Some Things We Did This Year While Reading Hemingway's "On the Quai at Smyrna" (2012)

Reading Situation--[I] was distracted by having to write things . . . Friends started talking to me, I got distracted and had read the entire paragraph (“The worst, he said”) again.;  sat down in my purple comfy chair with the book, my laptop and a cup of tea.  trying to ignore the copious markings the person before left in the book; I thought I was about to read a horror book

Title Quandaries--Looked up Quai through Referred by to the word Quay. Defintion read: “a structure built parallel to the bank of a waterway for use as a landing place.” Quai is Middle French, Quay is Middle English. Looked up Smyrna through Smyrna is, according to Wikipedia, an ancient Greek city of strategic importance because of its port. It is now encompassed by the Turkish city Izmir.;  First thought – is Smrnya a Welsh city?; Wanted location of Smyrna. I thought of the first place I know by that name–Smryna, DE–but realized that was likely not the setting. I searched for “Smyrna” on Google and the third Smyrna down was Smyrna, Greece.; I look up “quai” and “Smyrna” on Wikipedia.  On the “Smyrna” page I see reference to a 2nd Century earthquake, as well as the “Great Fire of Smyrna” in 1922.  Click on that page, find out about this fire in relation to World War I Partition of the Ottoman Empire.; I finished and thought to look up the word Quai . . . it said it was basically a dock or berthing place...are they playing with the word berthing (birthing) (dead babies)

Contextless, Discontinuous Narrative--Who screamed?  Break from people screaming to ordeal with officer then to dead babies and old lady (very disjointed, why?, what profession/place/event connects them all); Why is the insult important?  Who is “he?” What is going on with the earthquake sentence?  “It would have been the hell of a mess.” Why “the?”; Immediate switch to first person narrative--Who is he speaking to?  Abrupt switch from dead babies to a dead old Turkish woman. Not sure which Turk he’s referring to--It’s ambiguous who he’s taking orders from or why he’s in Turkey. Are we supposed to know why he is there?  Who is Kemal? Why are they attacking the Turks?; In my head there were three characters in this paragraph: the Turk, the “I” and the “he” of “he said.” So it is only at the next paragraph that I understood that the “he” and the “I” are the same narrator. “Great friends we were” next to “The worst, he said, were the women with dead babies” made me realize that this is a single storyteller, not one person referencing another and talking on top of that other person’s experiences.  The Greeks are “nice chaps too” but we don’t know why or anything about them, except that they kill their baggage animals. Or maybe they’re nice because they’re willing to do so? (Are they killing their animals so that no one else can have them?);  Why are they screaming every night?  Still want to know why  people are screaming.; Why are the screaming people screaming?; The mention of the dead bodies seems to bring a more choppy thought like tone from the narrator.; The audience is now referred to as “you.” The audience is being directly spoken to.  If I am being addressed, who am I?  Because I am being directly spoken to, it seems I was a part of the narrator’s experience at Smyrna.  Example: “You remember the harbor."  Implications of this would be that if I was really part of the narrator’s experience, I would know what he was talking about without getting confused.; Who’s through an interpreter? The mate?  Who’s the “he” being referred to here? Addressing a “you.” Is this the same Turk?  Greeks? Wait, where are we?;  Is the screaming organized? Or it is spontaneous? Not minding anything once off the pier – going somewhere better/worse?  Why is the pier so heinous? Wouldn’t the hold of a ship be worse?;  Well, at least we're operating in a framework in which nightly screaming is considered abnormal.; I asked who was screaming before I even read the next sentence . . . Are the people with the searchlights, cops? (Just read the next sentence and had a better understanding) . . . I'm confused because all of a sudden the subject chances from Turkish officers to women with dead babies

