Greimas', Todorov's, and Gennette's Structuralist Methods Applied to "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife"
Meaning is made by structuring artifacts in classes of opposed pairs (+/-) and actants operate to transfer desired objects/qualities.
The Doctor (+) is opposed by Dick Boulton (-) and by the Doctor's Wife (-). The Doctor seeks to transfer the logs to his possession, but he is defeated by Boulton's superior strength and confidence. The Doctor seeks revenge on Boulton but is defeated by the Doctor's Wife's superior mastery of a biblical text and calm assurance. The Doctor is sent to summon Nick, but Nick declares his allegiance with the Doctor and offers to show the Doctor "black squirrels" (victory). The Doctor agrees not to send Nick to the Doctor's Wife, takes away the text Nick is reading, and accompanies him into the woods to find the "black squirrels."
Readers' satisfaction with the otherwise obscure closure offered by Hemingway's story is enabled by their unconscious participation in the expectation that the Doctor will triumph. They share the Doctor's point of view in three episodes of testing and judgment. In the first two, a powerful male of ambiguous ancestry successfully uses the threat of physical force to defeat the Doctor's attempt to possess the logs, and a powerful female uses text-based, intellectual authority to defeat the Doctor's attempt to seek revenge for the loss of the logs. In the third, the Doctor is restored to authority by the intervention of his son, who declares allegiance to him, offers up his text to him, and offers to lead him on a successful quest for a desired object that neither Boulton nor the Wife can control.
So what? Hemingway structures the story as an epic contest between the Doctor and the people around him, a contest in which his identity and existence are threatened. This helps explain the changing terms of reference: "Nick's father," "Doc," "the doctor," "dear," "Henry," "Nick's father." The cycle transfers to the Doctor not the objects he thinks he seeks (logs, shotgun-revenge) but rather the loyalty of his son which makes him, once again, "Nick's father," the most important thing in the world to his son. The story's deep structuring rules allow us to experience, perhaps unconsciously and from the Doctor's point of view, how the seemingly meaningless challenges of a day can threaten to destroy a man or to make him capable of mortal violence, and how similarly ordinary gifts of trust can repair that damage as quickly as it was caused.