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It Was All a Pleasant Business: The Historical Context of "On the Quai at Smyrna"

From: The Hemingway Review
Volume 23, Number 1, Fall 2003
pp. 58-71 | 10.1353/hem.2004.0014


"On the Quai at Smyrna" exemplifies Hemingway's skill in fictionalizing events he did not witness. The magnitude and particularities of the Smyrna catastrophe are now largely forgotten. Using his iceberg principle, Hemingway creates a remarkable but ultimately puzzling narrative voice. Laying open the story's diplomatic and military context and revealing the horrific events that the speaker witnessed helps to elucidate the speaker's frame of mind, his manner of speaking and the story's tone. The speaker's self-protective irony is generated by self-disgust resulting from an enforced and prolonged powerlessness in the face of inhumane behavior, itself the byproduct of duplicitous politics.

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