Continuation of 3003 3b - Essay Example

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This paper evaluates in detail this theme by comparing its use in the poem “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning and in the short story “Hills like White Elephants” Ernest Miller Hemingway. The…
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Continuation of 3003 3b
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Comparison and contrast of literary works with Gender Roles and Marriage theme of affiliation name
Date of submission
1. Introduction
Gender roles or marriage theme is common in poems, short stories, and plays. This paper evaluates in detail this theme by comparing its use in the poem “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning and in the short story “Hills like White Elephants” Ernest Miller Hemingway. The selection of the poem and the short story focuses on authors born in the nineteenth century. However, in their expression of the marriage and gender roles theme, Browning uses a monologue in the poem while Hemingway uses a conversation. Gender roles/ marriage theme evaluation involves understanding the context within which the poems are written and the roles of men and women in each context with sufficient evidence.
2. Context
2.1. My Last Duchess
The poem is a dramatic monologue written in 1842. In the poem only of one side of an ongoing conversation is heard. Although the speaker is unnamed, he is an Italian Duke of Ferrara while the listener is a messenger. The messenger comes from a Wealthy Count. He brings a marriage offer to the Duke with the Count’s daughter. From the poem, the crucial aspect is the revelation of the Duke’s character in the way he says what he has to and how he says it. In the monologue, the reader’s focus is on solely on the speaker who unsparingly brags about his wealth. Further, the Duke steadily relates the disposal of his earlier wife with offense to his vanity. In his bragging, the Duke fails to mention his last wife by name and only signifies her as mere possession like any other he had. In addition, the term ‘Last’ could have been used to signify previous or the most recent in a lengthy line of other previous wives. Irony arises from the fact that the Count messenger’s visit, intends to arrange for marriage dowry for the Count’s daughter. From the portrait, the Duchess is revealed as having a very innocent personality. It is because of her beauty that the Duke develops negative emotions of jealousy and apathy and ends up killing her. He justifies his actions with the madness that he could not love without possessing especially since ‘her looks went everywhere’. Through his motivation to destroy the Duchess identity, the Duke ends up literary killing her, but leaves behind her portrait, which he shows off to his guests.
2.2. Hills like White Elephants
The short story is an almost exclusive dialogue that portrays a serious discussion in a situation involving the decision-making affecting the lifetime of a young female (Paul, 2005). In the story, Hemingway provides the role of an eavesdropper to the audience regarding the conversation between the couple. This is unlike other authors who carefully stage and offer the back-story to the audience like motive and emotion cues of interactions between characters. Eavesdropping is facilitated by the story’s setting, which is a train station surrounded by hills, trees, and field and a valley in Spain. Like Browning’s poem, the man in this story is unnamed and simply referred to as the American but his girlfriend is known by the name ‘Jig’. As the couple wait, their conversation is characterized by a few varying alcohol selections. The focus of the conversation is ‘an operation’, which the audience discovers is an abortion, which will determine whether to terminate their relationship and each go their separate ways (Renner, 1995). With this unplanned pregnancy, Hemingway compares it to hills that look like white elephants. The white elephants are like a noticeable ice tip of invisible iceberg hiding underneath the surface of the ocean. Further, the couple’s conversation equates to white elephants since it is only a sign of the tension between Hemingway’s characters. Hemingway strongly believes in the Iceberg theory where he uses subtext throughout a story unlike using actual words, which he believes, would pre-empt his intended meaning to the audience. As a result, he leaves numerous gaps for the readers to find out distinctively in order to realize Jig’s situation that involves a life modifying decision. Worst of all, this decision is prompted by a person who is not supportive and also very puzzled and hesitant on the course of action Jig has to make.
