Fathers and Sons: Themes & Analysis

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  • 0:05 Room for Interpretation
  • 1:03 Nick's Father
  • 1:53 Nick's Son
  • 3:10 Gender Roles
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

This lesson provides an overview of some of the main themes in Ernest Hemingway's short story, 'Fathers and Sons.' Because of Hemingway's writing style, there are several different possible interpretations for the story, but these will get you started!

Room for Interpretation

Ernest Hemingway, thanks to his Iceberg Theory, is famous for leaving out the most important parts of a story. Like an iceberg, he gives some small amount on the surface, with the largest part submerged under water. In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway writes, ''I'm trying to make it without you knowing it, and so the more you read it, the more there will be.'' His short story, ''Fathers and Sons'' is no exception. As with all of his writing, the information given is scant and vague and can be interpreted in many different ways. That is part of what makes it beautiful, though--each reader will come away with something slightly different. The main themes collected here are just a few of the many possible.

Nick Adams is a recurring character in Ernest Hemingway's short stories. There are some parallels between Nick's life and Hemingway's, which makes many critics believe Nick is autobiographical. It is quite possible that Nick can provide us with some insight into Hemingway's own life.

Nick's Father

Given the title of the story, it is reasonable to expect there to be elements which examine father and son relationships. The plot of the story is made up entirely of Nick Adams driving in his car and thinking about his past. A good portion of this is focused on his father. We are given some information, but much is left to interpretation. Nick, the narrator of the story, speaks of being grateful to his dad for teaching him to hunt and fish. It seems the two of them developed quite a bond during these activities. We learn that, at some point, ''things had gone badly'' and Nick tells us ''after he was 15, he shared nothing'' with his father. Nick wants to write about how things went with his dad but says that it is ''too early''. Clearly, whatever happened still bothers him now, even after his father's death.

Nick's Son

We don't know until the very end of the story that Nick has a son who is riding in the car with him. Nick says ''he had not even noticed the boy was awake'' but goes on to say ''he had felt quite alone but this boy had been with him.'' Perhaps, instead of emphasizing how little attention Nick gives his son, Hemingway highlights the solace and companionship Nick finds in his son's presence. Hitherto, Nick had been mulling over in his mind things from the past with his father that were likely painful. Perhaps in his own child, he finds comfort, love, and companionship.

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