He is more interested in "things," than what those things will bring. "Nick went over to the pack and found, with his fingers, a long nail in a paper sack of nails, in the bottom of the pack. He drove it into the pine tree, holding it close and hitting it gently with the flat of the axe. He hung the pack up on the nail. All his supplies were in the pack. They were off the ground and sheltered now" (as quoted in Vernon)
However, with time Nick is able to find some semblance of his early self. He overcomes challenges and moves forward the best he can. Despite the fact that he is walking uphill through burned land with a backpack that is too heavy, he is now in a familiar place and happy to be here:
Nick slipped off his pack and lay down in the shade. He lay on his back and looked up into the pine trees. His neck and back and the small of his back rested as he stretched. The earth felt good against his back. He looked up at the sky, through the branches, and then shut his eyes. He o pened them and looked up again. There was a wind high up in the branches. He shut his eyes again and went to sleep. (213)
Nick finishes each of his tasks in a very slow and methodical way that forecasts his emotional breakdown. Yet, this is the only way that he can gain some familiarity with normalcy and stability, and he does not want to make a mistake. He stresses his patience when waiting for his hot food to cool: "He knew the beans and spaghetti were still too hot" and was not going to burn his tongue by trying to eat it too soon (216). Nick shows this same degree of care when baiting his fishhook: "He tested the know and the spring of the rod by pulling the line taut. It was a good feeling. He was careful not to let the hood bite into his finger" (223). He was trying to use these simple acts of familiarity to become a whole person once again.
As Vernon (2002) continues: "Military and war experiences affect the soldier's sense of gender identity, which for the male veteran means his masculinity, his conception of himself as a man, and by extension his general conception and experience of gender relations." Therefore, even when a veteran does not actually express his feelings about the war directly, it is possible to see the impact on him by recognizing the changes in his behavior specifically related performances of gender. Vernon is not speaking of romantic relations when he mentions the changes in gender relations but instead of "the multiple possible relations the (male) veteran has with the gendered self and with gendered others -- with, as an example, one's mother." "Big TwoHearted River" not only Nick's divided heart over the war but also his warfare against his mother in the short story. Although not a single reference to war appears in the story Nick's thoughts late in his life demonstrate a desperate need for a heroic explanation of his life as his mental stability breaks down.
In addition to Owen, Crane and Hemingway, of course, there are many other authors who write about the impact of war on the human psyche. War and its affect on the people and their societies is such a considerable part of human history that it is impossible for writers to ignore this topic. However, most of these poems, short stories and novels should not be taken literally as just a piece about a specific war. Rather, the author in most cases is addressing what happens to people in all wars regardless of when they occur or who is fighting. The essential message is not whethe or not the authors condoned or condemned the war. Rather, it is how they describe the impact that these wars have had on their own psyche and/or their characters.
Crane, Stepen. Red Badge of Courage. New York: Modern Library, 2000.
Hemingway, Ernest. Big Two Hearted River. In Hemingway, Ernest. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Scribner's, 1987.
O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Random House, 1998.
Stewart, Matthew. Hemingway and World War I: Combatting recent psychobiographical reassessments, restoring the war. Papers on Language and Literature. (2000) 36, 198-217
Vernon, Alex. War, gender, and Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway Review.(2000). 22.1: 34-55