Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour follows Louise Mallard, a woman who receives news that her husband has died in a railroad accident. To her own surprise, she feels happiness at the freedom she gains from his death. However, when he returns, the shock kills her instead, and the cause of death is categorized as a “joy that kills” (Chopin 11). Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway depicts a story of a man and a woman discussing an operation as they wait for a train to Madrid.
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Both stories follow the themes of relationships and the drawbacks that can come along with them. For Louise Mallard, her independence is jeopardized by her husband’s existence, and she finds happiness when she realizes that he may be dead. When this freedom is revoked, and the husband returns, she dies. While the name of the operation in Hemingway’s story is purposefully left out, with characters mentioning it’s not really an operation, it is likely referring to an abortion (Hemingway 255). It creates distance within the relationship between the man and woman, with the two having contradicting but unsaid desires.
Trains exist as catalysts of events within both stories. The first directly causes the death of a character that leads Louise Mallard to face her need for freedom. In the second, the couple waiting for the train is indirectly forced to wait and confront the issue of the operation.
The loss of life carries different meanings for the characters of the two tales. While Louise Mallard must act as if her husband’s death is tragic, secretly, it is something that makes her happy. On the other hand, the woman in Hemingway’s story acts nonchalant regarding abortion but likely wants to protest and avoid it.
Personally, I found the second story more compelling due to the fact that it exposes the secrecy and insecurity of the relationship. Both the man and the woman are unable to communicate their true desires concerning the issue, and this is amplified by their changing minds. Such as when the woman says that the hills no longer look like white elephants to her (Hemingway 262). The dynamic of keeping important thoughts hidden within a relationship in order to remain loved is a sad but compelling feature of the story.
Chopin, Kate. The Story of an Hour. Vogue, 1894.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Simon and Schuster, 1995.
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