Seeking Context in Memory, Other Works by Hemingway, Other Authors, Wikipedia?--With or against the Turks? Should I know that? Seems like Hemingway expects me to.;  Who is Kemal? Looked him up on Google. Ah, Ataturk. Well that’s a very familiar and subtle way to refer to him. ; I made a note on my paper: what is “topping”? I kept reading.; The dead babies paragraph reminded me of a story a family friend told me, about a woman in the hospital where she works (in postpartum care) who delivered a stillborn baby and wouldn’t let anyone touch her baby for several days. I don’t know why I’m sharing this. It made me start wondering why and where these women (in Hemingway’s text) were holding onto their babies and how the narrator knew about this. What did they do with the dead babies?  The image of women having birth in dark places reminded me of the Virgin Mary. But I don’t think that was Hemingway’s intent.  Looked up “topping,” adj.: “1. of high quality or 2. domineering, confident, boastful” (OED, and these are only two definitions of six, but they seem like the most fitting definitions.) I am bothered by how the OED has no examples of the word being used past 1893.  Looked up “Smyrna” on Google. A city in former Asia Minor. So definitely not Welsh. Looked up “quai”. French spelling of quay, “a man-made bank or landing stage lying alongside or projecting into water for loading and unloading ships” (OED). Why use a French spelling? Is it a French narrator?;  I thought about Andrews Air Force Base, where troops kill in Afghanistan are flown in at night. Is the story describing something similar? Ships bringing bodies or news of the dead.  “Kemal” a reference to Kemal Ataturk?; Gunner means "soldier or air man who operates arms or aims a gun"... That makes sense.; Kemal- first name instead of pronoun. Significance?  Is it something about the pier that makes these characters this way; Turkish? Imperialism?  Shelling the Turkish area of the town – retaliation. Turkish rebellion? Prisoners as a result?  Interment camp? Birth in captivity – result of rape by captures? Why are the Greeks leaving? Did they lose/retreat?

Noticing Authorial Style and Unusual Format--Sounds like war talked about lightly- forces to be light- makes it very eerie; Introduction of “You.”;  More repetitive language (frightful, insulting, severely); Fragmented Sentences and disjointed sequence. Grammatically incorrect sentences. ; Why is there no punctuation in “Oh most rigorously”?;  Sarcasm about the Turkish officer . . . It seems noteworthy he brings up the doctor calling her case impossible twice. The second time in more colloquial language.  That narrator addresses the reader, a "you" is introduced;  The audience slowly gets more information. Is this a trick to draw readers in?  Stream-of-consciousness style- abrupt sentences, lack of punctuation.  Repeat of words/phrases- is this to emphasize importance?;  Enjambed syntax . . .  Adverbs  Casual syntax . . . Fragments/conversational (irony??) “drew up” repetition.  Dead, rigid stiff.  "The hell of a mess…" Purposely messing with this expression? Or actual difference in colloquialisms?; the “he,” “us,” and “them” suppose that the reader is supposed to be intimately familiar with the author.  ”most inoffensive chap” speaks to me about the type of person the narrator is; ”pleasant business” repeated twice to describe something most unpleasant; Repetitive quality to the first three sentences. Uses variations of the word “scream” three times in as many sentences, plus “midnight” recurs. Gives it a spoken feel.  Again the repetition, this time of “dead babies.” Again three times in three sentences. Nice bit of understatement: “It would have been a hell of a mess.”

Finding Certain Words Oddly Significant--Interesting first sentence and placement of “he said.” Who are they? What kind of doctor? The word “litter” is an interesting choice, given its meanings.; Repeats "midnight"--‘One time’: does not include specific date or location ; I got back to where I ended. I couldn’t figure out if the narrator is talking about the gunner’s mate or the Turk when he referred to the man as “topping.” Probably the Turk. Maybe both?; “We used to turn the searchlight on them to quiet them. That always did the trick. We'd run the searchlight up and down over them two or three times and they stopped it.” The predictability—“...every night at midnight”—is troubling.  “When they evacuated...”; First two words are capitalized in my version which I like, especially that one of them is the word strange.; The screaming taking place at midnight is mysterious- I wonder what the reason is for that specific time.  The searchlight quiets them- are they scared?; Who screamed? Who are “they"?; “I” and then “we” . . .“our” sailors . . . Starting dialogue with conjunction… Not exactly leaving me hanging if it starts that way is it.  What is “topping”?; Clearing them off the pier – slaves? Prisoners? The Old Turk different from other Turks?; Interesting how there's an almost bragging quality to this horrifying account, as if witnessing such suffering were in some way an achievement. You can especially see this in “I told it to a doctor and he said I was lying.”

