A Big Two Hearted River has been seen typically as a short story in which Nick camps out and goes fishing in a very gloomy aspect. There are many interpretations that Hemingway's short story could be understood as. As the story proceeds, readers get the sense of a distressing mood while Nick travels through a deserted town and eventually finds his campsite. Hemingway uses imagery with the environment he describes and theme in the way he expresses freedom and happiness throughout the story in order to emphasize the idea of being rejuvenated and living content after Nick's troubled past with war and loss of friends.
The image Hemingway gives when the narrator describes a burned down town is a way of describing Nick's past being gone and giving him a chance to learn from his experiences and start over. Nick then recalls a friend called Hopkins and drinks coffee, Hopkins's way in remembrance merely to stay content. "The coffee according to Hopkins. The coffee was bitter. Nick laughed." (Perkins 1206). Every move Nick makes is in relation to certain guidelines a person would do to stay happy, like remembering happy times and reenact them. Also, coffee is a drink most people drink to start off the day right by not being in an angry mood. Nick wasn't used to drinking coffee often because he couldn't remember which way to make it, but as soon as he remembers how Hopkins made it, Nick does not hesitate in getting the coffee ready.
All through the story, Hemingway describes the setting well and illustrates every move that Nick makes in detail giving the reader an excellent way to create the image in mind. "Nick tucked two big chips of pine under the grill. The fire flared up. He had forgotten to get water for the coffee. Out of the pack he got a folding canvas bucket and walked down the hill, across the edge of the meadow, to the stream. The other bank was in the white mist." (Perkins 1205)
Nick has been bothered by the war, which created inner feelings that he is trying to solve."He watched them holding themselves with their noses into the current, many trout in deep, fast moving water, slightly distorted as he watched far down through the glassy convex surface of the pool, its surface pushing and swelling smooth against the resistance of the log-driven piles of the bridge." (Perkins 1201) Hemingway used the trout in the river to represent the inner peace that Nick is trying to gain. Nick sees the trout as they are pushing and swelling against the current giving him a sort of optimism that if trout can keep moving on with their life despite of the odds, then he should be able to forget the past and live free.
The theme of freedom comes up in the story with Nick as he proceeds with his experienced ways of traveling, camping, and fishing. "Its direction tends to lead to a revelation of "truth," generally in the form of self-discovery or self-realization."(Rovit) The story goes on without any troubles that prevent him from eating or continuing with his path making it easier for him to feel the freedom he could live with. Memories are the only obstructions that would make his life close to perfection, but like any other human being he distracts his mind keeping himself busy at times and rests whenever he needs to.
The grasshoppers are a symbol of leaping into a new life. Nick comes across the grasshoppers to be easily picked to be able to fish. "He found plenty of grasshoppers. They were cold and wet with the dew, and could not jump until the sun warmed them." (Perkins1207) The grasshoppers aren't able to get away during that time, but Nick is. He takes advantage of the situation like if whenever the insects cannot live peacefully, he can by not waiting for the sun to come up, meaning waiting for him to remember his life before and during the war.
Next, when he is at his campsite and goes fishing, he sees the big trout he could get if he went further into the swamp, but doesn't. "The presence of the swamp finally undoes Nick's hard-won but illusory feeling of distance from the reality he wishes to escape" (Brien). His troubled past prevents him perhaps because he has gone after the "big fish" before and has gotten nothing but misery, so he avoids gambling. Instead he is satisfied with the two fish he caught knowing he has food to eat and goes on his normal way of preparing his meal.
Furthermore, Nick knows he has done a good job at achieving his goal which was to protect him from pain from the past. "The text of "Big Two-Hearted River" persistently insinuates a concern to establish or defend a moral position. After doing his camping chores punctiliously Nick rewards himself by eating pork and beans and spaghetti, and explicitly defends himself as if answering a rebuke from some purist woodsman"(Summerhayes). He pleases himself with food in order to let himself know that he is doing a good job and everything is going well with fishing and forgetting the past.
Hemingway describes in specific detail Nick's procedures of preparation for fishing before he wades into the river. He effectively catches two trout and prepares them to eat later. "Nick cleaned them slitting them from the vent to the tip of the jaw. All the insides and the gills came out in one piece. All the insides where clean and compact, coming out together. Nick tossed the offal ashore for the minks to find" (Perkins1212) This quote from the story makes the insides of the fish to represent Nick's past coming out and letting them go to let Nick set in motion to gather sufficient valor so that in the days ahead, with no trouble he can fish simply across the river, in the dark swamp, a symbol of Nick's fears and uncertainties. Visibly, Nick's recuperation from the trauma of war has already begun, and readers continue the story with expectation that Nick will go on with his trip calmly.
Throughout the story Nick knew what he had to do to be revived in a certain way by all the sad memories from his friends and war, "Big Two-Hearted River, which describes a solitary fishing trip Nick takes after the war and his determined efforts to hold himself together by not thinking and by immersing himself in physical activity in the perceptual present." (McSweeney). All the efforts Nick had done since he arrived in Seney had been successful and nothing gave him a real obstacle except memories from the war and friends.