Thematic Relationship Between Two Short Stories: Carpathia and Hills Like White Elephant

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University of California, Santa Barbara
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Carpathia is a fictional story written by Jesse Lee Kercheval. The short story may be described as flash fiction and is quite short, about 275 words. Nevertheless, the fact that the story is short does not mean it lacks depth and significance. Kercheval swiftly gets into the story, establishes the character as well as the setting. He also brings out the primary conflict and then heads to the climax of the story as well as the resolution of the conflict. Carpathia has a straightforward structure but exhibits emotional depth as one reads it. In a nutshell, Carpathia can be summarized as an account of the times and the woman's place during those times. Hills Like White Elephants was written by Ernest Hemmingway and published in 1927. Hills like White Elephants is presented in a dialogue form which may be dismissed as a mere conversation between two parties at first glance. The story lacks narration or any description as is the norm and instead conveys its real meaning through the dialogue between the characters. This style by Hemmingway allows for the reader's interpretation of the events. Just like Carpathia, Hills Like White Elephants also has a simple structure that paints an accurate picture of what the reader should unearth beneath the surface. Accordingly, this essay focuses on the similar themes that have been highlighted in these two stories, thus comparing their meaning within the contexts that were used by the two authors, Kercheval and Hemmingway.

In Carpathia, the narrative used describes a couple's experience during their honeymoon on the Carpathia ship which played a big part in assisting the survivors of the Titanic accident. An experience that was supposed to be joyous turns out to be terrible mainly because it acts as an eye opener mostly for the wife. On their way home, they do not say much to each other, and the honeymoon is described as "anything but a success" The theme of identity or self-awareness is brought out especially on the part of the wife. Immediately after the story mentions the trip being the couple's honeymoon, the reader can understand the wife's fears. It appears that the wife had no idea of the kind of man she had just gotten married to and the experience leads to this realization. The fact that the husband found it illogical to put a woman and child's life above his own, especially a newly married man, in this case, says a lot about his character. What leads to this painful realization is a comment her husband makes after the incident when someone asks about the ordeal. Gillette (50-69) refers to a statement on what the husband talked about the women. The husband is quoted saying, "they should have put the men in the lifeboats. Men can marry again, have new families. What's the use of all those widows and orphans?" This statement hurts the ladies as she realizes the true value of her existence in her husband's eyes. The woman is now self-aware of her position and is afraid of drowning both literally like those who sank in the Titanic as well as metaphorically as she now knows what kind of husband she has. It is clear that if it had been her on the Titanic, even in her state (pregnant), her husband would not have saved her and this hurts her deeply. She feels like drowning, and no one can rescue her after she becomes aware of the fact that her husband would not put her life even knowing she is pregnant, before his.

Another evident theme is men, women, and relationships. The author brings this out through the man and the woman's characters as well as their relationship, which is marriage. It is ironic that even though the two are married and are in fact on their honeymoon, the man holds such strong sentiments against the act of women and children being saved first instead of men. After this revelation, the relationship between the husband and wife seems a bit shaky and unstable judging from how the story ends. Even though we do not get to know the wife's actions if any, it is clear that the relationship may not be the same again since the man believes that men have a higher worth than women and it will affect the quality of their married life. The wife's act of self-suppression and concealment when she merely "turns her face away" after hearing the unfortunate statement, suggests that the relationship, which is a representation of the accustomed dynamic between women and men during those times, may remain stuck in that unhealthy state until it eventually falls apart. It is a flawed marriage from the onset.

Additionally, Kercheval also makes use of some elements of chauvinism as regards the husband opinion of the incident. The statement made by the man speaks for itself. To him, women appear as mere objects of procreation to assist men in continuation of families and not partners with whom unions are made. Furthermore, the man says these without any regret or consideration of the fact that his wife is expecting their first child. He sounds unremorseful in his statement. What makes the situation worse is the reaction of the wife. She does not seem bothered or disturbed enough to speak up about how she feels regarding such derogatory comments coming from the father of her unborn child and newly wedded husband. She merely conceals her emotions by turning her face, but deep down she feels like she is drowning yet nobody is coming to her rescue. The man is inconsiderate and patronizing whereas the woman who is just 18 years old is young and naive and unable to defend herself. The man, therefore, assumes the dominant position and the wife see nothing wrong in being passive even though she is troubled by the events.

