The black grasshoppers have adapted to their burned surroundings and symbolize the changes wrought by a destructive event. Nick notes that they are not a special variety of black grasshopper but are rather “just ordinary hoppers, but all a sooty black in color.” He realizes that they have “turned black from living in a burned-over land,” and that although it has been a year since the fire, these grasshoppers are still black. He wonders “how long they will stay that way.” The grasshoppers have survived the devastation caused by the fire, but they have been visibly changed by it. Like them, Nick has survived World War I and has been changed by it, too, though his changes are not externally visible. This is why he empathizes with these creatures. When Nick wonders how long the grasshoppers will stay black, he is essentially wondering how long he will bear the emotional scars of war. He wants the little creatures to fly away and survive because, to him, this represents his own survival. Nick says to one of these black grasshoppers, “go on, hopper […] fly away somewhere.” These are the first and only words that Nick speaks to another creature in the story (and one of only two times he speaks out loud at all), suggesting that he finds the grasshoppers’ change in appearance very moving.
Black Grasshoppers Quotes in Big Two-Hearted River
As he had walked along the road, climbing, he had started many grasshoppers from the dust. They were all black. They were not the big grasshoppers with yellow and black or red and black wings […]. These were just ordinary hoppers, but all a sooty black in color. […] Now, as he watched the black hopper that was nibbling at the wool of his sock with its fourway lip, he realized that they had all turned black from living in the in burned-over land. He realized that the fire must have come the year before, but the grasshoppers were all black now. He wondered how long they would stay that way.
Carefully he reached his hand down and took hold of the hopper by the wings. He turned him up, all his legs walking in the air, and looked at his jointed belly. Yes, it was black too, iridescent where the back and head were dusty.
“Go on, hopper,” Nick said, speaking out loud for the first time. “Fly away somewhere.”