Some Things We Did This Year While Reading Hemingway's "On the Quai at Smyrna" (2010)
Reading Situation--First, I look at the text from a grammar/wording analysis rather than a theme/plot analysis (things I learned from English 200), line by line.; First I read the back for context, so I’m not going in to this story/writing completely blind. I already know Hemingway is known for “lean tough prose” as it says on the back. Interesting considering most people link literary merit with verbosity/complex style.; I flip through the page just to see how long the story is. Accidentally read the last sentence but I’ve already forgotten it. Somebody has taken notes in this copy-that annoys me.;
Title Quandaries--Looked up word “quai” and city “smyrna”; I’ve read the first few sentences. Aha! Now I assume I know what “Quai” is, since he’s on a pier, so I’m assuming this is Russian or something for “quay”?; I assume this story is now dealing with World War I, some kind of battle/occupied harbor. Not Russian. Actually, since I’m online, I look up Smyrna. Aha! Izmir! I know Izmir! I have a friend from Izmir. So it’s Turkey. Then definitely a battle in World War I.; look up Smyrna on Encyclopedia Britannica website, Learn it’s an ancient city in a namesake gulf in Asia Minor via external Catholic website. Repeat for Quai. Britannica brings up angelica plant--Consult Merriam-Webster dictionary. Synonym is ‘quay’...noun Etymology: alteration of earlier key, from Middle English, from Middle French dial. (Picard) kay, probably of Celtic origin; akin to Breton kae hedge, enclosure; akin to Old English hecg hedge Date: circa 1635 : a structure built parallel to the bank of a waterway for use as a landing place; Consider significance of title. Look up “Quai” and “Smyrna.” Quai: A street built alongside water, or essentially a wharf/dock. (OED) Smyrna: Ancient Greek city; Look up Quai and Smyrna because I don’t know their meaning: (from OED) Quai= public street on embankment of stretch of water (in France) Smyrna=chief port of Asia Minor; I looked up "On the Quay at Smyrna" and wikipedia told me about the Great Fire of Smyrna. Did the babies die of smoke inhalation?
Contextless Narrative--I reread the first sentence many times: Despite the shocking nature of it, I feel sure it’s not about people. Probably…peacocks. And yet after the first paragraph it is not cleared up, so I am left to wonder: Who—what—is screaming??; Who are the people screaming? Also, they seem animalistic. Are they even people?; It’s interesting that the first sentence involves screaming , which is dramatic, even though it’s only birds (I assume—there’s a question after the first few sentences-what is screaming? Doesn’t seem like the answer is going to be shocking, however)., So why in the middle of the first paragraph do we switch from screaming birds to “the story” or the Turkish guy who is angry? Oh okay now I don’t think those were birds anymore. Who was screaming? By the time we get to the second page, I’m now very confused about the context of the situation described: why are people on the pier, what are the soldiers doing?; Turks and shouting. Insults, cultural and or language barriers or misunderstandings? Insincerity among the foreigners? Rowdiness? Possible drink involved.; "The strange thing was, he said, how they screamed every night at midnight. I do not know why they screamed at that time.” Who’s screaming? Why? Who is “he”? Is this going to be a horror story?; Who screamed at midnight? An kind of animal?; Repetition of screaming, screamed and at midnight. May have significance to describe the horror that is being witnessed.; I do wonder how they died though. Considering I don't know the exact place and time, I want to know if their deaths were caused by war, or by natural causes?; I re-read the first sentence. Who’s screaming and why?
Seeking Context in Memory, Other Works by Hemingway, Other Authors, Wikipedia?--This is Hemingway’s style, what he is known for, talking around the issue, like the “Hills Like White Elephants” story. Blah.; typical of Hemingway, I haven’t read much Hemingway but it seems typical of his style as far as I can tell. Actually, it makes me want to further examine the difference between his novels and his short stories; The rhythm here is recognizable. The passage showcases Hemingway’s familiar rhetoric and repetition of saying things both ridiculous and yet deadpan serious.; Already rereading sentences a few times because Hemingway’s lack of commas always get to me.; I hate you, Hemingway. Why are you so damned obscure in everything you do?; Finally, I know this story is classic Hemingway. He uses short concise sentences, which I enjoy so I barely notice it. But he also enters the story from what seems to be the middle. And if not the middle, then it is as though the story starts before he tunes in his readers, which leaves so many questions. I'm left yearning to know more, and because this is just a short story, I'm sure my questions won't be answered directly by Hemingway himself.