Wanting to Know the Narrator--1st person narrator. Past tense.  Diction is colloquial, simple. “chap… topping” are interesting word choices. Almost sound British.; Old Turk. Reference to one person’s age made me wonder about the narrator’s age. Ambiguous pronouns: intentional because he doesn’t want to view this people who are suffering as individuals, perhaps so he can ignore the horror of the situation or stay as separated as possible from it? ; “Great friends we were” makes me think of the Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker, an anti-war series set during WWI. One of the protagonists in the trilogy is very sarcastic and combative; this sounds exactly like something he’d say. It is hard not to associate him with the narrator after this and the way I read the text sounds a lot like how I imagined that character speaks. It influenced how I hear the age of the narrator too – I had thought of him as middle-aged, but now I heard him speak like a young man.; I wonder, since he is not a doctor and seemingly some kind of military man, why he is asked to look at the old woman's body.; Why does the narrator enjoy the death/disturbance? (“pleasant business”)?  Because the narrator is working under the Turk but above others, they could be a commander?; Narrator is authority enough to be “sir”; the direct address in that paragraph reveals the intended audience as someone specific;  Why is the narrator taking the people away? Is he in a commanding position, or following orders in this situation. If there are Turks, Greeks, and interpreters, what nationality is the narrator, or the person he is relaying the story to?;  Wonder how accurate the speaker's perceptions are of his own gunner's mate. Not surprising the (presumably British from the phrasing) speaker sides with his own man over the Turkish officer.  Why would it be like an earthquake? The speaker knows earthquakes, presumably.; The first thing that sticks out to me is the pleasant, casual manner in which the narrator is telling his story. This tone opposes the sad, brutal, and typically upsetting endeavors that he describes; screaming, dead babies, unpleasant conditions for humans, blowing things up. Even the setting of the piece contributes to this note.; His tone is like the water, washing away the frightfulness of the content with simple, methodical waves.; Seems like the narrator has a southern country accent

Wanting to Know if the Narrator Was Trustworthy, Sick, Ironic, etc.--Narrator is traumatized by the trauma he describes lightly.  Ironic and bitter. What horror was this man a part of?; The time dedicated to describing the insult, in the face of the brief descriptions of what could be viscerally horrific makes more sense. Both the inexplicable importance and seeming frivolity of “manners” in the face of death. “pleasant business,” “chaps,”; Short, fragmented sentences; is his memory of this time fragmented?; Repetitive language again (rigid) Perhaps the narrator is haunted and therefore repeats the same words. Pleasure in these horrible events. This narrator is definitely insane.;  Struck by how disrespectful the narrator is toward the dead woman. She isn't a story, not a person to the narrator.  “It was all a pleasant business. My word yes a most pleasant business.” Narrator is sarcastic.;  The narrator could be telling the story to me in a reminiscent as well as distant way because it is their true account of what they remember. Emotions are encoded in our memories. This shows in the sentence structure, format, and style.; That does not sound like pleasant business at all, sir. You, my narrator, are evil.; narrator is un-phased by the fact an old woman has died, but is fascinated by the particulars of her death; Cruelty is recognized as a positive thing.;  There are bodies in the harbor, thought the narrator only describes them as “nice things floating around in it” even though the image appears in his dreams at night. He’s traumatized.  It’s like the Greeks’ animals that lay in the water at the story’s end; they’re in pain, being subjected to a slow drowning just underneath shallow waters. The water subdues the dreadfulness of what’s actually going on.; Seemed like the narrator was looking out for the insulting man...he somewhat hinted at the insulting man that he wasn't mad at him for disrespecting the officer (figured this because of the way he spoke to the insulting man...not an angry tone), but had to act if he was for the sake of his job

