Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ernest Hemingway "Hills Like Elephants" and "A Clean, Well Light Place"

"Hills Like Elephants"  (1927 -6 pages) and "A Clean,  Well Light Place" (1926, pages) both by Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway (1899 to 1961) won the Nobel Prize for fiction in 1954.   He is the author of such American classics as A Farewell to Arms  (based on his WWI experiences as an ambulance driver), The Sun Also Rises and The Old Man and The Sea all of which I read long ago. He also wrote a number of short stories that have near canon status including the two I just read.    In the public eye he is identified with hyper-masculine activities like bull fighting, big game hunting,  deep sea fishing and wars.    He was initially helped into print by Ford Madox Ford but in time turned against him.     Hemingway is known for his lean sparse prose.    Some consider him a writer that "manly men" can admire and take with them on a moose hunt.   Some see him as a poseur trying too hard to be masculine.   He is nearly always listed among top American novelists of the 20th century.     I think part of his continuing popularity may come from the fact that his works are easy to read and could readily be used as class room texts in places where Woolf, Joyce, Ford and Mansfield could not.    

  Hemingway skillfully throws us in the middle of a conversation of a man and a younger woman in a train station in Spain.    It is not explicitly said but the man and woman seem to be talking about whether or not the woman should get an abortion.   We do not learn the man's name but he calls the woman "Jig".    This is a degrading nickname with several slang meanings that were common knowledge in the 1920s.   "Jig" can mean a fast dance of the time and it also means sexual relations (You can verify this in Cassell's Dictionary of Slang) in the argot of the streets at the time.   I had the feeling the man in the story knew this but the woman did not.   Here is how their conversation starts out:

Well, let's try and have a fine time.'
'All right. I was trying. I said the mountains looked like white elephants. Wasn't that bright?'
'That was bright.'
'I wanted to try this new drink. That's all we do, isn't it - look at things and try new drinks?'
'I guess so.'
The girl looked across at the hills.
'They're lovely hills,' she said. 'They don't really look like white elephants. I just meant the colouring of their skin through the trees.'
'Should we have another drink?'

The man is doing his best to emotionally manipulate Jig into going through with the abortion.

Maybe the man just wants to get rid of a problem or maybe he really thinks it is the right thing to do, we are not sure.

'It's really an awfully simple operation, Jig,' the man said. 'It's not really an operation at all.'
The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.
'I know you wouldn't mind it, Jig. It's really not anything. It's just to let the air in.'
The girl did not say anything.
'I'll go with you and I'll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it's all perfectly natural.'
'Then what will we do afterwards?'
'We'll be fine afterwards. Just like we were before.'
'What makes you think so?'
'That's the only thing that bothers us. It's the only thing that's made us unhappy"

 We do not find out what happens.   

I also read his perhaps better known story "A Clean, Well Light Place".   Of the two stories I think I liked "Hills Like Elephants" best.   The style in both works is  the same-lean prose, no flowery images, no lush descriptions and don't use two words where one will do.   

I am glad I read these stories.   Some find his prose beautiful, some do not.   Both can be read online.   I have used the term "bookish boy book" before and for sure Hemingway is in this category.   

Mel u


Astrid (Mrs.B) said...

I just reread The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway and I loved it. Can't stop thinking about it. I love that he writes about what he knows and the things he enjoys. Though his prose is sparse and concise, his descriptions are still quite vivid and there is so much under the surface of his much unsaid but still it's there underneath. That's why I think he's so brilliant. Oh and I've only read that one book. I should really read more of his work. This short story sounds good!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I haven't read "Hills Like Elephants" yet (I clearly need to), but I recently read "A Clean, Well Light Place" and loved it. I've read most of his novels, but have often felt indifferent towards the characters. I think his sparse style of writing is better suited for short stories.

Hannah Stoneham said...

Very interesting piece Mel, thanks for posting. I am in the middle of The Sun Also Rises for book group and enjoying it so far so it is fascinating to read others' reflections on Hemmingway.

Happy reading

Suko said...

I may need to investigate Hemingway's short stories further.

Your Katherine Mansfield button is gorgeous. There is a chapter devoted to her short story, The Garden Party, in a book I recently acquired, How to Read Literature Like a Professor.

Have you been keeping a list of the countless short stories you've been reading? :)

Mel u said...

Mrs B-I think you might like these stories-

Avid Reader-I agree about the style being better suited for short stories

Hannah-thanks as always-will look forwards to reading your post on Hemingway even though he seems to have turned against FMF!

Suko-at the top of my blog I have added a page tab with a link to a list of the short stories I have read-thanks so much on the comments-when you can pls let me know what the book says on The Garden Party-one of the stories I have posted on-