Short Stories

Short Stories:

1. Discuss point of view in Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.” How do we learn of the characters and their conflict? How is setting revealed? What do you make of the ending? Is there resolution? How do you know?

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“Hills like White Elephants” is full of dialogues and is therefore somewhat similar to a one-act play. There are just a few sentences that describe the movement of the characters and the story’s setting. The story has only two characters who speak – Jig and the American, an expatriate couple who are apparently unmarried. While the American tries to persuade his girlfriend, Jig, to agree to have an abortion, Jig resists.

The setting is placed on the train station. The two lines of track becomes a metaphor for the transient togetherness of the couple and how they are at a critical juncture in their lives.  On one side of the station is a fertile landscape with fields of grain, a river, and trees and on the other side there is dry and empty land. This setting symbolizes the lively possibilities that a baby can bring this couple and the empty barrenness indicates the barrenness of their life if they choose to go through with the abortion (Tyler, 76). Through the setting, Hemingway is suggesting that the baby would be a gift as well as a burden, a possibility that the American is unwilling or unable to recognize

The ending is left for the readers to speculate. Towards the end, Jig says “Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?”  This seems to be a turning point in her mind. She does not want any more persuasion. She has made up her mind. The American’s silent observation that the other people in the station “were all waiting reasonably for the train” suggests that he is contrasting them with his tiresome traveling companion, who seems to him completely unreasonable (Wagner-Martin, 92). Jig’s final insistence that there is nothing wrong with her and that she feels perfectly fine indicates that she in turn places the blame for their argument squarely on his unreasonableness (Tyler, 77). The characters seem as much at odds with each other as ever. The conflict remains unresolved.

2. Discuss the conjoined representation of women and nature in “A White Heron.”

Sarah Orne Jewett’s “A White Heron” (1886) tells the story of Sylvia, a young girl who is most comfortable living in natural surroundings amid the wild animals and the forest and her brush with a “charming” and “handsome stranger” who is an amateur ornithologist searching for a rare white heron. There is a brief magic moment when she gets to see the white heron in close proximity. She is totally mesmerized and though her grandmother and hunter probe her for details, she then decides to protect the heron for she “cannot speak; she cannot tell the heron’s secret and give its life away” (239).

Sylvia represents an innocent, aspiring girl, who is newly awakened to sexuality. She becomes sexually attracted to a charming young man (Roman, 200).  The scientist-hunter represents a man’s egotism and arrogance with respect to nature. Sylvia’s ominous relation to the hunter allegorizes the predicament of young women in Jewett’s culture. Though girls desire to transcend their sexual desires they find themselves trapped in often destructive relationships with men due to the prevalent culture. Sylvia has escaped the oppression of a manufacturing town, has gotten free of a “great red-faced boy who used to chase and frighten her” (229). In the rural setup she dreams of transcendence with the young man. By showing the hunter as destructive in a subtle and scientific manner, Jewett’s tale warns of the dangers in a man-woman relationship. The magic moment that Sylvia experienced was one of flight of the heron indicative of possible freedom (Church, 21). In her affiliation with the bird Sylvia finds a form of transcendence that enables her to delay and perhaps avoid self-loss in man’s world.

Understood from another angle, “A White Heron” dramatizes a girl’s experience of an inner ego-division into female and male components. While the feminine part of her is in decline, the ego is in the ascendancy (Church, 21). Sylvia’s turning from the hunter to the white heron symbolizes the success of her absolute feminine nature over the fatal attraction of her masculine ego (Roman, 201). The mounting of the great pine and affiliating with the white heron, symbolically represent her sensual body and its autoerotic implications (Church, 21).

3. How does Wright maintain a duel perspective of both naivete and sophistication in “The Man Who Was Almost a Man”? He uses an outside narrator AND the dialect of the characters to reinforce his theme.

The Man Who Was Almost a Man focuses on the gun issue. A teenage boy buys a gun his father does not want him to have. The gun is a symbol of manhood. 17 year old Dave accidentally shoots and kills Mr. Hawkins’s mule, Jenny. He now owes Mr. Hawkins $50 for a dead mule. Early in the morning, Dave retrieves his gun from where he had buried it and fires the four remaining cartridges.  Later, he jumps a freight train headed north certain he is bound for manhood.