Noticing Authorial Style and Unusual Format--I am frustrated at how jagged the style is. ; Tone would seem monotone if read aloud, Voice is list-like, matter-of-fact, almost detached, I notice there are just few incomplete sentences: this is how people really talk ; Further repetition. Something remarkably old Hollywood about the dialogue.- Consult copyright date. 1925. Too early for most films from the thirties and forties. Perhaps Hollywood copied Hemingway's writing style for scripts later on, for added "realism." We, supposedly the reader are addressed here, as if we were a character that had been there with him, or knew of the people, and situation at hand. Who are we supposed to be?; The way he begins sentences is casual, like the speaker is telling the story out loud and someone stopped to write it down. "Great friends we were” – sarcasm? Bitterness? The blunt, scarce tone to the writing is bizarre in spite of the subject matter. The words are somewhat conversational.; There should be quotation marks at the beginning and end of it, but there aren’t. It should be in first person, but it’s mostly not.; Why are there no quotation marks in the first sentence when it’s clear someone is speaking?; These sentences are laconic.; Who is the “we?” I feel as if the officers and the narrator/speaker are male; Hemingway’s transitions are hard to follow. Why did he bring up the screaming only to turn to the Turkish officer’s insult the next sentence, without even a paragraph break in between? It’s very strange that Hemingway introduces a reader into the equation with “you remember....” Is this actually supposed to be a letter? The somewhat conversational tone and the frequent use of “most” (which makes this piece read almost as if the writer hadn’t edited much) lend support to this.
Finding Certain Words Oddly Significant--First observation: in first 3 sentences, wording seems stiltedà notice one-syllable words (36/41 total), I look a lot at word choice in repeated words, phrases, and images. For example, the words “insulting,” “frightful(ly),” and “severely” are used more than once (there are several more examples), I looked up word “topping” in its used context. Certain words like “chap” give the story time/place context; Notice word choice: “screaming,” “night.” Establishes a dark, depressing, and perhaps terrifying tone.; Look up expression “felt topping.” British term. Combined with words such as “chap,” establishes a more solid grasp on the setting and characters involved. Mentions a name: Kemal. The only name in the entire piece? Clearly important, but is Hemingway trying to present him positively or negatively. Look up Kemal: Was a Turkish army officer. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.; “had to clear off the dead ones.” Not just “remove,” but “clear off.” Nothing to soften the blow of that image. Reminiscent of the table mopping in The Sun Also Rises. Not wiped, but mopped. “rigid” repeated a few times here – not just dead, but extremely dead. Was she ever human?; since I doubt the old woman was lying on a litter as in the transportation device (context with the dead babies, and all), using the term “litter” for human offspring is quite insensitive. These people are little more than animals to him. That was the only time in my life I got so I dreamed about things.” What an odd sentence. Dreamed about things because that was the only time in his life, or that was the only time in his life that he dreamed about things?; Hemingway uses short, unfinished sentences. “Oh most rigorously.” “Great friends we were.” Used to show his sarcasm towards this Turk or maybe genuine? What would the “old Turk” do? What is the speaker referring to? Clearly, some sort of war or violence is occurring because of the reference to “shell the Turkish” and “blown the town” and “fired a few blank charges.”; I think it's interesting that he repeats the phrase "they would have blown us out of the water." ; “You remember the harbor. There were plenty of nice things floating around in it.” This interests me, or at least the water does because he mentions the mules being dumped into shallow water. It seems odd.
Wanting to Know the Narrator--He?
