In “The Three-Day Blow,” Bill is a young man who idealizes manliness as independence from the commitments of marriage, money, and work. Bill celebrates fishing, writing, and above all, holding his liquor as he drinks whisky with his friend Nick, the story’s protagonist. Nick seems to agree on the surface. However, as Nick becomes more intoxicated, he realizes that this picture of manliness feels meaningless, and he is regretful in the face of his grief at ending his relationship with a girl named Marjorie. Nick is hesitant to verbalize these thoughts, though, opting to remain silent when Bill declares that Nick did the right thing by breaking up with Marjorie. Nick’s relief at being able hide his true thoughts and desires, along with Bill’s emphasis on personal agency, suggest that both characters think emotional stoicism and independence are essential components of a man’s ability to feel secure in his masculinity. By exposing the dissonance between Nick’s genuine feelings and his desire to appear manly, Hemingway demonstrates that upholding such a narrow image of masculinity often requires young men to mask their vulnerability by devaluing romantic relationships and repressing their emotions.
Nick and Bill idealize manliness as being free to fish, read, write, and drink. Both characters are eager to be seen like this in each other’s eyes. They idealize literature and fishing when toasting to writers like Walpole and Chesterton as they drink. Bill wonders if Chesterton likes to fish, and Nick responds, “Sure,” before continuing, “He must be about the best guy there is.” This implies that the boys see writing and fishing as admirable activities that they associate with manliness. Bill and Nick are also eager to prove their masculinity to each other by showing that they can handle their liquor. They do so by demonstrating that they are capable of performing “practical” tasks like fetching logs for the fire while drunk. Likewise, Hemingway describes how proud Nick is that he can pick up spilled apricots while drunk. This tongue-in-cheek passage juxtaposes Nick’s feelings of pride and bravado with achieving a comically simple task. This reminds the reader that although the boys aspire to be seen as “real” men, they are really still just boys pretending to embody the vision of masculinity they idealize.
Nick and Bill’s conversation about married life shows that their idea of masculinity is incompatible with their understanding of marriage. This makes Nick realize that he cannot be seen as ideally masculine while expressing his love for Marjorie. Bill also makes it difficult for Nick to voice his feelings, as he associates the burdens of married life with “ruin.” Hemingway uses profanity in Bill’s dialogue to emphasize how passionately Bill associates manliness with independence, and marriage with its downfall. Bill declares, “Once a man's married he's absolutely bitched” and “He hasn’t got anything more. Nothing. Not a damn thing,” suggesting that a man’s ability to maintain his individuality is a crucial part of being masculine. Bill’s description of married men as taking on a “sort of fat married look” physically reinforces his portrait of the married man as unmanly. Discussing Nick’s breakup, Bill points out, “If you’d gone on that way we wouldn't be here now.” Nick tacitly agrees, noting in his head (perhaps more with regret than relief) that if they were still together, he would have moved nearer to Marjorie by now. Bill’s declaration reinforces the notion that relationships with women limit manly independence. This attitude makes Nick feel that he is betraying his true feelings for Marjorie and stifling his emotions in favor of appearing stoic and masculine.
Nick’s inner monologue explicitly reveals the conflict between his feelings for Marjorie and the outward expression of manliness that Nick and Bill have been celebrating. Nick realizes his fear of losing Marjorie as Bill denigrates marriage; however, instead of saying anything, Nick merely becomes quiet. His participation in the conversation recedes from the occasional “sure” to nothing at all. Nick’s reaction shows that he is uncomfortable sharing his emotional vulnerability with Bill because he thinks it will make him seem unmanly. Through Nick’s tepid responses to Bill’s sweeping pronouncements about the dangers of marriage, Hemingway suggests that there is no room for emotional depth in the view of masculinity the boys have been idealizing.
When Bill warns Nick that he should be careful not to slip back into the relationship again, Nick inwardly expresses hope at the prospect, but says nothing to Bill. Nick’s ironic phrase “There’s always a chance” implies agreement with Bill’s worry that it would be a mistake for Nick to get back with Marjorie, whilst simultaneously betraying Nick’s inward hope to do so. Ultimately, Nick hides his feelings, opting to put the “Marge business” out of his mind, at least for now. Here, Hemingway implies that Nick is only appeasing Bill so that he does not appear unmanly, and that his inner conflict will continue as long as he forces himself to conform to this stoic masculine persona rather than be honest about his feelings.
