Some Things We Did This Year While Reading Hemingway's "On the Quai at Smyrna" (2009)
Reading Situation--Neighbors start playing the Allman Brother’s "Ramblin’ Man". I start reading out loud so I can focus better.; I underline some of these things but a previous owner of the book has already outlined much of it in purple pen, though thankfully the only marginalia are the definition of "Quai" and the location of "Smyrna"; previous book owner has indicated Smyrna to be in Troy -previous owner has also circled the repeated instances of "they" and "we" in the first paragraph, but either way I wonder who is "they?"
Title Quandaries--Look up Quai and Smyrna in online dictionary..find out that it is French and has same meaning as quay, a harbor. Smyrna is in Turkey.; Looked up the definition of “quai” and “Smyrna”; quai: fr. quay - landing place; Why does Hemingway choose the French spelling of quai? Smyrna is a foreign place, unknown to me before looking it up. A Turkish port city; some place far removed.; Smyrna- port city in Turkey . . . I’m assuming he’s talking about the Greek evacuation of Smyrna in 1922 as the Turks under Ataturk advanced. Interesting choice of place. The loss of Smyrna to the Turks and the subsequent population exchange between Greece and Turkey left Ionia without Greeks for the first time in 5000 years. Tragically, this could have been avoided by the Greek PM Venizelos, who through his inscrutable arrogance united European Greece, and is thus hailed as a hero, but left many stains on his record, such as the sack of Smyrna (called Izmir by the Turks).; “Quai” is a public street along the embankment of a body of water. Smyrna is a city in Turkey (on the Aegean Sea).
Contextless Narrative--Who screamed? . . . what war is this?; who was screaming and why exactly they were doing so.; Wonder who is screaming.; Who is “he”? Who is screaming? ; "The strange thing was, he said, how they screamed every night at midnight”—sets up that it is a memory. Also shows that it may be a conversation, but this is not emphasized until later. it points out that this story is based on the character's memories; Who is the "I" who is speaking? Why are they in the harbor and the women are on the pier?; Floating around" is not a pleasant description. Corpses float around. Dreaming, recurring horrors? Like what is floating in the harbor?; The use of “we” and “they” struck me. He never reveals who “we” and “they” are. The polarization of the two groups of people has the connotation of a warlike or colonial mindset.; who is "he" anyway?; Why is it strange? Why do they scream? What or who screams? . . . Are "They" animals? You and who were at the harbor?
Seeking Context in Memory, Other Works by Hemingway, Other Authors, Wikipedia?--Why use the name Kemal, which recalls Kamal Ataturk? . . . Quite unlike Byron’s Romanization of the Greeks . . . A quick online search tells me that the Turks controlled this region for a long time, with the exception of 1919-1922, when the city was taken by the Greek military . . . Allied partitioning of the Ottoman Empire; I want to know what the phrases they’re saying sound like in Turkish. I begin to try to imagine the story’s setting like a picture and wonder if I’m not being objective enough based on today’s class discussion. ; former is a public street or path along the embankment of a stretch of navigable water (definition taken from OED), Looked up the definition of “topping,” . . . The narrator’s attitude towards “they” and the Turkish officer remind me of the white men’s attitude towards the Congolese in Heart of Darkness; When I read the story of the old woman who spontaneously died, I was reminded of a number of different works of gothic literature. . . . The story of the Greeks who broke their animals’ legs and threw them overboard reminded me of stories of slave ships where slaves were dumped overboard mid-journey (usually with weights around their ankles so that they would sink) because there wasn’t enough food or water available to keep all the slaves alive.; Biblical reference to Noah’s Ark, but animals not being allowed on and killed cruelly.
Noticing Authorial Style and Unusual Format--You remember the harbor". The direct address attempts to more closely include us in the events. . . . is he comparing the Women’s dead babies with the Greeks’ mules?; The narrator jumps from here to another anecdote about how rigor mortis set in on a woman immediately after she died.; When read about the searchlight being used to quiet the screamers begin to wonder if these people are human. Animals maybe? People being treated like animals?; The use of second person in "You remember the harbor", catches my attention.; The first sentence is in third person, and then switches to first in the second sentence. This switch grabs the reader’s attention and the new tense allows the text to become far more personal.; Hemingway allows the reader to create far more horrific deeds in their mind and add to the overall feeling of dread that the section invokes. ; Hemingway keeps who/ what is screaming anonymous; I wondered why Hemingway would switch so abruptly from a secondhand to a firsthand account.; the first sentence is like a scream, but calm in Hemingway’s style.; The Turk is talking through an interpreter, so his words are filtered, so they are not as meaningful? Just like the story is being told second-hand.; Lots of first person ("I did this...")