Dave is at the tender age of 17. Initially, he desires a gun because he feels that would allow the boys to treat him with more respect. He wants to be treated as an adult and desires respect. However, the child in him is much evident in his behavior as he confesses to his mother that he wants two dollars to buy a gun. His concept of manhood is having a gun. He rushes out like a child when he gets the money. He is tremendously excited to even touch the gun and the cartridges. He waits for a suitable time to try it. All of these feelings show that Dave is still a child at heart (Felgar, 93).

Throughout the narration of the story, Wright uses two kinds of language. As a third person narrator, the author uses sophisticated standard language (Wheeler 172). But when he expresses the thoughts of Dave he becomes a first person narrator and switches to the native dialect – that is normally used by Dave in common speech. Consider the passage: “But he had to tell something. Yeah, Ah’ll tell em Jenny started gittin wil n fell on the joint of the plow…. But that would hardly happen to a mule. He walked across the field slowly, head down”. This gives a feeling of self-dialogue from the point of view of Dave. The self-dialogue could be within the man inside him and the child inside him.

While the sophisticated language reflects mature perspective, the native dialect is a symbol of illiteracy, childish innocence, immaturity and tremendous self-belief (Wheeler).  This duel perspective of both naivete and sophistication emphasizes the dilemma that Dave undergoes. He is not a boy and definitely not an adult like his dad. While the sophisticated language offers a neutral adult perspective on the situation, the native dialect reflects an immature, unpolished and childish nature within Dave. After firing a shot, he feels a lot of pain in his hand: “He stood up and stared at the gun as though it were a living thing. He gritted his teeth and kicked the gun. Yuh almos broke mah arm!” This brings out the duality in him very well. Gritting and kicking are mostly adult behavior but the words are addressed to the gun.

4. Discuss the symbolism of the path in `Dead Men`s Path` AND the symbolism of flowers in “Chrysanthemums.”

“Dead Men’s Path”, revolves around the main protagonist Michael Obi who is the newly appointed headmaster of Ndume Central School in 1949. Working towards increasing the quality of teaching and making the school’s grounds more attractive, he plans to block a local village footpath that runs across his newly planted flowers and hedge. The local priest warns Obi that footpath leads to the traditional burying ground and it’s considered a very important path for the ancestors and to-be-born children. The death of a young village woman at childbirth is attributed to the blocking of the path. This leads to a mass frenzy and the hedges, flowers and one school building are destroyed. The visiting white supervisor reports in a magnified manner: “a tribal-war situation” exists. The path is this story represents the inherited past (Baloganl, 88). The story does not take sides but reports on two sides of viewing this past. The inherited past can be seen in a positive light – respecting the path of the elders and carrying it into the future generations. The same inherited past can be viewed as a block to progress in society.  The symbolism of the path in Dead Man’s Path is more suggestive rather than explicit.

John Steinback’s short story “The Chrysanthemums” revolves around Elisa Allen, a middle aged housewife, who is skilled in gardening and especially skilled at raising chrysanthemums. Steinbeck uses the chrysanthemums to symbolize Elisa’s thoughts and ideas of her inner self. Elisa channels her unfulfilled maternal instincts into her garden and in this context, the chrysanthemums symbolize Elisa’s children (Hayashi, 7). The chrysanthemums also symbolize Elisa’s femininity and sexuality. Just like the flowers, Elisa’s feminity and sexuality bloom with a little care in the form of appreciation. So when tinker admires the flowers, she feels admired and valued. It makes her tear off her battered hat and shake out her dark pretty hair (60-65). Passionately aroused, she even prepares for her night out with her husband full of hope for a better, more exciting life. By dressing slowly in front of the mirror and admiring her body Elisa is also admiring her femininity (Hayashi, 8). However, when she sees her sprouts discarded in the middle of the road – the symbolic act devastates her and leaves her with no hope. She realizes that her life is not going to change, and that her femininity and sexuality are never going to be fully appreciated nor understood by Henry. Like the flowers, nurtured with care and protection, yet thrown away in the road, her feminity will also be ultimately wasted when entrusted to the hands of one who does not realize its value (Hayashi, 8).  The symbolisms of chrysanthemums add to the intensity and pathos in the story “The Chrysanthemums”.

