Some Things We Did This Year While Reading Hemingway's "On the Quai at Smyrna" (2008)
Prereading Situation--"Feeling somewhat haunted by the first 100 page of Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea";
Title Quandaries--"First I checked the definition of "quai" and "googled" "Smyrna"; "wonder what 'quai' and 'Smyrna' mean"; "What is a Quai exactly and where is Smyrna"; "I think I googled the word 'quai'";
Contextless Narrative--"who is "he," and who are "they"?; "who are 'they/we'?"; "Why are 'they' screaming?"; "conflict between Turks and ...Spaniards?"; "Who or what is screaming?"
Seeking Context in Memory, Other Works by Hemingway, Other Authors, Wikipedia?--"I'm reminded of a book I came across in English 200 while researching my final Flanery O'Connor paper. I return to my paper and find the section where I refer to it . . . Hemingway is simeilarly encouraging us to question the narrator"; "It reminded me a bit of Woolf's The Waves in that respect"; "I looked up Smyrna on Google"; "I wonder where this takes place...probably Turkey...I look it up on Wikipedia."; "I looked up Smyrna again...I looked up Smyrna. Apparently during the Grecko-Turkish Wa, when the Turks took over Smyrna, the war ended...a first started an dlasted for seven days...around 1922...In Our Time was published in 1925, so this situation would have been current at the time this was written"; "I thought of that Delacroix painting of Medea killing her children, sitting on the rocky cliffs of whatever Greek isle that was"; "The only other work of Hemingway's I've ever read is Hills Like White Elephants. I did not care for this story much, and I'm wondering if it was the story or Hemingway's writing style"; "Hemingway talks about the stories he wrote in this era in A Moveable Feast. He said he would start with 'One true declarative statement'";
Noticing Authorial Style and Unusual Format--"why no quotation marks?...makes you forget that the narrator is not the speaker...[implies] that the narrator's attempt to distance himself has failed?"; "I notice the style. No quotation marks...It is incredibly vague, which is an attribute of Hemingway's style"; "The sentences are fragments, and slang is used"; "Seem like an example of 'stream of consciousness writing'"; "The aesthetic choices are in tune with the story's intellectual content so far";
Finding Certain Words Oddly Significant--"searchlight"; "midnight"; "topping"; "earthquake"; "nice things"; "the repetition of the word 'most' along with words like 'topping' and 'great friends'"; "Odd diction...'on board ship' vs. aboard the ship, 'most severely,' 'most rigorously' ..."inverted syntax ...'Great friends we were'; "Why Kemal is the first character with a name"
Wanting to Know the Narrator--"I suppose the narrator is American and the Ottoman Empire is Turkish so that would make them enemies"; "I began to wonder when the story took place"; "I posit he is an American stationed overseas"; "The speaker must be British because of his expressions"; "The narrator's ethnicity is a mystery...clearly a foreigner"; "The narrator, who is presumably a British soldier";
Wanting to Know if the Narrator Was Trustworthy, Sick, Ironic, etc.--"the narrator seems to take all this lightly..."oh! The narratoris actually giving us a word-for-word conversation"; "I just realized he's obviously talking to someone he used to know"; "Why would he say that the doctor thought he was lying?"; "This statement appears to be almost sarcastic"; "I initially read 'great friends we were' to be ironic...some dryness in it"; "his cool matter-of-factness"; "Is the narrator lying...Is he possibly hallucinating? ...'Why is the narrator suddenly addressing someone?";
Affective / Imagined Responses--"The opening of this paragraph is ghastly"; "Turk vs. Greeks-sense of disgust"; "the women who hold on to their deceased babies produced a bold and disturbing image, making me uncomfortable and a little fearful"; "It was sad thinking about the dead babies on the ship...struck a deep chord in me"; "The image of the animals with broken legs drowning in shallow water is fierce as hell"; "This story is almost painfully abstract"; "The last image of the broken mules struggling in the water is awful. It's very upsetting and strange."; "I'm seeing flashes from Wagner's The Flying Dutchman. Only this is far to grotesque for any stage...animal imagery--this time of man defeating animals in a most cruel manner..."; "Picturing mules in the shallow water with broken legs";
Rereading the Narrative--"reading back to see if I missed something"; "I go back to check the first publication date: 1925"; "I'll have to look it up when I'm done reading the story"; "I turned the page back, re-read some, and realized that there were two narrators"; "Upon initially reading the piece, I felt a little confused about the message and how to correctly interpret it. A second reading of it will help me a lot with the ambiguity";
Seeking Patterns--"The speaker tells another story that is less horrifying. It seems to be a pattern. Horrify with a simple sentence or two, and then spend the majority of the passage telling stories"; "no particular pattern"; "The repetition of this description only added to the poignancy of the image"; "The story seems to take the form of a letter"; "By focusing on the smaller details in a rather confined word count, Hemingway produces a great emphasis on his ideas without overwhelming the reader with too many descriptions...leaves out names and many larger details to keep the focus on specific things like the women with the dead babies"; "it might make a great deal more sense if one knows what was occurring in Smyrna and Turkey when this story was written...a British officer who is working with Greek refugees who are fleeing Smyrna after a great fire in 1922..Hemingway was actually in Smyrna at the time";
Trying to Achieve Closure, to Interpret Hemingway's Underlying or Ultimate Point in Writing "Quai"--"I guess the brutality of [the mule scene] makes this ending raw, honest, and penetrating for the reader"; "What makes people dream?...While there is a distance between the speaker and the people/moments he describes, it is obvious that he realizes how devastating war is"; "the way man becomes numb to things in life after he sees them time after time"; "No person will give up their hope for life...when a person's hope for life dies so does the person in a sense"; "He seems to be commenting on the British indifference toward the suffering of the Turkish people and more generally human indifference toward suffering that is not our own"; "I really could not come up with one clear interpretation...I found the setting, events, and characters extremely ambiguous...it's also possible that Hemingway wanted the story to be ambiguous"; "Symbolically speaking, the pier could probably represent a person's need for comfort in a difficult situation...by giving their babies a watery burial, the mothers would be burying their grief"; "he is afraid to say what he really means... because it would be very painful. Irony is his anesthetic"; "Is Hemingway trying to comment on war, or violence in general by depicting first how people can be surprisingly animalistic...Ultimately this piece leaves me feeling very unsettled and slightly confused, but entirely engrossed...knowing that I was engrossed after being thoroughly possessed by Rhys stands a s testament to this story's unique and very notable power"
Do you want to see what last year's class did when reading this story?