Hemingway thus uses the juxtaposition of Nick’s internal monologue and his actual interactions with Bill to portray a conflict between acknowledging emotions and wanting to appear masculine. Hemingway’s use of humor and irony underscore this dissonance between narrow perceptions of manhood as dependent on independence and emotional stoicism, and the very real emotions that young men often feel forced to repress.
Masculinity, Independence, and Vulnerability ThemeTracker
Masculinity, Independence, and Vulnerability Quotes in The Three Day Blow
“It's got a swell, smoky taste,” Nick said, and looked at the fire through the glass.
“That's the peat,” Bill said.
“You can't get peat into liquor,” Nick said.
“That doesn't make any difference.” Bill said.
“You ever seen any peat?” Nick asked.
“No,” said Bill.
“Neither have I,” Nick said.
Bill came down with a pair of heavy wool socks.
“It's getting too late to go around without socks,” he said.
“I hate to start them again,” Nick said. He pulled the socks on and slumped back in the chair, putting his feet up on the screen in front of the fire.
“You'll dent in the screen,” Bill said. Nick swung his feet over to the side of the fireplace.
“Did you read the Forest Lovers?”
“Yup. That's the one where they go to bed every night with the naked sword between them […] What I couldn't ever understand was what good the sword would do […]”
“It's a symbol,” Bill said.
“Sure,” said Nick, “but it isn't practical.”
“Did you ever read Fortitude?”
“It's fine,” Nick said […] “Have you got any more by Walpole?”
“The Dark Forest,” Bill said.
“I guess he's a better guy than Walpole.”
“Oh, he's a better guy, all right.” Bill said.
“But Walpole's a better writer.”
“I don't know,” Nick said. “Chesterton’s a classic.”
“Walpole's a classic, too,” Bill insisted.
“I wish we had them both here,” Nick said. “We'd take them both fishing to the 'Voix tomorrow.”
Nick […] wished to show he could hold his liquor and be practical. Even if his father had never touched a drop Bill was not going to get him drunk before he himself was drunk.
“Bring one of the big beech chunks,” Bill said. He was also being consciously practical.
Nick came in with the log through the kitchen and in passing knocked a pan off the kitchen table. He laid the log down and picked up the pan. It had contained dried apricots, soaking in water. He carefully picked up all the apricots off the floor […] He felt quite proud of himself. He had been thoroughly practical.
On his way back to the living room he passed a mirror in the dining room and looked in it. His face looked strange. He smiled at the face in the minor and it grinned back at him. He winked at it and went on. It was not his face but it didn't make any difference.
“You were very wise, Wemedge,” Bill said.
“What do you mean?” asked Nick.
“To bust off that Marge business,” Bill said.
“Once a man’s married he’s absolutely bitched […] He hasn't got anything more. Nothing. Not a damn thing. He’s done for. You’ve seen the guys that get married. […] They get this sort of fat married look. They're done for.”
“If you’d have married her you would have had to marry the whole family. Remember her mother and that guy she married […] Imagine having them around the house all the time and going to Sunday dinners at their house, and having them over to dinner and her telling Marge all the time what to do and how to act.”
Nick said nothing. The liquor had all died out of him and left him alone. Bill wasn't there. He wasn't sitting in front of the fire or going fishing tomorrow with Bill and his dad or anything. He wasn't drunk. It was all gone. All he knew was that he had once had Marjorie and that he had lost her. She was gone and he had sent her away. That was all that mattered. He might never see her again. Probably he never would. It was all gone, finished.
“All of a sudden everything was over […] I don't know why it was. I couldn't help it. Just like when the three-day blows come now and rip all the leaves off the trees.”
“There's always a chance.”
Outside now the Marge business was no longer so tragic. It was not even very important. The wind blew everything like that away. […] None of it was important now. The wind blew it out of his head.