Only two Americans are in the hotel. Their room faces the sea, a public garden, and a war monument. Many Italians come from far away to see the monument. That day, it is raining, and the American wife is looking out the window. She sees a cat under a table that is trying to keep dry. She tells her husband that she is going to get it. He tells her not to get wet. Downstairs, she is greeted by the hotel operator, whose seriousness and willingness to please she adores. When she goes outside, he sends a maid after her with an umbrella. She does not find the cat. She goes back upstairs feeling sad. She asks her husband if she should grow her hair out. He says that he likes it the way that it is. She decides that she wants a bun at the back of her neck, and a cat to stroke, and a table with her own silver, and some new clothing. He tells her to shut up and to find a book to read. She says that she still wants a cat. Just then, someone knocks at the door. It is the maid. She has brought up a cat, at the request of the hotel operator.
The American wife expresses a desire for many things in this story. She tells her husband that if she cannot have any fun, then she might as well have things that she wants. In other words, this desire for material goods comes from an inability to acquire intangible goods such as fun and affection. This lack of intimacy is not entirely her husband's fault, of course. She also ignores his compliments.
This American way, desiring material objects and becoming bored, is contrasted with an Italian way of vacationing. The Italians arrive in the same location to see the war memorial and honor the war dead. They are more involved in the ideas of the place than in owning things from it. In addition, it is a more communal way of living, to honor the sacrifices of others, rather than to stay inside and read.
Sparknotes' commentary for On the Quai at Smyrna seems to have quite a few historical errors. The commentary states that the narrator is likely talking about the Greek evacuation of Thrace, but the title is On the Quai at Smyrna. Smyrna is a city in modern-day Turkey (now called Izmir). The Christian (mainly Greek and Armenian) part of Smyrna was burned in 1922 after the Turks recaptured the city from the Greeks. Hemingway was actually in Turkey just after the Great Fire to cover the Greco-Turkish War as a correspondent for the Toronto Star.... Read more→
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I think it is difficult to talk about this short story without acknowledging the use of literary minimalism. Several pieces of information are left out of the text but most readers come to the conclusion that Mrs. Elliot is a lesbian. Her marriage to Hubert is one of convenience, and her desire to have a baby is, arguably, to prove that she is not Lesbian (or just so that she can live in the current society without being judged).