3. Audience
Hills like White Elephants’ design carefully elaborate on marriage and gender roles with the audience as eavesdroppers unlike My Last Duchess where the Count’s Envoy silently listens to the dramatic monologue. Prior to the 1920s and for many centuries, abortion was prohibited, especially given that birth control was a hotly contested issue in America (David, 1998). With most people in favour of abortion, birth control proponents normally experienced imprisonment or they could go to exile. Like in the case of Margaret Sanger a proponent, several years of her life were spent in England for fear of imprisonment in America. Further, the Soviet Union legalized abortion during the 1920s and this increased the confidence of abortion proponents in most nations including the US. However, Spain where the story is set in 1927 retained its stanch Catholic faith retaining abortion as grave criminal offense. In this case, Hemingway uses the story to reveal the real life experiences of relationships faced with situations where they contemplated abortion with Spain (David, 1998). On one hand is an American whose nation allows abortion while on the other is a woman whose nation illegalizes abortion on religious stance. Instead of speaking about abortion openly, the couple opts for a dialogue that only directs the audience towards the real topic, but never openly reveal the serious and specific topic in of their discussion. Despite one-on-one encounters with unwanted pregnancies, couples in Spain, like Jig and the American boyfriend, could not publicly inject the abortion topic in public conversations especially since they had met in a public train station. The illegalization of abortion was also the reason why the audience has to eavesdrop and make their own decisions instead of directly finding it from Hemingway or his characters.
4. Concern for life
Like Browning’s poem, the short story revolves around marriage and gender roles only that the major focus is on love and courtship with pregnancy and abortion and not on husbands and wives with jealousy and lack of concern for life. In Hills like white elephants, the American compares to the Duke in that both display like of apathy for life. From the American, the unborn child in Jig’s womb is demonstrated as not being human (Hashmi, 2003). This is because its elimination would be through a very straightforward process the American references as the procedure. The American does everything to avoid recognizing the baby in Jig’s womb as his and goes ahead to confirm to the audience that the baby is not part of his immediate future. When asked by Jig if the baby actually meant anything to him, his reply was that he only needed her and nobody else in his life. For the American, every effort is made to make the girl accept the abortion decision and he is willing to provide the money needed for the procedure provided the girl did not bear him a child he was neither prepared nor willing to take care.
Closely linked to the absence of concern for life is the Duke’s perspective towards women. During the writing of My Last Duchess, the Italian Renaissance was on the rise. This period was dominated by the use of wealth as a show of wealth, and memorization or commemoration of events and subjects (Masters, 2013). For the female portraiture, the additional role of images of ideal beauty came to play. In their use for commemorative reasons, female portraits conveyed lineage and wealth with women painted to honour their marriage. Honour of marriage was represented in their hair, jewellery and clothing, and age. In the portrait, the subject’s sitting position had to show variations in the profile through the nose, forehead, the chin, and the mouth (Masters, 2013). According to Masters (2013), the female profile on portraits tended to bring out elongated neck, flattened facial, and unsubstantial body features without genital region and with eyes averted to avoid seduction or fear while viewing the image. Additionally, men viewed women as objects through which they could display wealth and lineage while considering them as weak, sensual, weak, and untrustworthy (West, 2004). From My Last Duchess, the Duke still held to the fact that women were objects, especially given that women were supposed to be his possession and not of any other man. However, the beauty of the Duchess revealed easily, many men got to see her and admired her and this made the Duke afraid that they could draw her blush. Due to the Duke’s obsession, the Duchess had to be replaced, as he got jealous, and was overcome by cruelty to the extent of murdering her. Since he loved her as one of his objects, a large portrait shows her off as part of his wealth and it appears he loves the portrait more than he did the actual wife. From the poem, the Duke is not only obsessive and arrogant, but is in too much demand for control that he considers himself as above morality and the laws as well as greater than others. Further, he uses his power to control the Count Envoy to listen to him as he reveals his reasons for murdering his wife with no hesitation. His expectation is that the Count Envoy would provide a potential wife who would be subservient and that the ample dowry would be satisfied.