I? We? You? Is he reminiscing with a soldier friend? It seems that way by the
“You remember…”s. If so, who is the “he” who seems to be the authority on what
is strange and worst in Smyrna? I attempt to read past what he is
saying, assuming he’s trying to shock and imagine it is less disturbing than he
makes it out to be. But it isn’t.;
Narrator = senior officer, thus of military rank or of position of power.
Hemmingway’s WWI experience motif appears. Possible projection. ;
Who is the narrator? The speaker seems very
masculine.; I also wonder who is the "he"? This "he" is recollecting the story,
but to who? Hemingway? Is he our narrator?; I feel like the narrator
speaks so nonchalantly about whatever is going on. “Great friends we were.”
(Sarcasm!?); “My word yes a most pleasant business.” Hemingway was totally
making sure the reader knew the narrator is British.; The narrator seems
to praise the Greeks at the end for being efficient in their disposal of the
mules. He seems to admire them over the Turks who keep pestering him.
Wanting to Know if the Narrator Was Trustworthy, Sick, Ironic, etc.--At the end I am disgusted—by the treatment of the mules, the callousness of the story, and the “cheap” shock of the brutishly short sentences with provocative but unclear issues. But the last sentences sound sarcastic, as though the narrator realizes how horrible are the things he is describing.; Contrasting negative images with positive feelings (last lines) as if to say, Despite all these awful things, it was still pleasant à is it sarcasm?; Retrospective. This is a retrospective. Does this mean this man is at the end of his life? Was it so poor that he didn’t have the capacity for hope or dreams elsewhere in such a life?; Ah, lying to the Turkish soldier about reprimanding the man who supposedly insulted him. Is this character too lazy to talk out this dispute, or does he just not care about the Turks as long as they leave him alone?; Yeah, there’s no doubt in my mind that the soldiers here are the aggressors. The narrator speaks much too nonchalantly about all these dead people. Utterly chilling how casual and carefree this narrator is about blowing these people to smithereens. He sounds like a grade-A psychopath.; The narrator seems to have a lot of experience being around death and I wonder how this has affected him. Why is he so fascinated with this particular old woman and what she did when she died? Why is he describing this kind of business as pleasant?; The last two lines seem very sarcastic unless I am reading this wrong and the speaker is actually feeling good about the situation he is in. “It was all a pleasant business. My word yes a most pleasant business.” How can dead babies, war, and mule’s broken legs be pleasant?
Affective / Imagined Responses--animal
There is a sense of urgency that arises. Most striking is the very last bit
where negative images are contrasted with the line “It was all a pleasant
business.” It really throws the reader for a loop. Throughout all, the reading
was frustrating for me due to a lack of sufficient description and a general
list-like, boring tone.;
babies. Why? At least the story is moving along. I don’t have to
force myself to read any of this. Also helps that it is short.;
Dead babies passages. Oh dear. Breaking the
animal’s legs. The crippling of others? Abandonment into the water to drown. And
yet was a “ all a pleasant business. My word yes a most pleasant business.”
Rings as odd and sadistic.;
Repeated image: dead babies. Tone reverts back to dark/morbid. But at the same
time it feels almost monotonous. Meant to portray death as simple, boring, or
meaningless? Gives a sense of numbness, at the very least. No emotion.
Every time I see the word “chap,” it makes the main character seem more detached
and emotionless to me. Is this intentional? Has he gotten to the point that he
can only view death cynically and sarcastically?
Ending seems remarkably dark and disturbing. Both the
image of the Greeks breaking the forelegs of their animals and the main
character’s description of it as “a most pleasant business.”;
There is no inflection behind these words, nothing to convince the audience that
this experiences were terrible. Just babies dying and bodies piling. It’s so
nightmarish that not even the doctor would believe that some of it happened.
This leaves the reader disoriented, which we can imagine is exactly how the
speaker feels.; Okay, ew. What’s going on that
all these babies are dying?; I’m scared of the screaming.
The image of women clinging onto dead babies is also disturbing but more tragic.; Weird about the “dead babies.” Was there some sort of disease that made numerous babies die at a young age? It is rather gross that the mothers won’t give up their dead babies. Why did they have to clear off the dead babies off the pier? Very disturbing about the old lady that just went stiff and died.; My mind tends to wander when I read, so when I got to the part about the dead babies, I started to think of dead baby jokes. Fitting, I think, considering the grotesqueness of this story. Needless to say, I had to reread that paragraph.