Finding Certain Words Oddly Significant--Repetition of screaming first three sentences.; Notice the repetition of the word "screaming"; “That was the only time in my life I got so I dreamed about things” is the most curious and beautiful line, but it makes me more anxious because I still don’t understand—the floating harbor pieces, nice like dreams? Is the ship or the harbor real at all?; She was quite dead and absolutely rigid" (12)—repetition of the word rigid and absolutely, in the same paragraph. Why does Hemingway want to place emphasis on these words; "Some such thing" repeated, very casual -"nice" things in harbor - sarcasm again? I can't tell, tone difficult to identify -what is he dreaming about? horrors or actually good things? "let them go to it" wow, great way to describe giving birth; I found the line, "I couldn’t imagine how the gunner’s mate knew enough Turkish to be insulting," incredibly witty.; The discipline is a farce, an illusion. There is irony. "great friends." "severely." "oh, most rigorously." The reassurance of the reader is telltale of the irony.; They screamed . . . what kind of scream? Use of the word "Imagine" connotes that the narrator really doesn’t know anything about the gunners mate at all.; In the first 3 sentences, he repeats the fact that “they” were screaming at midnight. The literary repetition mimics the repetition of the act of screaming at a certain time every day.; screamed - shocking, every night at midnight implies repeated action, horrific routine
Wanting to Know the Narrator--What is the narrator’s nationality . . . Narrator gives his own soldier the benefit of the doubt, is this bias against the foreign/other?; The narrator is a foreigner on a boat in Turkey. Chap. Is the narrator British? "You remember?" The narrator poses the question to the reader. The narrator is speaking to one who was at the battle with him.; The language used (phrases like “mate” and “chap”) suggests that the narrator is British, which explains the superior tone used when “they” are referred to.; Who is the person he is speaking to? What is the relationship?; whole description seems to animalize the screamers - their noises are animalistic and the reaction to them is like chasing away pests -topping? sarcasm here? "Great friends..." . . . "most rigorously," "most extraordinary" sounds like humor, but could be exaggeration in the context? short, choppy lines, direct style ; You? Talking to me? Do I? I only know what you have evoked for me. I was not there. Or, to whom is this story being told?; Screaming . . . Mood setter in the beginning was there possibly to bias the reader towards the narrator?; The use of the terms “fellow” and “chap” hints that the narrator is English. . . . The narrator starts addressing the reader as “you” and reminds this “you” of specific occurrences. This could be a story intended for an acquaintance of the narrator's.; Why "great friends we were." Why the Yoda-speak?
Wanting to Know if the Narrator Was Trustworthy, Sick, Ironic, etc.--It was all a pleasant business" is partly nonchalant bravado to illustrate the extent to which the narrator is accustomed to such events but also shows either his appreciation of or disgust for the Greeks unfeeling cooperation.; The voice of the narrator is not in tune with the disturbing imagery and subject matter. He possesses a stoicism characteristic of Hemingway’s narrators.; Makes the statement "great friends we were" sarcastic. Seems as though Hemingway might be satirizing the relationships that exist on the pier.; This tone allows the narrator to distance himself from whatever horror I feel is coming. ; again, "nice chaps" - I guess it *must* be sarcasm considering the contrast with the broken-legged animals; The doctor thinks a lie – the absurdity of it, the extremity of it. Do I myself trust the narrator?; What is Hemingway saying about the Turks when it is apparent that the officer is lying? Or is the narrator lying to us, defending British imperialism?; Narrator seems to be shell-shocked. In the second page, he is impartial to evil on both sides. Says everything is just nice= conscious denial of reality= madness. Narrator is mad. But then again, he is seeing some pretty horrible shit. War is madness. Hemingway convincingly imparts the mood of one who has seen the horrors of war, especially in the fourth paragraph. The narrator seemed to have some feeling at the beginning of the piece.; 1st sentence emphasizes “he said” calling into question the integrity of the story. . . . The doctor does not believe the story about the old woman. This again calls into question the integrity of the story (and its subjectivity). Once again he stated the doubt of his story on the part of medical professionals. The “medical chap” said it was impossible.; of all questions not "why they screamed?" but "why they screamed at that time?" implies emotional detachment from horror of the events . . . why does the author want the narrator to be detached? what made the narrator so emotionless . . . "great friends we were" - such a dry line, is all of the flat emotionless description of horror meant to be in the same vein? "nice things" floating in harbor? more ironic humor? why could he only dream then?; Some sentences are nonsensical (“They were all out…never knew about the Turk). What’s up with that? The narrator’s talking to someone, believing the listener has shared the same experience (“You remember when…?) There’s a sarcastic tone. Also, a tone of numbness (maybe the sarcasm) and even cordiality (“my word…yes… a most pleasant…) when talking about such horrific events.
