Character Comparison - "Hills Like White Elephants"/"A Rose for Emily"

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Stefanie A. Thomas
Professor Judith Angona
English 152
9 October 2012
Character Comparison – Two Repressed Women
Both “Hills like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” center around two women who are repressed by their lives’ circumstances. However, outside of their feelings, their situations could not be more different. Miss Emily Grierson is trapped in a life of solitude, despondency, and desperation. The girl, or “Jig”, is equally as desperate, but her repression is not born of loneliness or restraint—it is the child of her freedom. Repression comes in several forms, but it will suffocate and consume you.

In “A Rose for Emily”, Miss Emily Grierson lives a life of quiet turmoil. Her life has revolved around an inexplicable loneliness mostly characterized by the harsh abandonment of death. The most vital imagery utilized by Faulkner demonstrates Miss Emily’s mental state. She, being self-imprisoned within the confines of her home, is the human embodiment of her house; Faulkner describes it as “…stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps—an eyesore among eyesores.” (Faulkner 308). Miss Emily is also decaying, but it is subtle and internal—the awful smell that begins to permeate from her dwelling is a reflection of the withering woman within rotting.

Perhaps most tragically, Miss Emily’s isolation is far from self-inflicted. Her blind devotion to the ones she loves—her father, her lover, her home—only serves to further condemn her actions. Her neighbors’ disregard toward her inability to let go of her father after his death, despite the delicacy of her state, caused for her madness to fester. “She told them her father was not dead. She did that for three days…We did not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that.” (Faulkner 311). Their negligence of all the warning signs—even after her lover’s vanishing, the deterioration of her home, and Miss Emily’s inability to accept reality—was the most prevalent form of repression in this story.

Contrariwise, “Hills like White Elephants” does not deal with an imposed imprisonment. “Jig” is a young, modern woman who is faced with the decision of prolonging her freedom and the stability of her relationship or accepting motherhood and the responsibility that comes with it. It is not to say that motherhood is a prison; it is that motherhood would be the death of everything she loved, mainly travelling, and the very stability of her relationship with her lover, “the American”. “The American” says, “‘That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy.’” (Hemingway 115) which unequivocally shows that the center of conflict inside of their relationship is the presumed pregnancy.

There are several instances in the story that “the American” reiterates “Jig’s” options for her future. Although he expresses that he would support and love her no matter what the ultimate choice is, she feels conflicted and her pain, which builds throughout the story and as the conversation progresses, becomes more obvious. What is most interesting is, as his second thoughts about the unspoken abortion spike, her resistance to discuss the topic any further grows in tandem. Although the two heroes’ love for one another is evident, there is the aching uncertainty between them: Is there room for a child in their relationship built of travelling, drinking, and discovery?

“Jig’s” repression, just like Miss Emily’s, is inevitable because of their presented circumstance. These stories are alike in the way of both of the women’s love for their current situation. Although Miss Emily’s heinous actions were intertwined with madness, they were based upon her love for her “sweetheart” and her father, disregarding herself. She is so frightened of facing the word without her beloveds that she would rather lie next to a long dead man than allow him to leave her.

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