Some Things We Did This Year While Reading Hemingway's "On the Quai at Smyrna" (2013)
Reading Situation---These are the notes that I made in the margins of my text as I read “On the Quai at Smyrna.” ; I settle in and put on my headphones to drown out my roommate skyping with her friend and the incessant banging occurring in the next hallway. I get distracted by the peppy song that shuffles up first and spend 10 minutes trying to find a song that jives with Hemingway. Nothing jives with Hemingway.; I wrote out my reading protocol on notebook paper because I have issues with technology and word, so I will transcribe it here with as little post reading commentary as possible.
wonder what a “quai” is. Google says it’s “a structure built parallel to the
bank of a waterway for use as a landing place.” I spend a couple minutes looking
at pictures to determine whether it is synonymous with “dock” or not, and then I
wonder if this is about Smyrna, Tennessee, which I have never been to but have
been through many times, since I live in Clarksville.; I don’t think this is
about Smyrna, Tennessee.; First look up in the Oxford English
Dictionary the words quai and Smyrna to better understand the text and to help
me go into it with a clear and basic understanding of what I may expect the
story to be about or at the very least the setting of the story. I know that
Smyrna is the name of a town, but I also know there are multiple towns with the
same name so I need to narrow it down. I have never seen the word quai before so
must look it up for a basic understanding. "Quai: structure built parallel
to the bank of a waterway for docking"; The title isn’t the easiest to
understand outright. “Quai” means dock, pier/Smryna (modern day Izmir,Turkey) on
the Aegean Coast; When I began reading, I just went ahead and assumed that
Smyrna was a asian city. I don't know what led me to think this or why I blindly
accepted my own assumption. Having known what Smyrna was from the beginning
would have helped me immensely. I also can't remember if I also assumed that a
quai was a bank or harbor, or if I picked it up so early in the reading that my
realization was overlooked.; The title doesn’t give us any information unless we
look it up. A “quai” is a structure on the shore of a harbor. “Smyrna” is
an ancient city on the coast of the Asia Minor. We can infer some kind of naval
Contextless, Discontinuous Narrative--I notice immediately that the construction of the first sentence is atypical (not very familiar with Hemingway, I think: Ah, so this is that quirky style that’s so famous!).; The second-to-last paragraph confounds me. After the battle scene of the previous paragraph I can’t understand what kind of mind then would tug toward “There were plenty of nice things floating around in it. That was the only time in my life I got so I dreamed about things.” ; Who is “they”? The people who scream every night? Also, who is “he”? - “They stopped it.” vague sentence structure, purposeful use of pronouns. Who are they? Is ‘it’ the screaming?; Sentence at the end of first paragraph begins in the middle of the conversation, no context.; Not a whole lot of setting; The first thing I notice is the lack of quotations marks for direct speech. This has the effect of me not realizing that I’m reading a line of dialogue until I’m halfway through the first sentence.; Is there only one Turk? How could batteries have blown them out of the water? Suddenly realizing batteries might be artillery batteries because Hemingway.; Interesting use of commas (“The strange thing was, he said, how…”) And who is “he” in this sentence?; Why are the babies dying? Illness, lack of nutrition, are they being killed? Who is the speaker talking about when he says “they were all out there on the pier…”? The same people screaming at midnight? Earthquake--Is the “old Turk” bombing his own people?; The first thing I noticed was the lack of quotation marks, and the fact that although the story began with dialogue, it was only distinguished by a "he said" thrown in the middle of the sentence. Figured that this was in third person, but tense switches to first person in the second paragraph. Who are the people screaming? What connections does the Turkish officer have to the natives? "And just in case..." what does that mean? There is no context to this statement. I don't even remember the soldier in the wrong showing up. The speaker is jumping through time here, which makes his already vague characters even more difficult to keep track of.; Slowly the reader is informed, but left purposefully in the dark. No information about the time setting of the story is given outright. There are only hints that may point to a time period.
Seeking Context in Memory, Other Works by Hemingway, Other Authors, Wikipedia?--The at that time at the end of the second sentence also strikes me. It grates with my feelings about the way writing ought not to waste space. Why say at that time when the first sentence already ended in the more specific at midnight? It seems redundant, but in the back of mind I challenge Hemingway to justify this author’s voice. Again I wonder what tricks he is up to with his laconic style, and have doubts. The third sentence, a first sentence all over again, with its own at midnight, confirms them.; Very little background, characterization, Hemmingway is very sparing with what he lets us know Language purposefully vague “nice things, I dreamed about things”; Hemingway (b. 1899-d.1961)--is this story based on WWI events? “Kemal came down…” Looked it up online and I think Kemal in this story is Kemal Atatürk (b.1881-d.1938), the first president of the Republic of Turkey.; A lot of military shorthand is used, “blown us clean out of the water”, “shell the Turkish quarter.” It is hard to say what war is taking place, but it was most likely a war that took place during Hemingway’s lifetime.
