In “The Three-Day Blow,” Hemingway’s detailed descriptions of the setting connote a palpable sense of time and place. Such details from the narrative reflect Hemingway’s characteristic fusing of autobiographic details about his life with fictional characters. In effect, “The Three-Day Blow” (much like Hemingway’s other writing) not only serves to tell a specific story about two young men, but it also extends beyond the characters and their particular situations to connote the generational angst of the Lost Generation. This generation of youths, including Hemingway himself, came of age in between World War I and World War II and became disillusioned with traditional American values because these conventions seemed hollow, materialistic, and devoid of meaning after the wartime atrocities they had witnessed. Without such values to ground their life choices, many felt aimless, and therefore “lost,” much like Nick, who feels confused and aimless in the story. By including autobiographical details of his own life and portraying common struggles of disillusionment and unfulfillment through Nick and Bill in the narrative, Hemingway uses the story as a small-scale representation of the issues that plagued the Lost Generation.
At the outset of the story, Hemingway sets up the narrative with descriptive details that place the story in the Northeastern United States in approximately 1916, lining up geographically and historically with the youths of the Lost Generation, including Hemingway himself. Geographic signposts include Nick picking a “Wagner” apple on his way to Bill’s cottage and putting it in the pocket of his “Mackinaw” coat. The apple and type of coat are typical of the Michigan region. This is reinforced by Nick’s reference to “Ten Mile Point,” which is on the shores of Lake Michigan. Thus, the story’s setting is established as quintessential to the American Northeast, making it familiar and relatable to audiences in the United States. Soon after, the story is also placed in time—approximately in 1916—through Nick and his friend Bill’s discussion about major league baseball games from that era, and actual novels (such as Walpole’s 1906 The Dark Forest). Although published after World War I, setting the story in 1916 establishes it as a World War I narrative, in which Nick and Bill can be inferred to be struggling with the same issues of confusion, discontentment, and alienation that affected youths during this difficult era in history. Similarly, aspects of the narrative—such as Nick’s almost denting the fire grate with his big feet—connote memoir-like associations with Hemingway himself, who was known for having large feet, as well as the use of the name Marjorie for the character of Nick’s ex-girlfriend. Hemingway also had a relationship with a girl named Marjorie in his youth. The story thus grounds a fictional story in the historical context of the Lost Generation, including Hemingway himself. In this way, Hemingway allows the reader to see the interactions between Nick and Bill as fiction, yet also representative of general experiences that the Lost Generation’s young men might have had.
The story deals with two issues commonly associated with the Lost Generation: disillusionment with the conventions of work and married life (represented in Bill’s dialogue), and the search for meaning and emotional fulfillment in life (captured in Nick’s inner monologue). Thus, the story extends beyond the fictional context of two specific characters to communicate more universal social themes and worries that preoccupied the Lost Generation. Bill considers marriage problematic because it carries with it the burden of working in order to save for marriage, and presumably a house and children. Nick tacitly agrees, reflecting in his internal monologue that if he was still with Marjorie, he would have had to look for a job and stay in Charlevoix, where Marjorie lives. Whereas previous American generations glorified hard work and upheld the nuclear family structure, Bill and Nick’s unenthusiastic attitudes reflect the Lost Generation’s struggles to make sense of antiquated traditions in a war-torn, rapidly shifting, and modernizing society.
Bill also implies that the social chatter of domestic life is repetitive and tedious. He says, “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 agrees when he says, "I'm sorry as hell about her but what could I do? […] You know what her mother was like!" Nick exposes his reluctance to embrace the social demands of a marriage with Marjorie as the reason why he ended the relationship (despite being in love with her), further emphasizing the cynicism and lack of commitment present among young men of the Lost Generation. Yet when Nick fantasizes about being with Marjorie, he wistfully imagines them traveling to Italy, having fun, and exploring new places. This juxtaposition implies that Nick wants to acknowledge his feelings for Marjorie but is hesitant to take on the conventions of domestic life that romantic commitment demands. This suggests that members of Lost Generation like Nick desired the emotional fulfilment of romantic relationships, but the trauma they experienced as youths growing up in wartime likely left them feeling that settling down, getting married, and working day jobs to pay the bills would be unmeaningful and unfulfilling.
Hemingway includes personal and characteristically American details in “The Three-Day Blow” in order to establish it as a narrative that broadly tells the story of an entire generation, rather than merely the story of two young men. He leverages Nick’s internal distress to capture the conflict between seeking emotional fulfilment in love while being disillusioned with the demands of conventional domestic life. Through the ambivalent voices of Bill and Nick, Hemingway thus communicates the issues that the Lost Generation’s young men typically wrestled with when emerging from adolescence into adulthood.
The Lost Generation ThemeTracker
The Lost Generation Quotes in The Three Day Blow
Nick stopped and picked up a Wagner apple from beside the road, shiny in the brown grass from the rain. He put the apple in the pocket of his Mackinaw coat.
The wind was blowing straight down the lake. They could see the surf along Ten Mile point.
“She's blowing,” Nick said.
“She'll blow like that for three days,” Bill 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.
“As long as McGraw can buy every good ball player in the league there's nothing to it.”
“He can't buy them all,” Nick said.
“He buys all the ones he wants,” Bill said. “Or he makes them discontented so they have to trade them to him.”
“Like Heinie Zim,” Nick agreed.
“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.”
“He claims he's never taken a drink in his life,” Nick said […].
“Well, he's a doctor. My old man's a painter. That's different.”
“He's missed a lot,” Nick said sadly.
“You can't tell,” Bill said. “Everything's got its compensations.”
“He says he's missed a lot himself,” Nick confessed.
“Well, dad’s had a tough time.” Bill said.
“It all evens up,” Nick said.
They sat looking into the fire and thinking of this profound truth.
“You were very wise, Wemedge,” Bill said.
“What do you mean?” asked Nick.
“To bust off that Marge business,” Bill said.
“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.”
“You can't mix oil and water and you can't mix that sort of thing any more than if I'd marry Ida that works for Strattons. She'd probably like it, too.”