“‘Is dying hard, Daddy?’‘No, I think it’s pretty easy, Nick. It all depends.’They were seated in the boat, Nick in the stern, his father rowing. The sun was coming up over the hills. A bass jumped, making a circle in the water. Nick trailed his hand in the water. It felt warm in the sharp chill of the morning.
In the early morning on the lake sitting in the stern of the boat with his father rowing, he felt quite sure that he would never die.”“Indian Camp,” page 19In this quotation Nick Adams is a boy learning about life and death. He has just seen a baby delivered and a man die. His father, a doctor, seems to have the answers about such mysteries; at least, he does not seem to fear them. Nick, in his innocence, safe within a beautiful natural setting, feels protected and confident; bad things like death will never touch him, he believes. “‘Your mother wants you to come and see her,’ the doctor said.‘I want to go with you,’ Nick said.His father looked down at him.‘All right. Come on, then,’ his father said. ‘Give me the book, I’ll put it in my pocket.’‘I know where there’s black squirrels, Daddy,’ Nick said.All right,’ said his father. ‘Let’s go there.’“The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife,” page 27In this moment, Nick’s father is teaching his son a truth about masculinity: never let a woman, whether your wife or your mother, hamper your freedom as a man. Dr. Adams has just had his anger checked by his reasonable, civilized wife, and in a quiet revenge against both her power and against “civilized” behavior, he urges Nick away from books and his mother and into the woods.
“None of it was important now. The wind blew it out of his head. Still he could always go into town Saturday night. It was a good thing to have in reserve.”“The Three-Day Blow,” page 49An older Nick shows that he has learned the lesson taught by his father in another story. The guilt and regret he feels for breaking up with Marjorie, whom he truly loved, can be forgotten by a dose of nature. Still, it is good to know that, if he chooses, he can return to civilization and perhaps to Marjorie.
“Krebs found that to be listened to at all he had to lie, and after he had done this twice he, too, had a reaction against the war and against talking about it. A distaste for everything that had happened to him in the war set in because of the lies he told.”“Soldier’s Home,” page 69Harold Krebs, returning after many other soldiers have already come home, finds that everyone has already heard the horrors of the war—and they do not want to hear more. Although he desperately needs to talk about what happened and what he saw, even what he did, Krebs finds that he, too, must adopt an attitude of denial that such horrors exist at all—and that Americans took part in them.
“‘I want to pull my hair back tight and smooth and make a big knot at the back that I can feel,’ she said. ‘I want to have a kitty to sit on my lap and purr when I stroke her.’”“Cat in the Rain,” page 93The American wife, unsuccessful at rescuing the cat stranded in the rain outside her hotel room, expresses more than dismay at not getting the cat. Her words also express a deep loneliness and dissatisfaction with her life and her marriage to a man who likes the way she looks, but who does not really “see” her.
“Villalta became one with the bull and then it was over. Villalta standing straight and the red hilt of the sword sticking out dully between the bull’s shoulders.Villalta, his hand up at the crowd and the bull roaring blood, looking straight at Villalta and his legs caving.”Chapter XII, page 105Villalta the bullfighter kills the bull in classic, flamboyant fashion. He faces death as if it were nothing, as if he were completely brave and in control of his life. Unlike other bullfighters in the vignettes in In Our Time, Villalta exemplifies the myth of the man who faces death without fear.
“‘Maybe we’ll never go skiing again, Nick,’ George said.‘We’ve got to,’ said Nick. ‘It isn’t worth whileif you can’t.’‘We’ll go, all right,’ George said.‘We’ve got to,’ Nick agreed.‘I wish we could make a promise about it,’ George said.Nick stood up. He buckled his wind jacket tight. He leaned over George and picked up the two ski poles from against the wall. He stuck one of the ski poles into the floor. ‘There isn’t any good in promising,’ he said.”“Cross-Country Snow,” page 112Nick and his friend George have been skiing together in Europe and enjoying an afternoon free of obligations, school commitments, and complicated relationships. They each wish they could just be boys, without responsibilities, simply enjoying a sport and the outdoors. However, Nick knows that this is not possible. They are grown men now, men who have been through war, and they must step up to life as it comes.
“‘Wasn’t it a swell race, Dad?’ I said to him. He looked at me sort of funny with his derby on the back of his head. ‘George Gardner’s a swell jockey, all right,’ he said. ‘It sure took a great jockey to keep that Kzar horse from winning.’Of course I knew it was funny at the time. But my old man saying that right out like that sure took the kick all out of it for me and I didn’t get the real kick back again, ever, even when they posted the numbers upon the board and the bell rang to pay off and we saw that Kircubbin paid 67.50 for 10.”“My Old Man,” page 124At this moment, Joe Butler has to admit that the man he has so blindly admired, his father, once a great jockey, is not a great man. Instead, he is a dishonor to his profession of horse racing and he is not a good model of manhood for Joe. However, he is all that Joe has.
“Then he saw them at the bottom of the pool, big trout looking to hold themselves on the gravel bottom in a varying mist of gravel and sand, raised in spurts by the current. . . . Nick’s heart tightened as the trout moved. He felt all the old feeling.”“Big Two-Hearted River: Part I,” pages 133-34. In the trout, Nick sees creatures who persist in a strong current against them. He is encouraged by this site, for he, too, is trying to persist in a great current against him, trying to find his way back to himself after war took him out of himself. In nature, he begins to find the old Nick, confident and capable.
“Nick stood up on the log, holding his rod, the landing net hanging heavy, then stepped into the water and splashed ashore. He climbed the bank and cut up into the woods, toward the high ground. He was going back to camp. He looked back. The river just showed through the trees. There were plenty of days coming when he could fish the swamp.”“Big Two-Hearted River: Part II,” page 156Nick has avoided fly fishing in the swamp because something about it makes him uneasy; possibly, it reminds him of the war. However, he knows that he is healing himself by going home and back to nature. He will tackle the swamp when he is ready.