Thoughts on “On The Quai at Smyrna”

“On The Quai at Smyrna” is an unusual short story by Ernest Hemingway. It is about 1-page in length, but it is hardly a story at all. Instead, it is a stream-of-consciousness collage of images from Smyrna around 1922 in the immediate wake of the Greco-Turkish War. The Greco-Turkish War was a proxy war that followed the break-up of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. It was a savage and bloody war that initially instigated by Greece against Turkey, but the Turkish Nationalists very nearly committed genocide against Anatolian Greek Christians, like the Armenians.

In 1922, Ernest Hemingway was a novice reporter for the Toronto Daily Star. He was sent to Constantinople to report on the tens of thousands of fleeing refugees. His wife, Hadley, strongly opposed Ernest’s trip abroad to report on the war.

The story is narrated by an anonymous soldier who makes note of the fleeing refugees, dying children, their mothers, dying animals, and other general chaos. These scenes are contrasted with a harsh leader only known to us as “The Turk.” All of this destruction is referred to as “pleasant business.” The disorienting content of the text helps to create a confusing atmosphere where character names and the setting of the story are obfuscated.

A quai is a French word for a dock, and the significance of Smyrna cannot be understated as a Greek city in Western Turkey dating back to antiquity.

Hemingway, Ernest. The Short Stories. New York, Scribner, 1955.

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