Women in "Hills like White Elephants" and "The Yellow Wallpaper"

Topics: Childbirth, Ernest Hemingway, Woman Pages: 6 (2205 words) Published: April 11, 2006
Through history women have fought for equal rights and freedom. This tension is derived from men; society, in general; and within a woman herself. In the nineteenth century, women in literature were often portrayed as submissive to men. Literature of this period often characterized women as oppressed by society, as well as by the male influences in their lives. This era is especially interesting because it is a time in modern society when women were still treated as second-class citizens. Two interesting short stories, "Hills like White Elephants" and "The Yellow Wallpaper" focus on a woman's plight near the turn of the nineteenth century. Both authors, Hemmingway and Gilman, leave an open end to the stories and allow readers to create their own ending, in turn causing them to take part in the action while reading. These stories require more effort from the reader, but seem to turn out differently for every reader making them a bit more interesting.

Hemingway led a difficult life full of martial affairs and misfortune. Some of these experiences have set the foundation for Hemingway's greatest works. This essay will analyze the influence that Hemingway's separation from Pauline and divorce from Hadley had on "Hills like White Elephants." Before writing "Hills like White Elephants," Hemingway had been residing in Paris with his wife Hadley and son, Bumby. During their stay in Paris, Hadley and Ernest Hemingway met a woman named Pauline Pfeiffer. Pauline was more of a friend to Hadley than Hemingway was. Pauline did not think much of Hemingway at first, she thought he was lazy and a no-doer. Later Pauline and Hemingway fell in love and had an affair. Once Hadley knew of their affair, Hemingway requested a divorce. Hadley agreed under one condition, Hemingway and Pfeiffer had to separate for 100 days. After the 100 days if they were still in love, then Hadley would grant the divorce (Baker 174). This separation period left an indelible effect on Hemingway's life and works. He wrote a short story, "Hills like White Elephants." In both the story and Hemingway's life one of the family members had to go. Hemingway wrote a letter to Pauline during the 100-day separation comparing it to being like an abortion. Hemingway wrote he thought that when two people love each other terribly much and need each other in every way and then go away from each other it works almost as bad as an abortion.

Gilman's story "The Yellow Wallpaper" also is related to her life experiences. In 1884, Charlotte married Walker Stetson, an artist. She tried to submit to the traditional roles of a nineteenth century wife. When her daughter was born a year later, Charlotte suffered from what we now call severe postpartum depression, which lasted almost four years. She was treated by a famous Philadelphia nerve specialist, Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, who prescribed a "rest cure" for Gilman's "nervous condition" that forced her into inactivity with no physical or mental stimulation until she recovered. She said of herself, "I went home and obeyed these directions for some three months and came so near the border of utter mental ruin that I could see over".(Golden 63)

To preserve what was left of her sanity, Charlotte eventually disregarded Dr. Mitchell's advice, left her husband and moved to Pasadena, California.

"Hills like White Elephants", is told nearly in its entirety through dialogue. It is a conversation between a young woman and a man waiting for a train in Spain. As they talk, it becomes clear that the young woman is pregnant and that the man wants her to have an abortion. Through their tight, brittle conversation, much is revealed about their personalities. At the same time, much about their relationship remains hidden. At the end of the story it is still unclear as to what decision has or has not been made, or what will happen to these two characters waiting for a train on a platform in Spain.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" is told in first person. It...
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