Rereading the Narrative--I reread text two times—the first time for precise word and image analysis, second time for the bigger picture; I read straight through to the end. I’ll get back to figuring out the point in momentarily. ; I finished reading, and now I’m starting again. This stuff I’m used to with Hemingway. I can’t reach a conclusion unless I read it again, and luckily it’s short enough to do that. I’ll read slower this time.; I like to read through the entire piece and then think about it both as a whole, and in parts. Then I'll go back and reread some parts to reignite my thoughts on it. That way, when I'm taking notes, more is clarified, and I don't get the completely wrong impression from the first few sentences.; My mind keeps going back to the women who refused to give up their dead babies and it reminds me of Children of Men. Although these women are not infertile, it feels like there is this lack of future and hope that new life brings into the world.
Seeking Patterns--Hemingway poses question to readerà dialogue with audience, Starts addressing reader as “you” and it sounds like letter to, or personal conversation with, reader, Though the passage is short, it is loaded with images. The pace is slow in the beginning but picks up with the paragraph beginning “They were all out there…” To me there are many vague parts of the story, such as the “he” mentioned in the opening sentence and the question of about whom Hemingway is talking—well, narrating. Who is talking? There is a noticeable shift in the second half of the story where the reader is drawn in and for the first time, the story feels like it could be a letter addressed to a specific reader or character.; New idea about the second to last paragraph: so a hospital was destroyed and now the British occupiers are taking care of childbirth in the holds of their ships? Hmmm. Why couldn’t Hemingway just write “hospital destroyed” or something like that?; Wonder about the importance of the place/setting suggested by the title. Can’t yet think of anything meaningful; There seems to be a theme of repetition, both in word choice and the actions that occur within the story. More repetition: “most severely,” “most inoffensive chap,” etc. This time it feels almost comical and sarcastic. Earlier repetition had darker implications. Seems to be describing some battle or war? A ship attacking the “Turkish quarter of the town.” Does that mean the entire piece is a commentary on war? Perhaps the horrors/effects of it on those participating? Is the main character supposed to be a typical product of war?; So it's a war story in the very simplest sense of that word. This text really does resist understanding. A pleasant business? No, it wasn’t. It wasn’t pleasant at all. I don’t know for sure, of course, but what I think the meaning of this text lies in the speaker's ability to talk about war like it was the weather. This is just a story. There is hardly a structure or a beginning or an end, but that's easier to do when a story's told out loud. ; Is there a disease running through a village, or is this a war, given the presence of soldiers? And are these guys the “good” guys, or are they the ones killing these people’s babies in the first place? . . . Oh, I see. At war with the Turks, got it. Gonna blow them up. Guess that’s why he had no scruples deceiving the Turkish soldier earlier. And that probably explains the screaming; The last paragraph is rather odd about the Greeks. It’s not a pleasant image thinking about the “all those mules with their forelegs broken pushed over into the shallow water.” There seems to be a lot of death, unpleasantness going on here. ; find the end shocking, how he describes all the brutality, and death in such detail, and then says it's pleasant. Is he trying to shock the reader, or is this meant sarcastically. Also, he find nice things in the water, and this is the only time he can dream about things--are these nice dreams? Or is he saying that war gives him nightmares?; Why is Hemingway repeating “most” so often in the first paragraph? To show the narrator making fun of the Turkish officer? Maybe to make the narrator sound British?; I always enjoy and notice repetition within a passage, so the repeated mentions of death and rigidity stood out to me. The tone of the piece was overall playful and humourus, as if the narrator is commenting on amusing oddities rather than the horrors of war. Also, what struck me most was the use of both vague references (the unattributed, distant screaming at midnight) and the intensely specific images (the mothers refusing to give up their dead babies, the mules with the broken legs.) Combined with the tone, it's as if the narrator is picking out his favorite parts of the conflict at hand and disregarding it as some sort of war-like mess that someone else will deal with.
