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In turn-of-the-century literature, many short stories focus on themes that encompass human nature and society. Two of America’s most prominent turn-of-the-century writers, Kate Chopin and Ernest Hemingway are no exceptions to this rule. Both writers use awe-inspiring symbolism to explain the faults in human nature strategically to emphasize their writing and evoke emotions in the reader. In both “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin and “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway, the authors make statements about the weaknesses of human nature in the way that the loss of life is handled.
In the short story “The Story of an Hour” written by Kate Chopin, the main character, Ms. Mallard, has received news that she is both ailing of heart disease and that her husband has died in a train accident. In order to prevent Ms. Mallard from becoming overexerted, the news of her husband’s death is leaked to her very gently, although there is not really a gentle way to break the news of your loved one’s death. After Ms. Mallard is informed of the death, she locks herself in a room and begins the process of mourning her lost lover. At this point in the story, Chopin gives an extremely gritty look into the process of how Ms. Mallard mourns the loss of her husband in the line where she writes, “Into this she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul.” Anyone that has lost someone they really cared about would relate to this line on an emotional level. Moreover, after Ms. Mallard has some time to digest the news, she has a new sense of freedom perpetuate throughout her body. Chopin relates this feeling as, “this thing that was approaching to possess her”. As Ms. Mallard begins to ponder her newfound freedom away from her husband, she realizes what her life will be like and how she will be unrestricted to do what she pleases. After some time, Ms. Mallard comes out of her room and sees that her husband has not died and is very much alive. Ms. Mallard then dies from a heart attack brought on by happiness. This is clearly a weakness in human nature in that Ms. Mallard was just grieving the loss other husband and is revitalized into a new woman, yet when her husband comes back and is not dead, she goes on to die of happiness that he is back, even when she was just moved on from his death.
Furthermore, in Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”, the story is placed in Spain where a conversation is taking place between an American man and a girl Hemingway calls “Jig”. Initially, the two begin to banter about Jig thinking that the hills resemble white elephants, then they begin to talk more deeply about an operation. As the storyline goes on, it is not hard to realize that the American and Jig were discussing having an abortion, although it is not explicitly stated in the story. This is shown in the lines where Hemingway writes, “It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” and “I think it’s the best thing to do.” Throughout these lines, Jig is reluctant to respond and is obviously hesitant to proceed with the operation. “Hills Like White Elephants” shows the fault in loss in that in the final line Jig says, “There is nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.” Evidently not long ago Jig was extremely reluctant to give into the American’s pressuring into the abortion; however, now she is saying that she feels okay just to get the idea of the operation off of her and the American’s mind.
Unmistakably, both “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin and “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway address the issues of the loss of life in weaknesses of human nature and society. Through turn-of-the-century writing, there’s often thematic elements like the loss of life of Brently Mallard in “The Story of an Hour” and the potential loss of Jig’s unborn child in “Hills Like White Elephants”. These two stories in particular to a wonderful job of pointing out the weaknesses that humans present when the loss of someone who is precious is lost.
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