Affective / Imagined Responses--animal imagery; I enjoy the line “Great friends we were”   Both the “screaming” and the “dead babies” are introduced in a jarringly casual manner. Again, death and or suffering (i.e. the screaming)are both jarring and casual. “Quite dead and absolutely rigid,” “absolutely”  Juxtaposition of the women with the dead babies and those giving birth. They are described almost animalistically: “they’d always pick out the darkest place in to the hold…”  The animal imagery again.;  Eerie undertone when discussing the sailors punishment and generally speaking his nonchalance is extremely eerie; I am disgusted by the ease the narrator has when he talks about dead babies or breaking animals forelegs and letting them drown.; Reading about the old woman made me think of dead animals, especially horses. I reread sentences several times without noticing. “Her legs drew up and she drew up from the waist and went quite rigid” seems very sexual to me as well.  I just keep thinking about animals when the narrator talks about people. There are so many people in this story and all they do is scream, have babies, die, and kill.; The first sentence set me on edge. I feel uneasy, but I want to read more.  I am shocked by the callousness with which the speaker reacted to the screaming people.  Abrupt shift in tone as the narrator the Turkish officer story. The shift is uncomfortable.  “...clearing them off the pier.” I can visualize that. It's disturbing.  The image of mules drowning. Very disturbing.; So much is missing, the reader is left with unsettled feeling.  For example, my own personal reading experience, in which I became confused and dissociated.; Dead babies. Really.  Ew.  It’s creepy.  Baggage animals? Oh, my god…That’s horrible; Motherhood in its most extreme – unable to bury a child.  Women giving birth compared to women with dead children – psychological link or comment on the weakness of women due to biology. Women having babies in the dark – animalistic, like dogs under porches.  The Greeks – needless killing of animals – possessions to be destroyed rather than to fall into the hands of the Turks.;  Grotesque but actually a little bit funny image of the dead woman suddenly going absolutely stiff. Like in an old cartoon.  Wow, that whole passage about women having babies is really, uh. Well, it certainly says some things about the speaker.  Poor mules.;  For me, a harbor or any body of water provides for a peaceful atmosphere however the narrator, though maintaining this serene atmosphere through his language, is describing very startling actions and events.;  The narrator says it’s all pleasant at the story’s end, and the manner in which he has just told you these things makes the pleasantness seem believable. It’s not pleasant, though, and it’s all quite horrible, which makes the story all the more haunting.; I had a hard time following what was happening because it changed so frequently, but at the same time the randomness seemed connected with an overall similar grim feeling tone . . . I was left feeling sad and empty. 

Rereading the Narrative--I read the first sentence twice because I liked it.  I read the “Then I told the Turk” paragraph twice, because I wasn’t really paying attention to it the first time. I had to read it a third time after I stopped to make note of my having to read it again because I had already forgotten what happened . . . After I read the paragraph for a third time, I stopped, because I was conscious of having to read it a third time and thought I should probably mark it down. I got distracted looking at the shape of some of the words in the top paragraph. I decided to start reading the entire thing over . . . I reread paragraph, thinking about speech patterns and sound.  The sound of the sentence being spoken (in my head) made sense to me and the lack of punctuation stopped bothering me. Prose poetry! Yay!  Went back and read it all again.; Second reading- reactions as they came--I begin looking further at the sentence style, format, and flow. Sarcasm in the paragraph with the Turk. Coherence disappears as the story ends.; rereading the paragraph that starts “They were all out there on the pier,” still thinking “whaaaa—?”  reread the beginning, then the end.  re-read small parts again; I flipped the page and turned it back to the first page as if looking for clarity of what just occurred in the book . . . reread first sentence and thought that the screams were from dead spirits

