Comparison of Themes of Marital and Romantic Relationships in Two Stories
The present age tends to dichotomise romance and family. Doris Lessing’s short story “To Room Nineteen” portrays a free-spirited Englishwoman who made the mistake of signing up for the life of a full-time housewife. Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” set in Spain, depicts the scepticism and xenophobia of a young woman whose American lover importunes for abortion. Both these women are disillusioned with romance with which they began. Susan Rawlings in Lessing’s story does not care for material security which her promiscuous husband provides. Hemingway’s Jig fears she is taken for a ride when romance seems to ground itself on no values but pure physicality. The idea that gives unity of focus to the two stories is the woman’s need for an emotional resting place and the prop of stability in relationships. Susan thinks of her own space only when her bedrock assumptions about Matthew collapse. And Jig is reassured for the time being when her lover decides to stay the inordinate request he made of her. There are key symbols through which both these stories come alive.
The River and the Rails
Most authors choose images of motion to convey the transformation undergone by characters. In “To Room Nineteen” the “slow, brown river” symbolises the ebb in the life of Susan Rawlings who had hoped that the scenic beauty of her garden residence—from where the river is sighted-- would accelerate her happiness (Zhao 1653). She knows the nature of the demons tormenting her but dare not demand the much-needed change in her life without “a wellspring to live from” (Lessing 527)).. The ‘happy home’ myth was to Matthew Rawlings a shield for his basic libertinism. Susan attempts to hide from the family. She gets a ‘Mother’s Room’ where none should invade her privacy. But the plan fails as none can do without her while she is around. She tries to attempt a secret hideout by renting a room in Victoria but the landlady Miss Townsend’s nosey behaviour makes her discontinue. Matthew next gives her a trekking holiday in Wales. But even there she is not spared the incursions of her clingy family. She goes back to her successful retreat in Fred’s apartment, the Room Nineteen. This room had now become a symbol of her freedom and identity. She ends her ennui by gassing herself in this place. Her guardian spirit reappears in the form of the slow, brown river as she lies enjoying the last earthly moments of liberation from Matthew’s home.
The image with which “Hills Like White Elephants” begins is of the two opposite rails, to one side of which is the arid station and to the other side of which lies the green fields. The linking of the emotional, topographical, and medical contexts of the two characters is read as their being “[caught] between two sets of rails—their mutually exclusive alternatives—in the full heat of their dilemma and able to take refuge only in the shade of a bar—the anesthetizing effect of the drinks they consume” (Wyche). The American man presses the girlfriend Jig for an abortion. As he speaks about the simple process of “letting the air in,” the girl almost shrieks as if she were living the nightmare and commands him to stop talking. He now moves the bags to the opposite end to reassure her. This story unfolds the theme of impaired or absent communication that questions romance and love-play.
Two Stories of Strained Relations
In both these stories it is clear that a woman deprived of her soul’s haven before long becomes a neurotic. Susan looks for a harbour within herself finding none other. Jig, on the other hand, feels let down by a solipsist who tells her what to do with her body that he had put an unauthorised seal on. In both examples vibrant communication and emotional security are vital to the women. Both women, different though in age, in their own way uphold their self-owned individual spirit.
Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills Like White Elephants.” Accessed 7 Feb, 2016, at http://www.massey.ac.nz/Readings/Additional
Lessing, Doris. “To Room Nineteen” From To Room Nineteen . New York: Vintage Books. Web. Accessed 7 Feb, 2016, at http://www.litandplaces2011.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu/
Wyche, D. “Letting the Air Into a Realationship: Metaphorical Abortion in Hills Like White Elephants” (2002) Web. Accessed 7 Feb, 2016, at https://muse.jhu.edu/22.1.wyche.html
Zhao, Kun. “An Analysis of Three Images in Doris Lessing’s To Room Nineteen” (Aug 2012) Theory and Practice in Language Studies, Vol.2. No. 8, 1651-1655. Web. Accessed 7 Feb, 2016, at http://www.academypublication.com/vol02