Noticing Authorial Style and Unusual Format-- The he said interrupts the flow of the sentence, which would normally move cleanly from was to how without stopping. As written the text becomes jauntier, more informal, and more surprising, as if, occurring at the beginning of the story, all the rest unhinges, too.; Later, I love the way Hemingway puts his “simply” in an unusual but sweet-sounding spot: “They would have blown us out of the water but we would have blown the town simply to hell.” I hand some credit back to him for this. But again I dislike the unusual arrangement of the sentence, “It would have been the hell of a mess.” I wonder if I’m focusing too much on syntax, and whether Hemingway has got the better of me.; Lots of repetition of the words “screaming,” “they/them” “midnight,” etc. - Simple sentence construction and verbiage—noticeably simple; Short fragments used for emphasis, ex, “Oh most rigorously.”; Hemingway then draws me in by posing a question: why are they screaming? For the reader, this is perhaps secondary to the question, “who is ‘they?’” Hemingway uses the opportunity thus created to set the scene and start at the beginning of the story. He could simply have begun at the end of the first paragraph, and told the story in chronological order, but the loss of intrigue would result in a much less captivating story.; I do a quick reading of the piece and note anything that immediately stands out to me. The first thing I notice is the odd capitalization of the words “THE STRANGE…”(Hemmingway 1). ; Hemingway’s word choice is very particular in “We’d run the searchlight up and down over them two or three times and they stopped it.” He could have written “...and they’d stop.” The third paragraph begins in a similar way to the first paragraph, that is the commas are present again in the “he said” clause. ; “She was quite dead and absolutely rigid.” In this sentence Hemingway is using specific words to convey finality and authority--similar to how he uses “most”.; The sentences here are very rigidly structured. It feels almost like they are relaying steps- first we did this and then this, etc. Like the sentences are describing a procedure.; Returns to the same stepping stool sentence structure from before, mirrored in two sentence, both of which place emphasis on the stiffness of the woman rather than her death. Hemingway seems to be grouping certain sentence structures together.; The first sentence is very broken up by commas. Hemingway uses more words than necessary; he is generous in sentences, expressing more than one event in one sentence. He leaves out punctuation. “We were in the harbor and they were all on the pier and at midnight they started screaming.”
Finding Certain Words Oddly Significant--I am startled by suddenly being addressed, “you,” in the first full paragraph of the second page, and consider whether the whole time the speaker has been addressing a fellow sailor.; Repeating the word “scream*” in each of the first three sentences kind of chafes. Again, he’s repeating “searchlight.” It’s bothering me.; Three uses of “most” in a row. Was Hemingway famous while he was alive? Is that why his editor let that slide?; The second things I notice are the repetition of the word screamed and screaming within the first three sentences. The screaming seems to upon first reading possibly be referring to the women who are giving birth to both living and dead babies on the pier as mentioned in paragraph 2 and the second to last paragraph.; With this theme in mind the Turkish soldier seems unimportant, however he himself goes through a change in his life when he is killed (in this case I determined sacked to mean killed).; “Most” is used repeatedly throughout this paragraph (4 times)/it comes across as being sarcastic, as if the speaker is making fun of the Turkish officer for using “most” in his complaint against the sailor. “Most” is used a total of seven times on the first page. Does “litter” mean stretcher in this context? Is there a play on words happening in this sentence? ; I would imagine that the searchlight would have the opposite effect that it does; it seems to calm, but i feel like it would scare. Also, because of their access to a searchlight I assume the speaker and the other character are authority position. The shortness of the language leads me to believe that perhaps they are soldiers of some sort? Which would make the screaming people natives of Smyrna, most likely.; "Clearing" as though dead bodies are trash on the street. There's even people watching like this is a normal thing. What does "wind up" mean?- this finally triggers me to look up Smyrna and learn the historical and regional context of the occurrence. Screams earlier from tortured refugees perhaps? The Turkish regained control and then wouldn't let them use the port anymore so perhaps they're controlling them? Kemal is the first actual name mentioned, but we still have no character necessarily to connect him to.
