“The Boarding House” and “Hills Like White Elephants”

The main aim of this paper is to study, analyze and compare two short stories that present the series of issues dealing with the social problems and conflicts that took place in the first part of the twentieth century.  The authors of these stories, Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce, are both well-known and honorable, outstanding modernist writers that used a lot of symbols, hidden tools and techniques in order to express the feelings and emotions of people of that time and the existing social stereotypes and their influence on life and thoughts of common people. Although these two stories seem to be different in the general style and the scheme of the plot presentation, the characteristics of the main characters and the tools and symbols being implemented in the story to show the real meaning of the represented short periods of people’s life, both relate to the same problematic theme, and the problems that are being faced by the main characters have common nature and common consequences.

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Talking about the short story “The Boarding House” written by James Joyce, we can see how the woman from the working class tries to survive and go through the number of struggles in her way to well-being. The main character of the story is Mrs. Mooney, the daughter and wife of a butcher. This person is very strong and motivated person that can successfully set and reach important targets in her life. When her husband begins to gradually ruin the family business because of his alcohol abuse, Mrs. Mooney wishes her daughter better future than her own and tries to help Polly escape the destiny of the old maid and find a good, honorable and wealthy husband. However, when Polly gets in a relationship with one of the clients, Mr. Doran, a middle-aged man, her mother does not mention it until it is too late and the social norms require Mr. Doran to marry Polly. So, the desire for the honorable husband for her daughter does not mean that Mrs. Mooney wants to reach this target in an honorable way.

As we can see, all the main characters represented in the story are highly influenced by the series of social conventions that limit their life opportunities and shape their life. Mrs. Mooney is forced by social traditions and beliefs to marry a drinking husband that ruins family and business and this makes it necessary for her to launch her own business as the society expects her and her family to remain at the same social level even if this target is impossible to reach.  The constant lack of family happiness and material resources makes such categories the key ones for the woman and shapes her understanding of better life that she wishes for her children.

The same social pressure can be felt in life of Mr. Doran that is a victim of the situation. He is being seduced by Polly and when he gets involved in the intimate relationship with her, he afterwards feels obliged to accept the reparation of her mother. Besides, his decisions are highly influenced by his religious beliefs as he understands that this affair is considered to be a sin. This relationship might also cost him his prestigious job and social position and reputation. Therefore, he has zero control over his life and decisions he makes are not his decisions. Polly also is highly influenced by social stereotypes of her mother and all her actions are controlled by Mrs. Mooney. Polly is like a puppet that has no impact on the processes that take place in her life.  All these three characters face serious changes in their life that they do not want to happen and the whole life type they live is highly affected by the social order.

The second literary work, written by Ernest Hemingway, is also a short story with a deep sense.   I find this story to be more interesting in representing the hidden sense through the numerous bright symbols that can be found everywhere in the plot. The events take place on the railway station, where the two main characters are waiting for the train to Madrid. During this time they have a conversation on the topic that is never directly named but it can be easily understood that the man is trying to persuade the woman to make an abortion. The landscape all around them is symbolizing the main obstacles both of the characters are facing in their lives. In this frame we can see the two mountains that Jig compares with the white elephants as the expression to describe the tropic that is never directly defined, “the white elephant”. The two white mountains refer to the body shapes of pregnant woman and they represent both the perspectives that Jig sees in keeping the baby and the obstacles the American sees in the same fact. In addition, the stability and steadiness of mountains can be seen as the symbol of the lifestyle of a mother that Jig can potentially become.  The image of white elephant also symbolizes the extremely precious, although useless present a person receives. In this case, Jig understands that their baby is a useless life present for her in this period, although it is extremely desirable and priceless for other women. The railway station represents the crossroad these people face in their life at the moment and the importance of choice to be made.

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Both stories are perfect examples of classic literature of the 20th century as well as they illustrate all beauty and sense of modernist literature. All the problems that are being raised up in the stories are extremely deep and complex in their nature and it is shown with the perfect symbolism. Although both of them perfectly demonstrate the social problems and the problem of choice and social position of women, I find the “Hills like White Elephants” to be more interesting in the symbols represented and the tools used to talk about the main issue and to express all the emotions that are connected with the problems and perspectives that characters are facing within the story.

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