‘The End of Something’ by Ernest Hemingway

A boy. A girl. A lake, a boat. A conversation that doesn’t strike at the heart of the things that really matter, and then a single spoken phrase that brings everything crashing down. With just five short, devastating words, the boy destroys his relationship with the girl — spits on the affection she shows him — and the damage he inflicts is all the more brutal given how calmly he speaks to her. ‘The End of Something’ is a masterpiece of understatement, of reticence, and of compressed structure: everything that precedes those five words gives them an incredible charge, so that, despite their brevity, they send shockwaves through the entire story and bring the drama to a turning point. And that’s not all. After the girl leaves him, the boy comes to feel that he has done wrong, and he convinces himself that he can win her back. He makes plans to apologise, to return their relationship to the way it was before he spoke. But the story knows more than the boy does. Look at the title. It’s definite and final. There will be no new beginning. The words the boy can’t see — words that are given only to the reader — suggest the unwritten aftermath of the story, the unavoidable consequences of the words the boy chose to speak.

from In Our Time, Boni & Liveright 1925; reprinted in The First Forty-Nine Stories

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