Wanting to Know the Narrator--The narrator, so quick to capitulate with the Turkish officer even though he doubts his own sailor has said anything insulting, is like me, happy to avoid conflict. I like him. I like the way he leaves off a second half to his sentence, “ ‘And just in case you should have spoken to any Turkish officers’,” a half-meant suggestion, since he knows the sailor also has left himself out.; The narrator is faced with a problem: how can he avoid wronging the gunners-mate, who has in all likely-hood been falsely accused, and still satisfy his accuser. The fact that the narrator does not actually punish the sailor, but only creates the appearance of doing so, wins him the reader’s sympathy.; I also notice that this piece is written like it is addressing a very specific but unnamed person known by the speaker. I also notice that the speaker changes topics very abruptly and they often do not connect, or at least seem not to at first glance, to the paragraphs before it. I also look for any reoccurring or important characters or objects.; The speaker is very knowledgeable about other cultures, is interacting with a Turkish male, and is currently docked meaning at some point he was at sea. ; The language is somewhat formal or severe. For example, “He felt topping about it. Great friends we were.”; The speaker has just said that they are “clearing” the pier, perhaps “litter” could also mean trash? And if so, is the woman considered part of that trash? The first sentence of the second to the last paragraph is similar to the third sentence in the paragraph above it, except it’s not posed as a question. I think the speaker has switched who he is talking to...I think he is addressing himself now.; Perhaps the speaker speaks that way because he's not well educated, or maybe he's just tough. "One time I was a senior officer" makes it sound like he was only a senior officer for one instance. Also, I was right about the connections to some sort of military. Starts a lot of sentences with "So" which makes this seem almost conversational, like he's telling this story in a bar or something. I don't know why a bar seems right, but there's something I can't put my finger on that makes me feel like this is a situation he would need to be drunk to talk about. Alcohol could also account for some of the odd sentence structures too.; We know immediately that the speaker is inside of the story. He is primary character, in this segment at least.; - Narrator often leaves the subject out of his sentence structure, “”Wouldn’t give them up. Nothing you could do about it. Had to take them away finally”. The effect of this is very conversational, very informal
Wanting to Know if the Narrator Was Trustworthy, Sick, Funny Ironic, etc.--By contrast, the Turk, who has already alienated the reader by making an accusation of tenuous credibility, continues to do so by delving into an incredibly grotesque story. The fact that he speaks of rotting babies so casually suggests that he lacks empathy and morality. The Turk also mentions twice that the story is totally implausible. This doesn’t endear him to us. This foreshadows the next paragraph where we learn that he is also unreliable, his behavior often erratic.; The speaker seems to address death (the killing of the Turkish soldiers, the death of children, and the things floating in the river, and the breaking the legs of animals and drowning them) with ease, almost as they are used to it. The speaker seems to think parting from this world is a sweet and pleasant business. This attitude towards death may be attributed to experience in war. The speaker has seen things that have numbed he or she to the pain of death as well as helped them reconcile with the reality of it.; “You didn’t mind the women who were having babies as you did those with the dead ones.” Who are the fathers? “Surprising how few of them died.” This almost sounds as if the speaker was disappointed that the babies lived.; "You'd best go on board..." such a mild phrasing to the soldier. In the next paragraph though, he says the soldier will "be most severely dealt with." He's trying to deceive or manipulate one of these people. Towards the "Turk" later I even sense a little sarcasm... Oh most rigorously. Great friends we were- passive voice there even helps to contribute. On the other hand, perhaps he's musing on the past. He is definitely facing this horrible topic almost nonchalantly through these fragmented sentences, though not without the echoes of sadness. Perhaps he's just been desensitized and found some sort of normalcy. He almost uses the same careful language here ("take them away") as he does when telling the man to get on the boat, like he's trying to dance around these horrors.; - Narrator has a nonchalance that is immediately recognizable to the reader who is used to sensitive narration. The reader doesn’t trust the speaker. His tone doesn’t fit the severe, often violent topics he is covering. “The worst, he said, were the women with the dead babies”. The narrator seemingly lacks any understanding of why would have difficulty giving up there dead babies
Affective (emotional) / Imagined Responses--animal imagery; Fifth paragraph repetition of shocking phrase “dead babies”; when the narrator remarks on the nature of the scene with idle sarcasm, this conveys to the reader that he is not particularly upset by the episodes, something that makes them all the more disturbing to us.; I got to the dead babies part and had to start over because the sudden transition confused me. Rereading did not help it be less jarring. I’m getting irrationally angry at his editor.; Dead babies, dead babies, babies dead. I’m approaching furious. Animal abuse out of nowhere throwing me off again. What is this piece about?; Dead babies? Ah, he so casually mentions that. Second person used differently from before... feels more direct, more personal, like he is placing the reader next to him in this scene. It is shocking to be implicated like that. Again, put reader in the scene. Puts the horror there on the reader. But chooses to describe the "nice things" floating in the harbor before the horrors around them. It is a strange hierarchy.; - The characterization of women is burdensome. “You didn’t mind the women who were having babies as you did those with the dead ones”. Why are all of these women pregnant? Is it because they have been raped by soldiers?
