A Day’s Wait

by

Ernest Hemingway

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Themes and Colors
Silence and Miscommunication Theme Icon
Masculinity and Heroism Theme Icon
Maturity and Innocence Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Day’s Wait, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Masculinity and Heroism Theme Icon

The book that the father reads to his son in “A Day’s Wait” is notably a book about pirates—men who embody toughness, bravery, and absolute autonomy; who chase after danger and meet death with pride and refuse to show weakness until the last. The mention of this book suggests that the boy is following the example of famous male heroes when he forces himself to be so stoic in the face of supposed death. Indeed, the boy’s behavior reflects the fatalistic heroism that is on display in much of Hemingway’s work. Here, Hemingway specifically positions ideal masculinity as a combination of courage and composure in the face of death. Though the boy’s unnecessary trauma, however, the story also exposes the potential harm of such strict (and in today’s world, decidedly outdated) standards of masculinity. The ideals of toughness and self-assurance in fact lead the boy to engage in damaging emotional restraint.

Before the boy even hears the temperature that causes him to think he is dying, he tries to bear his painful symptoms with staunch stoicism, refusing to go back to bed despite his pounding head, chills, and bodily aches. However, pushing himself to dress and go downstairs like normal does nothing but aggravate his poor condition. As his father observes, “[W]hen I came downstairs he was dressed, sitting by the fire, looking a very sick and miserable boy of nine years.” The boy lingers in a state of acute torment for the rest of the day, as Hemingway illustrates in his tortured stare: “His face was very white and there were dark areas under his eyes. He lay still in the bed and seemed very detached from what was going on”; “[H]e was looking at the foot of the bed, looking very strangely”; “I […] found him in exactly the position I had left him, white-faced, but with the tops of his cheeks-flushed by the fever, staring still, as he had stared, at the foot of the bed.” The terrible toll of his long day spent silently awaiting his death sentence is also illustrated in his unusual behavior the day after, when “he cried very easily at little things that were of no importance.” He could be crying excessively because the normal effort to master his emotions feels too painfully reminiscent of the previous day’s ordeal, or because he is still struggling to process the overwhelming grim fear that haunted him for so many hours. Either way, he is clearly suffering from the aftereffects of his silent, drawn-out martyrdom.

Ironically, in many respects the boy’s father actually presents a contrast to Hemingway’s typically emotionally reserved male characters. When the young boy falls ill, readers can see immediately how he enjoys a loving and protective relationship with his father. The father tells his son that he should go back to bed three times, suggesting he would hardly think less of the young boy for his bout of weakness or dismiss his condition as nothing serious. That he lovingly calls his son “Schatz,” or darling, further reveals his willingness to be openly warm and affectionate. Nevertheless, the father still exhibits several stereotypically masculine behaviors, such as following a heavily paternalistic attitude towards his son that leads him to exclude the boy from a key conference with the doctor. While his choice to shelter his son is well-intentioned, it is also patronizing. The idea that women and children should be sheltered from potential danger or distress, leaving men to bear the burden alone, promotes the false assumption that only men can maintain their wits and composure and respond with bravery and rationality. Furthermore, the father spends his day hunting quail while his son is sick, effectively killing as his son thinks he’s dying. This again connects masculinity with death, and specifically with control or bravery in its face. Hunting is also a typically masculine pursuit associated with men providing for their families; yet by going out to shoot quail, the father has basically abandoned his son when the boy needed him most. This again points to a sort of paradox or folly inherent to hypermasculine heroism.

Learning from his father’s example, the boy in turn tries to shelter his family by keeping them away from his bedside, where they might catch his fatal illness while caring for him or experience terrible grief while watching him die. Yet the boy’s pursuit of a fatalistic and selfless death does nothing but leave him terrified and isolated as he both denies himself the comfort of his family’s presence at his “deathbed” and prolongs his tragic delusion. Unfortunately, in trying to emulate a heroic martyr’s stoic embrace of death, the boy makes his father’s mistake of assuming that he knows what’s best for everyone else. His father believed that what was best for the boy was not hearing about his illness; now, the boy believes that what is best for his family is not seeing him suffer. When they withhold information to spare people pain, the father and son not only engage in an unnecessary martyrdom, but also directly limit the free will of those people who deserve to make their own choices. As the story illustrates, such overprotectiveness is too often a paternalistic mistake that men feel entitled to make when they feel heroically duty-bound to exercise their “superior” nerve and brains.

Even as Hemingway’s story present a certain ideal of masculinity, it also implicitly links this “heroism” to a distinct sense of miscommunication and suffering. As such, the story is as much a condemnation as it is an appreciation of traditional fatalistic heroism, the insistence on which does little to actually spare another from pain.

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Masculinity and Heroism Quotes in A Day’s Wait

Below you will find the important quotes in A Day’s Wait related to the theme of Masculinity and Heroism.
“A Day’s Wait” Quotes

But when I came downstairs he was dressed, sitting by the fire, looking a very sick and miserable boy of nine years. When I put my hand on his forehead I knew he had a fever.

“You go up to bed,” I said, “You’re sick.”

“I’m all right,” he said.

Related Characters: The Father (speaker), Schatz (The Son) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Temperature
Page Number: 332
Explanation and Analysis:

After a while he said to me, “You don’t have to stay in here with me, Papa, if it bothers you.”

“It doesn’t bother me.”

“No, I mean you don’t have to stay if it’s going to bother you.”

I thought perhaps he was a little lightheaded and after giving him the prescribed capsules at eleven o’clock I went out for a while.

Related Characters: The Father (speaker), Schatz (The Son) (speaker)
Page Number: 333
Explanation and Analysis:

At the house they said the boy had refused to let any one come into the room.

“You can’t come in,” he said. “You mustn’t get what I have.”

Related Characters: The Father (speaker), Schatz (The Son) (speaker)
Page Number: 333
Explanation and Analysis:

“Your temperature is all right,” I said. “It’s nothing to worry about.”

“I don’t worry,” he said, “but I can’t keep from thinking.”

“Don’t think,” I said. “Just take it easy.”

“I’m taking it easy,” he said and looked straight ahead. He was evidently holding tight onto himself about something.

Related Characters: The Father (speaker), Schatz (The Son) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Temperature
Page Number: 334
Explanation and Analysis:

I sat down and opened the Pirate book and commenced to read, but I could see he was not following, so I stopped.

“About what time do you think I’m going to die?” he asked.

“What?”

“About how long will it be before I die?”

Related Characters: The Father (speaker), Schatz (The Son) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Book of Pirates
Page Number: 334
Explanation and Analysis:

“People don’t die with a fever of one hundred and two. That’s a silly way to talk.”

“I know they do. At school in France the boys told me you can’t live with forty-four degrees. I’ve got a hundred and two.”

He had been waiting to die all day, ever since nine o’clock in the morning.

“Poor old Schatz. It’s like miles and kilometers. You aren’t going to die. That’s a different thermometer. On that thermometer thirty-seven is normal. On this kind it’s ninety-eight.”

Related Characters: The Father (speaker), Schatz (The Son) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Temperature
Page Number: 334
Explanation and Analysis:

His gaze at the foot of the bed relaxed slowly. The hold over himself relaxed too, finally, and the next day it was very slack and he cried very easily at little things that were of no importance.

Related Characters: The Father (speaker), Schatz (The Son)
Page Number: 334
Explanation and Analysis: