A Comparison of the Stories “A Clean, Well-Lit Place” and “Hills Like White Elephants”

In this essay I will be investigating and learning how Ernest Hemingway uses his style of writing, theme, symbolism, diction and the tone in his short stories “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and “Hills Like White Elephants.” When reading the two short stories I found some similarities and some extreme differences in them. It made me begin to compare and contrast in my head; with that being said I decided to make my research paper a comparative analysis between “A Clean, Well- Lighted Place” and “Hills Like White Elephants.” I found when writing this research paper that Hemmingway had a certain way of storytelling that I have not seen in any other author that I have previously read in any other literature course.

Considering that “Hills Like White Elephants” is between the American man and his girlfriend, both speakers do not truly communicate with the each other about the problems of having the operation. This greatly shows how the couple is breaking apart from one another. Both express their views, but both fail to listen or try to understand the other’s point of view about this major operation. We come to understand that this operation, although not specifically mentioned is about an abortion through context clues. The American man is going to great lengths and saying anything he can to convince his girlfriend to have it, showing that the life of the unborn child and the life of his girlfriend have absolutely no meaning to him. In “A Clean. Well-Lighted Place” Ernest Hemingway also suggests in this short story that life has no meaning at all and that the individual man is extremely small in such a large world. Both of these short stories are having a theme of life not having meaning, either by the individual person or someone not giving meaning to someone else’s life.

The two short stories may have similar themes however the styles Hemmingway chose to write the stories in are totally different. The story “A Clean, Well- Lighted Place” is written in a minimalist economic prose style. This style uses very few adverbs or adjectives in conveying the story. In the short story “Hills Like White Elephants” Hemmingway uses a third person objective narrative approach to the style. In this story you get a look in to his story from an outside point of view.

Moving forward the tone has a lot to do with how the stories are part of how they are told. In the short story “A Clean, Well- Lighted Place” the tone is very objective or matter of fact. The tone is very easily depicted in his dry unemotional narration. This tone is simple it gives you nothing to focus on except the absolute basis of what is happening or being said. In the short story “Hills Like White Elephants” the tone is controlled. In a controlled tone you get absolutely minima information not even enough in the beginning to fully grasp what is going on in the situation at hand. In this story the tone is so controlled it really kills off the existence of the couple’s conversation. I preferred reading the short story “Hills Like White Elephants” personally; I found it more interesting because of the controlled tone.

Symbolism is a key literary element to look for when reading any form of literary work. In Hemmingway’s short story “A Clean, Well- Lighted Place” the whole story is a symbol of an epiphany. An epiphany is when a character makes a life altering realization. In this case the main character realizes that in the grand scheme of things in our world his life really is not and never was as important as previously believed to be. In the other short story, we have been discussing “Hills Like White Elephants” the main symbol is in the title white elephants. It is like the phrase “the elephant in the room.” The elephant is a symbol of awkwardness or something being avoided. That is the main symbol but there are many more smaller symbols if you pay attention as you are reading.

The next symbol I want to discuss is the torn. The curtains are a symbol of separation between the American man and the jig over the topic of the abortion they are not on the same page about having. The third symbol in this short story is the train station it gives us a sense of transition and between the couple’s experiences in the same situation. The station also gives us the feeling of being stuck in a limbo situation. The couple is stuck between the decision of abortion or marriage as they are stranded between the cities leaving the couple in an uncomfortable situation as alluded to with the elephant.

The final symbol I am going to discuss in this short story is the couple’s suit cases. The travel stickers on the couple’s suit cases. The stickers serve as a record of travels and can be seen as a road map of their relationship and how it has brought the couple to where they stand now. The stickers on the suit cases also serve as an insight on maybe how or where the jig was impregnated. Something you might notice different in “A Clean, Well- Lighted Place” and “Hills Like White Elephants” is there is far more symbolism in “Hills Like White Elephants.” This is because of how they are written from the style to the tone. “Hills Like White Elephants” is much more vague as far as just being straight forward and giving you information. The short story tells you what you need to know through small minimal symbols; where as “A Clean, Well- Lighted Place” is more up front about what the short story is trying to convey to its reader.

Something that I personally noticed about both short stories “A Clean, Well- Lighted Place” and “Hills Like White Elephants” is how careful Hemmingway was with his diction ad how he expressed things in just the way they needed, or he wanted them to be expressed to his audience. His diction sets moods and voices in such a way it makes the reader feel and interpret things just the way he intended them to be taken in. The diction is possibly the most valuable tool in setting up both of these stories and why they are the way that they are.

In the end I have learned more than I ever imagined that I ever would from reading Hemmingway’s literary pieces “A Clean, Well- Lighted Place” and “Hills Like White Elephants.” Hemmingway carried the same theme of life not having any meaning throughout both of the short stories. In “A Clean, Well- Lighted Place” it came to him as an epiphany, where as in “Hills Like White Elephants” it was more of a drawnout disagreement that he felt was not as important as his girlfriend did. I found it quite intriguing that he could write two totally different stories and have them take on the same end result.

Something else I loved about Hemmingway’s writing was how clever he was about getting those rather important symbols in to his stories and how he could insinuate thing almost so well his readers could even get context clues about the direction of a relationship from something as small as torn curtains or stickers on suit cases. I also found a strong appreciation for how he used his diction to say exactly what needed to be said, saying nothing more and nothing less than he really needed to.

The next thing I really enjoyed about Hemmingway’s short stories is how he was able to separate the mood from the tone which can be challenging to do sometimes as a writer. I found that Hemmingway as an author generally takes on a pretty controlled tone not giving too much direct information and swaying away from a more dramatic literary take on things. I have learned that Hemmingway’s writing style is pretty unique and that it is what he is known for and has been known for, for years and will be for many years to come. I will say after reading both short stories by Hemmingway that I did prefer reading “Hills Like White Elephants” over “A Clean, Well- Lighted Place” simply because I enjoy reading in to context clues and symbolism. I also found it almost relatable in my life. I have found myself in a new relationship recently and learned that relationships do come with many tough decisions and that me and my girlfriend were going to have the occasional disagreement and it wouldn’t always be easy like it seems. In conclusion I found that Hemmingway’s writing was very iconic and diverse just by comparing two of his stories.