Rereading the Narrative / Doubting the Narrative--You? What? Is this a letter to someone? I’m going to have to read this a couple times, aren’t I? I just read it again twice without stopping to type and I still don’t understand. Who were screaming? Where is this? What is the narrator doing? Is he part of the military? Is this like a war base in Turkey? But the Turkish and the narrator’s group are working together? Why do the women have dead babies? Who is “you”? Why are there suddenly Greeks as well and why are they drowning their mules? Why are they evacuating? What is the context?;
Seeking Patterns--With the paragraph beginning the second section (“The worst, he said, was…”), I start to see the story as a montage of unrelated scenes. What theme links them? Is it a depiction of war, and how, viewed through the eyes of a mild-mannered officer, some of it has leaked grotesquely into this harbor?; I have an idea: it’s this juxtaposition of careless musing next to the gory details and haunting images of war that is the story’s point.; I’ve noticed that I think a lot about the use of literary terms like repetition, setting, POV, etc, and also a lot about what the author chooses to let us know and what he leaves up to the reader. At least for this short piece, it’s my interpretation that the ambiguous nature of the language is the point, or a large part of it. ; After the first reading I try to identify the overall theme from the piece. From my first reading there seems to be a theme of travel as well as different types of human interaction. The speaker spends a good amount of time dedicated to how different cultures of people and the addressed handled death.; It seems that there is a significant division between the harbor and the pier. Are the people on the pier screaming for help?; Greeks/Turks--Greeks/Trojans--allusion to Homer? Coincidence? ; - Both first paragraph and second begin with the same sentence structure and reference to “he”. The reader has no idea who this is. Vagueness is so relevant, it is almost a theme. Mystery. Secrecy. The reader doesn’t know what all of these people are doing on the quai. The reader doesn’t know why the babies and the old women are dying. There is a theme of getting off the pier. What is the importance of getting off the pier? Does it mean safety?
Trying to Achieve Closure, to Interpret Hemingway's Underlying or Ultimate Point in Writing "Quai"--I also think it’s important to mention that when I look at a text I will often think of other literature it reminds me of. I don’t often seek out styles of writing like Hemmingway’s, so I didn’t have a lot of exposure to similar writing for this piece. ; The last paragraph describes another gruesome scene, reinforcing a dominant theme of the piece: unpleasantness and the macabre. Multiple anecdotes in the piece convey this theme, ; Is this going to get racist? I set it aside for a while and read it again, and I think Hemingway kept everything as vague as possible on purpose. Maybe it’s a statement on how confusing war is or maybe the questions are answered in one of the later stories.; The piece seems to be hinting at both life and death, specifically paragraph two. This paragraph focuses on both birth and death simultaneously, as the children are dead upon birth. Create a clear and final interpretive analysis. The pleasant business being referred to is the business of life and ultimately death.; The final paragraph is written in a very nonchalant manner, it sort of reflects the overall tone of the entire story, there is an apathetic response to tragedy and death. And what’s horrible is the treatment of the animals, think of how many animals drowned in the water. The same mules that carried equipment were then maimed and left to die a slow death.; And then he ends it by saying it was pleasant, watching the mules owners break their legs and push them in the water (the "nice things"?). A really jarring note to end it on. I think the pleasant language parts can be seen as either a removal from the scene or as dark sarcasm, depending on the amount of cynicism one reads this with.; In the last paragraph, the reader becomes aware of how desensitized the speaker is. He has seen so much death and tragedy that he is completely apathetic about it at the time of this story
"Meta-Reading"--reading our readings--What a faithless critic I am.; Now I’m trapped in my observation, and helplessly apply it to the story. But I can’t be deluding myself—the last paragraph is too perfect!: the image of the Greeks, “nice chaps,” the way they “just broke their [baggage animals’] forelegs and dumped them into the shallow water,” and the last two sentences when the narrator declares his work at the quai “a pleasant business. My word yes a most pleasant business.”; Where necessary, I’ve added in phrases that were underlined in the text. ; I read the story another time; however find the abruptness in the change of paragraphs, characters, and events hard to connect. The piece reads like a reflection or a conversation, which makes it hard for me to interpret what the author is trying to say. Because I am having a hard time discerning theme due to the style of this piece I focus on the paragraphs I found the clearest and try to interpret them. I believe the first paragraph, the second paragraph, and the fourth paragraphs are all connected. I believe the screaming heard on the piers is in fact the women giving birth. I also believe the second half of the first paragraph and the third paragraph are connected by the Turkish officer. Now that I have connected certain paragraphs together I can reread to try and make a better interpretation and look for anything I may have missed in the first two readings. I reread the story much closer now. As I read I try to find answers to the original things I noticed. After I have read a second time I make a mental list of questions about new things I have noticed. For this piece my questions surrounded the certain repetition of words and phrases. In both the first paragraph and the second certain words are repeated. I also find myself drawn to and confused by the business that is being referred to in the closing sentence..
Do you want to see what last year's class did when reading this story?