Although Hemingway’s spare writing style does not make use of overt metaphors and imagery, he does present nature in a meaningful, metaphorical way, especially in the Nick Adam’s stories. Nature is first and foremost a place of unvarnished truth in In Our Time. In her seasons, Nature exhibits the cycle of life and death that every living creature, even Nick Adams, experiences. From the time he witnesses the birth of a baby and the death of a man in the same night (“Indian Camp”), Nick understands that death is a part of life. His childish mind, however, denies that he will ever die, a notion that going to war dispels. When Nick returns in the Big Two-Hearted River stories at the end of the book, he understands life and death in a more mature way, as inevitable. However, in nature he is able to forget the hot battlefield deaths brought about by human hatred. In nature, life and death are both inevitable and beautiful. Death, in the form of the trout he catches and then skins to eat, has to occur to nourish the earth—it is a part of the natural balance that Nick seeks to heal himself. The trout, too, is meaningful to Nick because it lives in the strong currents of the river, but it keeps its balance in those currents. Nick has come to the river to restore balance in himself after being buffeted by the currents of war; like the trout he so admires, he knows he will keep his balance.
Many of the stories of In Our Time work together to produce an overall image of American masculinity. The Nick Adams stories make clear that a man should first and foremost not fear death. Nick’s father, as a doctor, treats death as a matter of course, but Nick learns about fear of dying in the war. Harold Krebs in “Soldier’s Home” feels the need to talk about surviving death—yet no one wants to hear about that. Instead, they expect him to get on with life, with working and marrying and other normal pursuits, as if he never faced death with fear at all. Certain friends of Nick’s, such as Bill and George, seem to believe that loving a woman is a kind of death to be avoided; the antidote to such a death is living large in nature, hunting and fishing and facing the elements. The marriage stories, such as “Out of Season” and “Cat in the Rain,” show men clinging to masculine pursuits and language, unable to see or feel the needs of the women around them. The wife in “Cat in the Rain,” for example, so longs for companionship and nurturing love that she tries to find these things by rescuing a stray cat, while her husband lounged on the bed, reading and ignoring her. The matadors in the various bullfighting stories, the jockeys in “My Old Man,” and the old fighter in “The Battler” all demonstrate the masculine need to prove bravery by facing blood and violence for a living. Some do so sincerely, like Villalta in Chapter XII; some do so numbly, like Luis the drunken matador in Chapter XIII. The crowds in these stories appear fascinated by the spectacle of death; in a sense, the matadors are scapegoats for their own fear of death. Other characters, such as the soldier in “On the Quai at Smyrna” have become numb to death, for it is all around them in the miseries of evacuees and the fallen soldiers of the war.