In “A Day’s Wait,” the nine-year-old Schatz clearly attempts to emulate the adults around him. He approaches his impending “death” with a brave face that not only reflects the story’s conception of ideal masculinity, but further points to the child’s equation of growing up with a sense of stoic acceptance and lack of emotionality. His father, meanwhile, reveals a glaring ignorance of his son’s maturation, often treating the boy like a much younger child than he is. The father’s blind paternalism heightens the boy’s internal suffering by leaving him in the dark to fear the worst, and failing to recognize and soothe the boy’s fears when they appear in a more muted manner than a young child’s openly emotional demeanor. Hemingway’s story ultimately reveals the broader parental urge to deny their kids autonomy and fail to recognize when they’re growing up.
Throughout the story, the father ignores his son’s efforts to exhibit maturity and acts as if the boy is younger than he is, effectively denying that he is growing up. The boy doesn’t want to be coddled, claiming that he is “all right” and does not need to go back to bed like his father tells him to. When his father offers to read to him so he won’t be bored, the boy doesn’t admit that he would like to be read aloud to, only saying, “If you want to.” He won’t indulge any desire for company or comfort, instead telling his father to leave him if “it”—that is, watching him “die”—“bothers” him. Later, the boy refuses to let anyone else into the room, insisting, “You can’t come in […] You mustn’t get what I have.” The boy’s belief that maturity means hiding all weakness and pretending to know everything may be misguided, but his father has not helped him to figure out a true path to maturity, preferring instead to act as if his son is still a simple child. Furthermore, that his father affectionately calls his son “Schatz,” a German term of endearment that means “darling” or “sweetheart,” reflects love and affection yet is also somewhat infantilizing—further suggesting that the father fails to see his child as a maturing young man. When the boy says, “I don’t worry…but I can’t help from thinking,” his father responds, “Don’t think…Just take it easy.” Telling someone “Don’t think” is rarely good advice, and here it suggests how the father believes he can still control how his son perceives the world. He imagines that his son respects his judgment unquestionably rather than holding distinct, informed opinions.
The father’s ignorance of his son’s maturing consciousness leads him to exclude the boy from his discussion with the doctor, thinking it unnecessary to involve his “Schatz” because the boy would just follow his father’s lead and not become alarmed. Because he does not think of his son as intellectually complex, he is unable to recognize the boy’s internal distress after the doctor’s visit, perceiving his mental agitation (“He […] seemed very detached from what was going on,” “[H]e was not following what I was reading,” “[H]e was looking at the foot of the bed, looking very strangely”) as physical affliction: “I thought perhaps he was a little lightheaded.” The father can effectively read the boy’s bodily symptoms, despite his protests to the contrary—“I saw he looked ill. He was shivering, his face was white, and he walked slowly as though it ached to move […] ‘You better go back to bed.’ ‘No. I'm all right.’ ‘You go to bed.’”—but he cannot perceive his son’s separate thoughts.
However, his son is certain that he has legitimate knowledge of his own. He refuses to simply accept his father’s vague assurances that “Your temperature is all right […] It’s nothing to worry about,” and “Of course” the medicine “will do […] good.” His father could have explained to him exactly what the doctor had said—that “One [pill] was to bring down the fever, another a purgative, the third to overcome an acid condition. The germs of influenza can only exist in an acid condition, he explained. He seemed to know all about influenza and said there was nothing to worry about if the fever did not go above one hundred and four degrees”—but he does not think such a detailed answer is necessary to reassure his son when his word alone should be enough. Even when the father finally addresses his son’s specific fear—“You aren’t going to die […] People don’t die with a fever of one hundred and two”—the boy retorts, to his father’s surprise, “I know they do. At school in France the boys told me you can’t live with forty-four degrees.” The boy no longer trusts his father’s assurances after his father wouldn’t tell him the medical truth to begin with, and requires thoroughly factual evidence to convince him.
The next day, the boy becomes more childlike, crying “very easily at little things that were of no importance.” This change in demeanor from how he carried himself at the beginning of the story suggests how he had freely expressed his feelings in the past. As a young child, his emotions were much closer to the surface and more transparent. As he has aged, he has developed control over he expresses his emotions, but his father underestimates this self-restraint and still expects the boy’s feelings to surface. When the boy exhibits no familiar signs of distress, his father wrongly assumes he is unconcerned. The dramatic revelation of his son’s developing consciousness and strengthening willpower will hopefully lead the father to overcome his resistance to the boy’s maturation, because otherwise the boy is dependent on other, less suitable figures to guide him. When his father won’t talk to him about death and adulthood, he gets his ideas from unrealistic popular narratives (The Book of Pirates, for example) or other flawed sources. When “A Day’s Wait” was first published in 1933, Hemingway’s own son would have been ten years old, barely older than “Schatz.” An older child’s inevitable maturation and its accompanying pitfalls would clearly have been on the author’s mind as he witnessed his own son at that age, and in this story he rebukes the parent’s reluctance to accept his child’s evolution into a more independent and equally complex being.
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Maturity and Innocence Quotes in A Day’s Wait
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“About how long will it be before I die?”
“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.”
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.