Seeking Patterns--Repetition of syntactical structure in first line and first line of 5th paragraph. The “case of the old lady” reads like a turning point. The indefinite pronouns erase individual identity. All are “he’s,” “They’s” “Old lady” “Old Turk” “The Greeks…” Only Kemal is named.;  I am wondering about the construction of the first sentence. He uses the same structure in the first sentence of the second full paragraph. The “he said” in the middle seems odd, especially in the beginning when it’s unclear who is speaking.; Started off by talking about the most strange thing and is moving on to the worst thing. Are the people screaming because the babies are being killed? Is this the connection between the strangest and the worst thing?; In each new paragraph I wonder who he is talking to. ‘You remember the harbor’: not addressing the reader, yet there doesn’t seem to be someone else he’s talking to. Perhaps he is in a state of insanity or delusion.;  The entire excerpt seems very matter of fact, fragmented, and almost premeditated. There isn’t a fluid chronology of the events, which makes me think the narrator is just recalling events that are still haunting him. The repetitive language causes the images to become engraved in my mind and give off a creepy, haunting vibe.;  The stark differences in the two stories remind me of overheard or competing conversations.  Throwing something over pregnant women in the hold; is this the account of a refugee evacuation?  Reference to “Greeks.” Are the screaming and dead babies the results of a Greek and Turkish dispute? The two nations have a history of conflict.; The ending seems surreal. The dead bodies floating in the water is a dreary image, so is the way in which the pregnant women are described. The narrator seems to describe bleak situations casually and positively - it seems so blatant it must be satyrical.;  Sort through the importance of animals and babies?; “come in to take off sounds” sexual; Are all the people on the pier Turks as well? How are they differentiating between the groups? If there is only a Turkish quarter, is the setting in a non-Turkish area, or in a very conquered one?

Trying to Achieve Closure, to Interpret Hemingway's Underlying or Ultimate Point in Writing "Quai"--Delves into the plight of those who must be the ones to terrorize, dehumanize, kill. What that does to a person is seen in the tone of the narrator.;   Juxtaposition of civility and inhumanity, human and animal, the horrific and the mundane. The story is crafted in a way that both undermines and heightens these oppositions. The narrator’s “my word yes a most pleasant business” seems incompatible with what precedes it. Likewise, the indefiniteness of who the narrator is, who “you” is, who anyone is, gives a sense of timelessness, as if this is a story that may have been and could be repeated regardless of specific circumstances, hinted to by the inclusion of Old Turk, Greek, the historical nature of the site itself.;  The narrator sounds bored (and certainly sarcastic) in my head when he says, “My word yes a most pleasant business,” like there is a level of brutality that a person can witness before they become completely unaffected by it (if they were ever affected by it in the first place.) Maybe it is this kind of brutality that Hemmingway aims to introduce us to in the rest of the novel and show us how a person can become so unaffected by it?; The narrator's lack of sympathy is striking. The casual tone used to describe horrific events is particularly disturbing. Suffering people and animals become nothing less than a story to be retold for the narrator. The references to Greeks and Turks and the conflicts the two nations have had in the past makes me believe the text is a reflection of Hemingway's war experiences.; Is this a metaphorical harbor?  Only instance of death and loss… loss of innocence?  Is it a metaphorical “battle"?  Overall sense of dissonance and confusion could relate to the war going on at that time.  This would make sense because of the references in the text, as well as the mentions of Greeks and Turks, and the repetition and instances of death.  This shows that only those who were really a part of World War I would understand and it is complex to try to explain this experience to another; Wind up?  Where in the world is this pier?  How many drugs is Hemingway on?; this is so Hemingway, dancing around the issues—any rational person would be asking “why are ‘they’ screaming?” and even more so, “why are ‘they’ dying?” but at the end of page one, Hemingway has answered neither. I remain rather mystified after reading the final few paragraphs about exactly what wartime situation this piece is describing.  trying to figure out why the narrator’s people have lots of pregnant women onboard the ship with them.  this narrator doesn’t sound so much shocked by war as titillated by it; Pleasant business – sarcasm or insanity.;  This reminds me very strongly of many first-hand accounts of battles and the aftermath of battles. After a certain point, the ability of the individual to experience or empathize with the suffering of others becomes simply overloaded, resulting in this kind of lucid, tragicomic account.  The speaker, I think, cannot care so little as he seems to, especially with the sarcastic bit at the end about the "nice Greeks". Wonder what he's hiding.;  The narrator’s experiences have dehumanized him. He is detached him from his emotions; the events he’s been subjected to at the harbor has washed them all away.; Overall I felt lost and I wanted more of an explanation. The confusion of the first page was successful in making me want to read more because I want answers and more background.

"Meta-Reading"--reading our readings--none so far this year!

Do you want to see what last year's class did when reading this story?