Unlike the American in Hills like White Elephant and the Duke in My Last Duchess, Jig in the Hills like White Elephants demonstrates concern for life. According to Renner (1995), the girl reveals development from naivety to confidence in four stages. At first, the girl is an oversimplified submissive woman who has no standpoint and only blindly follows the instructions of the masterful American. However, as their conversation progresses, the woman realizes her dreams, values, and mind dramatically paving way for her first assertion for the first time in the discussion. In these first three development phases, the girl lacks a strong identity and the American manages to use her as an accessory that he can occasionally manipulate through his support and direction. The result is that the America has his way and is the dominant in the relationship (Paul, 2005). The American’s success in controlling the girl is clear in that he knows Spanish and has the knowledge of the different drinks, which he orders. He also takes charge of the luggage and an abortion expert despite being a female issue. However, all the control by the American ends with the girl’s shift towards self realization where she comes out as reluctant and offended by her submission to his requests (West, 2004). The girl’s bitter feeling towards her male companion is partly due to the revelation of his selfish nature. Through her reflection and comparison of the hills to her own pregnancy situation makes the girl understand the hills could never be white elephants since that is not what they were despite their colour as viewed through the trees. For the lovely hills, they had unique beauty, which the girl compares to the beauty of being a mother with her tummy forming an enlarged mound from what was once flat. To his defence, the American argues that he could have seen white elephants but the girl emphasizes he cannot see given his inability to identify what is beautiful. Being Spanish, the girl is burdened by the danger involved, physical trauma, religious, moral, and mental conflict. As result, Hemingway manages to bring her out as sensitive and with a clear understanding of the ordeal of abortion on women. Further, the audience realizes that the girl has managed to win the American over to her point of view and will not have an abortion (Hashmi, 2003).
5. Conclusion
From the paper, marriage/gender roles are clearly and uniquely outlined indicating that the writing context for the story and poem determined the author’s motivation for writing. In Hemingway’s Hills like White Elephants, the context reflects the debate around abortion with America proposing it while Spain made it illegal. The stands by the two characters results to a conflict that is only resolved through effective communication. In Browning’s My Last Duchess, the context reflects Italian Renaissance where women portraiture was upheld as a symbol of wealth and men treated women like objects. From Hemingway, the audience understands the situation by eavesdropping on a conversation that lacks true communication from neither the American nor his girlfriend. While each talks, there seems to be no understanding between them as each has their own perspective. In his frustrations, the American says anything, including advice on abortion just to win the confidence of his girlfriend. At firsts, he is successful only for the girl to realize his selfishness and confidently decides to carry through with the pregnancy. From the story, communication in marriage is evaluated in details and indicates how talking to a listener is hindered by predefined conceptions that prevent listening. Like the American in Hills like White elephants, the Duke’s monologue demonstrates the fluctuation of reality or truth from him as he uses multiple versions and perspectives to emphasize his act of murder on his wife. From their multiple views on their situations, the American and the Duke prove that no two persons who will view events or situations in a similar way and without conflict. For the American, his relationship remains due to his understanding of his partner’s perspective as the victim of the planned abortion while the Duke destroys his marriage due to jealousy and apathy that sees him kill his last duchess and threatens the same for the proposed Count’s daughter.HillH
David, G. (1998). Hemingways Hills Like White Elephants and the Tradition of the American In Europe. Studies in short fiction, 35, 267-276.
Hashmi, N. (2003). Hills Like White Elephants: The Jilting of Jig. The Hemingway Review, 23(1), 72-83.
Masters, R. D. (2013). The Portraiture of Women During the Itallian Renaissance. Honors Theses, Paper 118, 1-40.
Paul, R. (2005). Hemingways Hills Like White Elephants. Explicator, 63(4), 234-237.
Renner, S. (1995). Moving to the girls Side of Hills like white Elephants. The Hemmingway Review, 15(1), 27-41.
West, S. (2004). Gender and Portraiture. In W. Shearer, In Portraiture. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Read More
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