Trying to Achieve Closure, to Interpret Hemingway's Underlying or Ultimate Point in Writing "Quai"--After sitting with the story for awhile, away from the words and my reactions while reading, I am left with a series of broken images—unresolved but evocative. Reminds me of the Imagist movement in poetry of the early twentieth century. Hemingway’s purpose seems to give the readers this choppy narrative with unsettling images—a sense of something rather than a concrete plot and full characters. This, he is saying, is not a traditional short story. And as it is the beginning, he is probably also telling us this will not be a typical collection of short stories.; I still don’t understand the screaming at all. Maybe that is the point. Maybe that sets up the madness of war? Is this about the haphazard violence and madness of war? I am completely baffled by the second to last paragraph. ... Looking for clues now in the story to figure out what the war situation is. Is it a blockade? Possibly. Have the British already won or have they conquered Izmir? ... I guess the dead babies thing is the residue of a battle? And the “nice things” floating around the harbor? So this is simply guarding the harbor after a battle perhaps? I hereby declare this story to be about the horrors of war and its grisly aftermath.Whoops! Completely wrong about historical context. Ah well. Looked up both the story and Smyrna online; at least now I know a little bit about the Smyrna Disaster. And my original "interpretation" is unaffected by this new information. War is still stupid.; How low of a state must one be in to consider the entire affair, which seems to have much squalor and suffering to be a good experience? Leaves you wanting to read more.; Does that mean the entire piece is a commentary on war? Perhaps the horrors/effects of it on those participating? Is the main character supposed to be a typical product of war? Noticed an overall lack of nature. Apart from water, the word “earthquake,” and the mention of the animals at the end, it isn’t present at all. Is this intentional? Could Hemingway be saying that nature can’t live or exist in war, or that war destroys it, much like it seems to have destroyed the feelings and emotions of the main character? Or is nature simply not significant enough to include in a piece such as this? If nothing else, the lack of it contributes to the overall darkness and monotony, I think.; I’m still mostly going with “psychopath,” but I’m also willing to entertain the possibility that this narrator is either utterly oblivious to what’s going on around him or trying to be sarcastic.; I think the story is an interesting approach to such violent material. The narrator seems manly and cold when he talks about his experiences. He is very removed from it because maybe over time he has become immune to seeing such things.; I feel as if Hemingway was putting the readers right into the action of these officers’ experience of war. The entire passage is full of imagery and it is shocking imagery, especially the dead babies and the old lady stiff and dead. Reading it only made me want to know more about the situation and it was a tease to read because I want to read further. I thought Hemingway used the incomplete sentences and the lack of background to literally “drop” the reader into the story so the reader can fully experience what is going on. ; Overall, it seems like a bad war memory. Dead babies, screaming women and Turkish officers, but I can’t necessarily piece together what he wants to say. ; But why would the mule’s broken legs be a “pleasant business?” Or the women coming on board to have babies in dark corners? My only conclusion is that the ship’s captain had gone mad from war – maybe he wouldn’t be considered mad on the battlefield, but as soon as he returned to England his madness would be realized.; It's interesting that the two parts of the war he comments on directly are the muddled chain of command that almost resulted in the destruction of the town, and the effect that the war had on the civillians. There isn't any attention paid to the actual front-line fighting or the movements of the armies. To the narrator, the only thing that actually matter to him are the incompetant commanders he has to deal with and the civillians who have been injured or harmed by the fighting. Both are seen as bothersome problems.
"Meta-Reading"--reading our readings--I find it interesting to see what people focused on--Sam looked at the story from a grammar/sentence structure perspective, questioning what effect that had on the reading, whereas Aaron focused on the plot. Max did more extensive research, while Erin didn't do any and left with an emotional, adverse response. Lucas looks at individual words and the connotations they evoke. After reading some of the R.P. I feel my own understanding of the story is enriched. Now I want to know what our R.P. mean about our individual critical methods. I realize I wasn't as detailed as perhaps I should have been in my own R.P.
Do you want to see what last year's class did when reading this story?