Affective / Imagined Responses--animal imagery; Dead babies— disturbing imagery. Repetition of imagery: you couldn’t get them to give up dead babies, babies dead for six days.; Begin to sense horror, unrest and wonder if these people screaming will become the central characters of the narrative. What I am reading is entirely unpleasant and sad. I don’t feel sadness, simply straightforward and technical view of death. I begin to feel a tenseness. Something extraordinary is about to happen, something violent.; Picturing donkeys with broken legs dying in shallow water is an upsetting image, and then contrasted with the most strange word—pleasant (used twice makes it more uncomfortable).; The act of a group of people screaming at a specific time every night inspires a feeling of dread within me. I feel that some horrible reason for the screaming will be revealed before the end of the section.; The dead babies are part of this horror, but not the central piece. I feel they are only the beginning. The death of the old woman adds another layer of dread; now other types of people are dying.; It pissed me off when Hemingway started asking me (i.e. his reading audience) if I remembered certain incidents that obviously I had no memory of. Like he was trying to make me feel stupid for not knowing what he was talking about, like those pretentious, self-masturbatory jerks who use unnecessarily long and obscure words in everyday conversation in order to force you to feel ignorant and subjugate yourself by asking them to define them.; Shock at first sentence, the screams . . . Turk coldly talking about slaughter. Casually complains about dead babies. Very evil. However, The whole Smyrna situation could have been avoided. Venizelos had a choice. Reminds me of Sherman’s march to the sea. The rebels had a choice, but they were stupid and Atlanta was burned. Jeff Davis could have saved thousands had he just been rational, just like Venizelos. I am reacting to the one sidedness of this story.; animalistic description of women having children, why in the darkest places? how did they know this? another horrifying image - animals with front legs broken in water; sense of aloofness
Rereading the Narrative--I reread some of the second page, the section about the old Turk. What does he mean when he says it wasn’t at all like an earthquake?; I feel I might have missed something. Re-read the section. Notice a very clear and present divide between the speaker and the Turk. This is the first use of the second person that I have noticed. Have there been any others? I look back over the text and don’t notice any. ; Reflection: upon my first reading I don’t feel like I understand anything. I have decided to look up quai and Smyrna, which I should have done before but I assumed they were just proper nouns that I would understand by page 12. I know that I will have to read this again.; I just realized I read the whole thing as from Hemingway's POV. Oops. So it could be a British narrator.; After reading this through one time, I was immediately struck by the connection between the women who refused to give up their dead babies, and the Greeks who threw their animals overboard to drown. However, I had to read this piece three times before I finally felt like I had any definitive grip on the subject matter, or on the narrator’s point of view.
Seeking Patterns--I began reading this short piece thinking it to be more of a preface to the stories in the volume. . . . it seemed unlikely that seagulls could coordinate their calls at midnight and even less likely that shining a searchlight over them would cause them to stop . . .I kept trying to put all the different experiences together and give them a some sort of meaning but I could not seems to come up with anything or understand why Hemingway was relating these event to us.; I guess it wasn’t like an earthquake because they weren’t destroyed by the narrator’s fleet. I guess they didn’t need to shell the Turks.; I drift a little, begin thinking about deception that exists not only between enemies but between allied countries or friends. Hemingway may be satirizing human relationships in general, ‘humankinds inability to fully connect to one another honestly. ; Having babies=producing over grasping to old productions (the dead babies) that will never be useful, and never were but someone believed it was worth holding onto anyway; I have begun to interpret this section as a snapshot showing the horrors of war, a topic Hemingway frequently refers to (such as in A Farewell to Arms).; All those mules with their forelegs broken pushed over into the shallow water. It was all pleasant business. My word yes a most pleasant business." (12). He uses the word pleasant twice in order to describe something that seems more horrible than pleasant. Why does he do this? To draw attention to the fact that this is utterly unpleasant by using sarcasm to make it even more clear? Is it in order to show that the character is immune to these experiences because he has been in war too long? Does it point to what war makes people do? How people seem to think war allows for horrible behavior?; repetition of "You remember," especially second time more sentimental (or perhaps not, for what was he dreaming of?); Greeks and Turks. None of them are "nice chaps." Treating animals in the same normal cruelty as humans. It was not pleasant in the least.; run the searchlight over them to silence out of fear, or for want of attention? light dark dichotomy?; It seems like some sort of prison camp. There’s something alien about the place. The fact that a medical professional, the doctor, could not explain the baby’s death, gives the setting a sense of removal from society. Also a little eerie because a baby died. What else is weird about this place?
