: know everything. ” The repetition of “know’ reinforces that knowledge then is the resource upon which this relationship runs. Nick has this knowledge of fishing and the natural world; Marjorie desires it.
Knowledge is the lumber in this economy; Nick is the forest; Marjorie is the lumber mill. (Is there an element of Freudian anxiety in this story? Sure, but Nick doesn’t run away screaming as Marjorie chases him with a bands. In fact, it is Marjorie who leaves, departing quietly and with dignity. ) that’s Just the point. Nick is not willing to do any more cutting, any more work in this economy. She continues, “Please, please don’t be that way,” and Nick confesses, WI can’t help it… You do. You know everything. That’s the trouble. You know you do. (This is what I meant in the introduction when I said Nick was quite clear about why the relationship ends. ) Again, the issue in this relationship is knowledge, and the easy harvest is over. Unlike many readers of this story and contrary to the confusion suggested by the title and the confusion over the relevance of the opening of the story, Nick is crystal clear about what “the trouble” is and what causes the end of the legislation: Marjorie has exhausted the knowledge about fishing and the natural world that Nick possesses and Nick thinks he has nothing left to give her.
At some point in this relationship, the cost of transporting from the forest the lumber to the mill made the relationship incapable of producing a profit. Marjorie, like the lumber barons before her, has exhausted the supply of easily harvested timber, so she picks up the mill and moves elsewhere. Nick laments, “Vive taught you everything. You know you [know everything]. What don’t you know, anyway? ” When she accuses Nick of liking silly and asks again what is wrong, he lies, “l don’t know. ” Quickly, however, he admits, “It isn’t fun any more. Perhaps if Marjorie and Nick had been willing to do the hard work now required by their relationship, they would have continued to find their romance profitable. Nick, however, is far too immature at this point to pursue the work that any economy, be it timber or love, requires if it is to continue. Marjorie seems to understand this, both the work required of love and the immaturity of Nick, better than Nick does. Nick is upset at the end of something, but he is not completely clueless about the legislation.
He makes the right decision if he is not ready to find and harvest other assets he owns in order to continue to make the economy of love profitable. The easy timber cut and harvested, the easy profits made, “one year there were no more logs to make lumber,” and Marjorie suddenly takes the boat and rows off finally and irrevocablymuch as the mill had disappeared one day: “its open hold covered with canvas and lashed tight, the sails of the schooner filled and it moved out into the open lake, carrying with it everything that had made the mill a mill and Horton Bay a town. “