5. Compare/ contrast the marriage in “Shiloh” to another marriage or relationship in “A Rose for Emily”

Barbara Ann Mason’s “Shiloh” revolves around a couple caught up in a troubled marriage.  Much to the confusion of Leroy, her disabled trucker husband, Norma Jean has moved beyond the domestic sphere of marriage. Leroy keeps herself busy by embarking on a self-improvement and fitness regime. She is working out with weights, eating Body Buddy cereal, and taking writing courses at the community college. Leroy meanwhile stays home watching television, smoking marijuana, and busying himself with string art and macramé. The couple is also silently suffering the demise of their infant son. The repressed grief acts as a barrier between them and finally rips them apart. At the end of the story, when the couple visits the Shiloh battlefield, the site of one of the bloodiest battles in the Civil War, Norma Jean tells Leroy of her decision to leave the marriage. Leroy watches her walk toward the bluff of the Tennessee River, waving her arms. The implication, as the story ends, is that Norma Jean is about to leap over the embankment into the river to kill herself.

William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily” portrays the idea that the way society perceives its ‘star people’ can be both powerful and destructive. Miss Emily Grierson is the socialite of her town who was both admired and highly isolated during the time when her father lived. After her father died, Emily felt free. In Homer Barron a laborer from the north, Emily founded love – a love that shocked the town. As time passed the people understood that Emily was happy in this relationship, yet they awaited the day Homer would abandon her. When he disappeared, the townspeople believe he has simply walked out on Emily, but the truth is revealed after her death when they find his body in an upstairs bedroom (Corbett et al, 63). Evidence at the scene suggests that Emily had, on occasions, slept with the corpse. The expectations of society had weighed down on Emily to commit such macabre acts (Corbett et al, 63).

There are a few similarities between “Shiloh” and “A Rose for Emily” – an intimate relationship between two people can be marred by a personal losses and the expectations society imposes on people. In Shiloh, the couple is grieving over the loss of their only son. In ‘A Rose for Emily’, Emily is grieving the loss of her father. The grief makes the people incapable of coming close to each other. In ‘Shiloh’ Leroy and Norma Jean Moffitt, are working-class people living in the modern south and hence there are societal pressures of how they should live. Norma though seemingly matured and independent on the exterior is sometimes shown as a vulnerable person. The fact that her mother’s disapproval of her smoking hurts her deeply shows she is a little girl seeking approval (Hal Blythe, 1). Likewise Emily in the other story tries to live up to the image society has for her without actually thinking about the consequences. While the couple in Shiloh is really married, the couple in “A Rose for Emily” is just in a relationship. Ultimately both the marriages have an insecure woman who cannot withstand the stress of being abandoned and an irresponsible weak man who is not able to support the woman he loves in the relationship.

“Shiloh by Barbara Ann Mason”. Shiloh and Other Stories and In Country.

Gwynn, R. S. A Pocket Anthology–Second Edition

Jewett, Orne Sarah. A White Heron.

Faulkner, William. A Rose for Emily.

Hemingway, Ernest. Hills Like White Elephants.

Wright, Richard. The Man who was almost a Man.

Achebe, Chinua. Dead Men’s Path.

Tyler, Lisa (2001). The Student Companion to Ernest Hemingway. Greenwood Press. Westport, CT.

Wagner, Linda (1998). Ernest Hemingway: Seven Decades of Criticism. Michigan State University Press. East Lansing. 1998

Church, Joseph (2002). Romantic flight in Jewett’s “White Heron”. Studies in American Fiction. Volume 30. Issue 1 Publication Year 2002. Page Number 21+

Roman, Margaret (1992). Sarah Orne Jewett: Reconstructing Gender. The University of Alabama Press. Tuscaloosa and London

Felgar, Robert (2000). The Student Companion to Richard Wright. Greenwood Press, 2000

Wheeler, S. Rebecca (1999). Language Alive in the Classroom. Praeger, 1999

Balogun, Odun F. (1991). Tradition and Modernity in the African Short Story: An Introduction to a Literature in Search of Critics; Greenwood Press, 1991

Hayashi, Tetsumaro (1993). John Steinbeck: The Years of Greatness, 1936-1939. University of Alabama Press, 1993

Corbett et al. (1970). A Rose for Emily Merrill Publishing Company, 1970

Hal Blythe, Charlie Sweet (1995). The Ambiguous Grail Quest in ‘Shiloh.’ Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 32, 1995