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Bittersweet Love

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Literature has been the foundation that develops the need to have conflicts that can creates inspiring pieces of ideas of how to overcome it or learn from it if it cannot be resolves. It express the hardships and struggles from the experiences of the writer that reader can establish connections or may acknowledge it as a worldly or personal crisis. In short story, “Country Lovers” by Nadine Gordimer and “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway, both centers around the conflict that involves the issues of forces that may threaten to end love relationships in way both couples didn’t want, by exploring the use of literary techniques such as symbolism, climax, and setting.

Both stories deal with forces that is causing a love crisis between each other. The theme in “Hill Like White Elephant”, the couples are dealing with the topic of their unborn child and abortion and in “Country Lovers” focus on the love of childhood friends that turn into sexual curiosity that’s against society rules and expectation between blacks and whites.

In “Hills Like White Elephants”, the whole story is consist of dialogue between a young woman who is nicknamed “Jig” and the unnamed American lover, trying to talk to each other but neither are listening or viewing each other point of views. The “white elephant” which means a “possession of something that useless or difficult to expose of”(Oxford, 2014) symbolizes to Jig’s unwanted pregnancy that in her perspective, is proving to be a unwanted gift but precious because of her statement about the setting she residing in where the “hills” located in Ebro across a valley that “look like white elephants” are “lovely”, which enlightens the statements to be more of something she want to experience of having the child that is unwanted (Clugston, 2014).

However, her American lover only refer to it as “only[a] thing”(49), a nuisance, that is in the way to their happiness and its just one “simple operation” she has to do to make everything go back to normal as a happy couple. The alcoholic drinks also signify trouble in their relationship because Jig seem to be bother by it when she states “that’s all we do—look at things and try new drinks” and refer to the drink “Anis del Toro” tasted like “liquorice” that symbolize the sweet past and bitter present of their relationship that motivates Jig to seeks something new in their relationship like getting married or having a baby, like in their current situation, but the American seem to not want or is not ready for change.(Clugston, 2014) Jig began to juggling her dilemma to either get the abortion that causing an impasse between them or do what’s right and simply accept her new unwanted gift. The American is being falsely supportive through the whole story, keep telling her that he would love her if she decides to do it or not, but then deject it thinking in her case it “perfectly simple” to get a abortion. Jig argues that even if she decides to get the operation that “once they take it away, you never get it back” (80) referring to the abortion and their relationship.

Country Lovers revolves around the childhood romance of two people of difference races that turn into sexual curiosity in a society where this display of action is deemed socially wrong. The setting of the story is around the time of where blacks and whites live unequal lives “farm children play together when they are small, but once the white children go away to school they(blacks and whites) soon don’t play together any more”. Thus, Paulus always “told her, each time, when they would meet again” (6) because they know they can’t be seen in public view together since it’s unacceptable in society. When Thebedi give birth to their child, she didn’t say a word about it to Paulus until he seen it after he came home from college that the baby was light skinned—an evidence of their love together that can threaten the stability of their relationship. It was because of their cultural pressures that Paulus end up killing the baby to protect himself from public humiliation and Thebedi, being black and woman, was helpless to save the life of her child.

She knew that she couldn’t win against a force that made her submissive to the system and Paulus took advantage of the opportunity to kill the child disregarding his sense morality, yet she took a chance and testify against him. She testified that “she saw the accused pouring liquid into the baby’s mouth. She said he threaten to shoot her if she told anyone”(25). However, a year later, she took back what she testify previously and states that “she had not seen what the white man did in[her] house”(26). She testified while still wearing the “gilt hoop ear-rings”(3; 25-26) that Paulus gave her to symbolizes that she still had feeling for him even when she knew it was over between the two of the them after her statement at the end, “It was a thing of our childhood,we don’t see each other any more ”(33).

Even when both short stories have the same type of theme and same individual versus individual conflict, there are some aspect in the stories that are different in how it approaches to the conflict. In “Country Lovers” the conflict with a society existing during the time of a post-Apartheid, which is a “policy that governed relations between South Africa’s white minority and nonwhite majority and sanctioned racial segregation and political and economic discrimination against nonwhite” (Apartheid, 2014). The fact that their love for each other defy the society rules, in a sense, it created a place for them to live in their world where they can live as equal in the expression of love.

But in the end, it was racial discrimination that is forced by society end something that could have been fought if they had the strong will to go against it. Unlike, Hills like White Elephants, society is not involved but the conflict with issue dealing with a unwanted pregnancy that challenges the level of loyalty and responsibility they have to overcome this situation that threaten to end their relationship. With the American disregard of the consequences of abortion that can change the psyche of woman according to Psychology and Health argues that woman “responses to abortion are similar to a linear of grief reaction”(Ogden, 2007), Jig must make the decision that to either live a selfish life and deal with the result or live a difficult and selfless path and reveling the rewards.

The use of literary techniques that both story used are more different then they are appeared to be. Hemingway’s creative use of symbolic material while Gordimer’s use of story structure such as rising action and climax, to draw out the issue that was intended by the author to state a crisis that need to be acknowledged by the readers. Hemingway’s use of symbolism can state a time in his life where he had problem with his love life. The setting dealing with hills looking white elephants can indicates that something that’s unwanted can change the view of couples in casual love relationships, whether it will be for better or worst. Gordimer’s use of story structure help reader to recognizing the distorted realism of how rooted the Apartheid was that cause tension and racial unfairness between blacks and whites.

There was no resolves to the conflict in both stories, however it help acknowledge the awareness of the crisis that stimulates that their a lesson to be learned. The cultural pressure in Country Lovers that hold down Paulus and Thebedi’s forbidden love and the terrible turn of events made it impossible for them to be together again. I feel that if Thebedi had a sense of individuality, the faith of the baby would have changed but it just show how Gordimer’s concern about the Apartheid can warn against situation like this that make the conflict be acknowledge about the dangers of unchanging traditions that can be more harm than good. The end of Hills Like White Elephants was an enigma because it ends with Jig saying in a vague “I’m fine” (109), but she’s smiling at the American, which may indicate that she might have found the true “white elephant” that was in the way of “her” happiness.

Clugston, R. W. (2014). Journey into Literature (2nd ed)[Electronic version]. Retrieved from https://content.ashford.edu/ Apartheid. (2014).Encyclopædia Britannica,
Goodwin, P., & Ogden, J. (2007). Women’s reflections upon their past abortions: An exploration of how and why emotional reactions change over time.Psychology & Health,22(2), 231-248. doi:10.1080/14768320600682384

Oxford Dictionary, 2014 “White Elephant”, Retrieve from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/white-elephant?q=White+Elephant&searchDictCode=all

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