Nick Adams is the name that Hemingway gave to the fictional persona, largely autobiographical, whom he often wrote about. Like Hemingway himself, Nick is the son of a doctor ("The Indian Camp"; "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife"); he relishes fishing and hunting in the northern peninsula of Michigan ("Big Two-Hearted River"). He romances a young girl named Marjorie, a summer waitress at a summer resort ("The End of Something"; "The Three-Day Blow"). He goes abroad during World War I and serves as an American Red Cross ambulance driver; he also is a courier, carrying chocolates and cigarettes to Italian soldiers on the Austro-Italian battlefront. And, like Hemingway, Nick suffers a knee wound ("In Another Country"). Unlike Hemingway, however, Nick suffered post-traumatic shock; his mind periodically seems to come unhinged ("A Way You'll Never Be").
In all, Hemingway wrote at least a dozen stories that center around Nick Adams, and in 1972, Scribner's published a volume entitled The Nick Adams Stories.
In each of the Nick Adams stories, Nick witnesses — or is a part of — some traumatic event, and Hemingway reveals Nick's reaction to that event. For example, in "Indian Camp," Hemingway focuses on Nick's reaction to a young American Indian man's slitting his throat from ear to ear after listening to his young wife scream for two days and then scream even more during Dr. Adams' cesarean that delivers a baby boy. In "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife," Nick's blind hero-worship of his father is contrasted with our knowledge that Nick's father has a fraudulent aspect to his character. "The End of Something" and "The Three-Day Blow" revolve around Nick's breaking off with his girlfriend, Marjorie. Nick is not entirely happy with himself afterward; Nick's friend Bill prodded him to break up with her, and, finally, Nick secretly rejoices that he need not be as thoroughly against marriage as Bill is: Romance and women can still be tantalizing; they need not be shackles on a man's future success.
Nick's stay in Summit, Illinois, in "The Killers" ends when he is forced to witness a former prizefighter calmly await certain death by two hired killers. When Nick was a boy, he vowed never to be afraid of death, never to be like the young American Indian husband who "couldn't stand" life's demands. Yet here, Nick leaves Summit. He can't stand to remain in a town where a man lacks the courage to do battle with death — even certain death.
"Big Two-Hearted River" follows Nick after he returns to Michigan from the Italian front during World War I. He takes a train to the upper peninsula and hikes to a stream where he will camp and fish and be alone, where he will slowly perform the rote motions of self-sustaining chores, peeling away the trauma and the scars from his ragged, wounded spirit and newly empowering himself with the healing powers of nature's rituals.