Trying to Achieve Closure, to Interpret Hemingway's Underlying or Ultimate Point in Writing "Quai"--"My word yes a most pleasant business," seemed to somewhat sum up the piece as humorous as it is painfully obvious that life on the Quai at Smyrna is certainly not "pleasant business.; But it again gives us this picture of a man emotionally unaffected by the battle. He seems to actually enjoy the whole thing, as if it’s some grand affair being performed for him.; The final sentence leaves a lot open for interpretation. The emphasis could be placed in a number of different places, changing the meaning. "a most pleasant business" must be sarcasm. The drowning animals, the dying people—none of this is "pleasant".; the line of dreams is still the most interestingly beautiful, but I see it differently. The speaker isn’t scared by any of these things the way I had originally thought. The ‘things’ he dreams of are materially nice, not subjectively and it is not the only time he is dreaming, it is the only time he dreams of physical things specifically.; The killing of the animals completes the horror. Now I know what the “things” are: stuff that people left behind. Referring to everything as a “most pleasant business” confirms my earlier interpretation. Seems like very Hemingway-like way of ironically referring to the horrors of war.; On The Quai At Smyrna is ambiguous. Hemingway leaves hints for the reader in order to allow them to figure out holes in his narrative. It shows the horrors of war, through a memory. The men who are reminiscing do not consider this memory to be as horrible and haunting as it appears to the reader. Even though I am aware that in his work Hemingway sometimes does not give the reader all the information, instead giving the reader only limited information, I wonder why he choose to do this with this story. What is he trying to accomplish by doing this?; I don't even know what to make of the last two sentences. I guess this is his opening to all the horrors he faced while at war? Horrors that become commonplace after prolonged exposure? (On typing this I find myself thinking of "the horror! the horror!") Like Sinclair's "The Jungle," perhaps, that vein of exposing something for what it really is, using "In Our Time" as a political statement; I feel that the refugees are the main focus of this piece, so I don’t understand why the narrator kept diverting from that topic by telling stories about the gunner’s mate who supposedly insulted the Turkish officer, or the Turks firing blank charges at the narrator’s ship as it came into port. I’m sure there must be some significance to these narrative detours, but as of yet, I have no idea what it is.; Reflection: Everyone is fucked up. There is no good and bad. They are all turned to savagery. There is a separation between the story and the reader like there is a separation between the soldiers and the Greeks and the Turks. There is an immense coarseness to the descriptions, which seem bitter when interpreted, but in a jaded sense, not a horrified sense.; The last paragraph seems to tell us that no one, not even the victims are innocent. Their cruelty to the animals implies that they are just as cruel as the Turks, but the Turks just happen to have more weapons. Hemingway seems to tell us here at the end that war is tolerated because everyone involved in it is in some kind of dream, and everyone acts completely irrationally. He’s saying that the horrible dead babies and the mules in the water are not expressly the fault of the Turks or the Greeks, but rather consequences of a kind of hellish break from reality in which everyone involved partakes. . . . I see a change in the narrator from having a solid sense of right an wrong in the beginning of the short story to completely loosing that sense by the end, and I think the inevitability of breakdown of normal human thoughts and emotion in extreme situations is one of the main messages that Hemingway wants to get across.; The old woman and the women having babies were described in almost animalistic ways. Dehumanization could be the narrator’s coping mechanism to deal with the fact that such horrible things were happening. The repetition at the end of the ironic phrase “pleasant business” could be a criticism of the media and government for promoting war.; suggestion of cruel futility of events? is that the point of the story as a whole?
Do you want to see what last year's class did when reading this story?