Coming of Age
The Nick Adams Stories traces the path of Nick Adams from young man to adult. Generally speaking, it depicts his coming of age, or his passage into adulthood.
Coming-of-age experiences evolve over time and vary from culture to culture and from person to person. They are often marked by rites of passage. Examples include one’s first kiss, first job, first breakup, combat experience, high school graduation, earning a driver’s license, etc.
Nick’s coming of age experiences are peppered throughout The Nick Adams Stories. Many (if not most) of the stories focus on Nick’s response to a particular rite of passage. For Nick, these events are often uncomfortable, trying experiences that are not easily resolved. In this sense, Nick is like all of us.
What rites of passage does Nick experience as he comes of age? If you have trouble finding examples, refer to “Indian Camp” or “The Battler.”
How do you define coming of age? In your community, what are common rites of passages?
How do Nick’s experiences compare with your coming of age experiences?
In stories like “Cross-Country Snow,” “In Another Country,” or “Big Two-Hearted River,” do you feel like you know what’s going to happen to Nick after the story ends? Is this frustrating? Why would the author write using this technique? Keep in mind that these stories were meant to stand on their own.
For many, war is a defining moment in their lives. This was true for both Ernest Hemingway and his Nick Adams character.
All wars have their share of carnage. World War I was shocking in this regard. Chemical weapons, trench warfare, aerial bombardment, long-term stalemate, mass soldier and civilian casualties – it set a new standard in horror.
Nick’s role in the war likely mimics the author’s own service in the Red Cross ambulance corps. Both Hemingway and Nick volunteered to serve at young ages, aware of the war’s shocking casualties. Both were seriously wounded on the Italian front.
Why do you think Nick volunteered to serve in the war? How does this compare to why men and women currently voluteer for the armed forces?
While traveling to Europe to join the war effort in “Night Before Landing,” Nick seems to believe that he is immune to the dangers of combat. Why do you think he has this attitude?
What is Nick’s state of mind as he recovers from his combat injury?
“Big Two-Hearted River” contains the first glimpse of Nick after the war. Though the story makes no mention of Nick’s service, how does this fishing expedition contrast with his combat experience?
In the section “A Soldier Home,” what challenges does Nick face as he tries to fit in with his Hortons Bay friends after the war? How does this compare to the challenges current combat veterans face when they return home after serving in Iraq or Afghanistan?
Nick’s relationship with his family and friends is a puzzle. At first, Nick appears well adjusted; his family situation appears “normal.” A closer reading reveals otherwise. At one point, Nick is hiding in the woodshed, pointing a shotgun at his father and thinking about pulling the trigger.
For years, readers have attempted to decipher Nick’s relationship with his family, friends, and lovers. Though not without controversy, some believe that Nick is really a stand-in for the author. In any case, like all of us, Nick’s family plays an essential role in creating the adult Nick Adams.
When does Nick realize that his father is not invincible? When did you realize the same thing about your parents? Why is this important?
Describe the relationship between Nick’s mother and father in “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife.” What role does Nick’s mother play in the other stories? What does this tell us about his relationship with her?
Nick runs away with his sister in “The Last Good Country.” How does their respective maturity affect their views about their relationship?
Consider Nick’s role as a son in “Indian Camp” and as a father in “Fathers and Sons.” As Nick matures, he finds himself facing the same obligations as his father. How does this affect Nick’s view of his parents?
Critics point to many similarities between Ernest Hemingway and Nick Adams’ familial relationships. How does a writer’s life influence his work?
What is The Great Michigan Read?
Imagine everyone in Michigan reading the same book. At the same time.
The Great Michigan Read is a community reading program for the entire state. With a statewide focus on a single literary masterpiece – Ernest Hemingway’s The Nick Adams Stories – it encourages Michiganians to read or rediscover literature.
Why The Nick Adams Stories?
The Nick Adams Stories is a literary masterpiece literally made in Michigan. The author, Ernest Hemingway, spent the majority of his first 22 summers in Northern Michigan. These experiences played an essential role in his development as one of the world’s most significant writers.
What are The Nick Adams Stories about?
The Nick Adams Stories chronicle a young man’s coming of age in a series of linked short stories. As Nick matures, he grapples with the complexities of adulthood, including war, death, marriage, and family.
How can I participate?