Similarly, the theme of identity and self-awareness is also depicted by Hemmingway in Hills Like White Elephants. The couple is being faced with a new identity, becoming parents. Throughout their conversation, the girl, Jig and her boyfriend, who is referred to like the man or the American, argue about this new identity and status. While the man is sure of what he wants, the girl seems indecisive and looks up to the man to guide her on what she should decide regarding the pregnancy. The man does not want her to have the baby and is, therefore, advocating for an abortion while the girl is uncertain since she had probably looked forward to starting a family with the man at some point and is now confused on what action to take. She feels like she wants them to have the baby but wants the man's reassurance on assuming this new identity of parenthood. Apart from this new status, the girl also becomes self-aware of her circumstances and worth to the man by the end of the short story. Initially, she appears naive even from her questions and how she continually needs assurance from the man that he will not leave her. She is too dependent on the boyfriend. But as the conversation between the two continues, she assumes a new identity. She gradually becomes aware that her boyfriend does not care or love her the way he says he does from the way he persists about her having the abortion. Midway through the conversation, the girl is so frustrated she even says "I'll scream," which shows how she gradually realizes that she needs to change her outlook on life and stop being so dependent on the man. She becomes irritated because her previous identity is collapsing. She becomes stronger and more decisive, even telling the man to stop talking. Towards the end of the story, the girl seems to have decided on what to do because she even smiles and says "I'm fine, nothing is wrong with me" which sounds like she is speaking more to herself than to the man. She seems to be reassuring herself that the decision she has made is the best and looks more positive as they prepare to leave.

The theme of men, women, and relationships is elaborated. The author thoroughly examines the severely flawed relationship between the man and the girl. This relationship advocates for freedom at the expense of commitment, respect, and honesty. The two characters are a representation of roles of males and females. The relationship is based on the framework of the male being domineering and the woman being passive and merely complying, which is a flawed power dynamic, and it disintegrates as seen in the story. Even though the man tries to appear loving and pays lip service to the girl, his actions are evidently steered by his selfish desires, and he does not care about the girl's wellbeing. He never at any point mentions whether the procedure he keeps insisting about is safe. The man and the girl seem to be in an unhealthy relationship where one party is selfish and desires to control the other through manipulation. The dialogue between the couple is also flawed. They speak in concise sentences and can hardly go two sentences without an argument. At some point, the girl begs the man to stop talking and uses please seven time, which further emphasizes just how arrogant the man is with his insistence on the abortion procedure.

Chauvinism is also evident in Hemmingway's short story. The man's tone is inconsiderate as he keeps shutting her out whenever she brings up the pregnancy and tries to give her opinion. He is continually trying to persuade her that if she goes ahead with the "operation" then everything will be okay and they will go back to the way they were. The man says "It is an awfully simple operation, Jig," and this shows how manipulative and inconsiderate he is. Even though the man wants Jig to have the abortion done so he can continue to have his freedom, he uses manipulative language to make it seem like it is her decision and not his being imposed on her. This shows that he wants her to do what he wants without her realizing it. The man aims to control the girl's intentions and actions as if she is a child. She becomes frustrated after she sees how patronizing the man is and makes a decision to go ahead with the operation just because he has insisted. Deep down, it is clear to her that with or without the abortion, their relationship cannot be the same again as she has seen the man's true colors.

From the above analysis of the themes used in the two short stories, there is an apparent similarity. Both authors make use of the themes of male chauvinism, men, women and relationships and self-awareness or identity. In both stories, the two women become self-aware of their surroundings and have a painful realization regarding their significant others and how much they are "valued." Their relationships with their male counterparts are also examined, and they both appear flawed since their male partners hold divergent views on issues that affect them. There are also elements of chauvinism as both women are treated relatively well on the surface. However, as the reader progresses with the stories, it is clear that their relationships are bound to hit an impasse at some point as a result of feelings or opinions held by their partners who appear unwilling to change. In Carpathia, the statement made by the husband describes just how little he regards women and children which is unexpected especially for a man who has just gotten married and is expecting a baby. It is quite unfortunate, especially for the young wife.

Other themes that seem to appear in both stories are; the theme of choices, whereby both women after realizing that their situations are not as perfect as they thought, need to decide the way forward. Even though in both stories we are not told whether the two women make decisions regarding their situations it is clear that they need to make choices that will determine the rest of their lives. Jig has to decide whether she will go ahead with the abortion, whether she is willing to continue having a relationship with the American boyfriend among other choices. On the other hand, the wife in the short story Carpathia has to decide whether to...

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