Contained in Stories from all over the World

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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“Contained in stories from all over the world, symbolic imagery is a method authors use to add more substance to the stories that they are painting, with each author having their own way of doing it.. Symbolic imagery gives stories flavour, such as in Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”. Glancing through the story, it may seem like an ordinary couple waiting for the train, commenting on their surroundings while sipping on a beer or two, and talking about a fairly innocuous medical operation.

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But taking a closer look at the words on the page reveals a deeper story. In the story it says, “I’ll go with you and I’ll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural.” Ernest Hemingway tends to simplify his writing. He describes an abortion in such a way that it is just “an awfully simple operation”, while Jhumpa Lahiri tends to introduce symbolism in a way that makes it stick out as important. In Jhumpa Lahiri’s “A Temporary Matter”, she begins the story with ,”The notice informed them that it was a temporary matter: for five days their electricity would be cut off for one hour, beginning at eight P.M.” Out of context the quote seems misplaced but once you get through the story, it becomes clear that the “blackout” symbolizes Shoba and Shukamar’s relationship getting weaker and weaker.

Ernest Hemingway uses subtle symbolism that the reader has to know the meaning of in his short story “Hills Like White Elephants” for the reader to fully grasp at what , while Jhumpa Lahiri uses symbolism that you can easily decipher with the context of the story. In “Hills Like White Elephants”, Ernest Hemingway writes, “The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry. ‘They look like white elephants’, she said.” and “Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river through the trees.” Ernest Hemingway compares the two sides of the train station and links them to the “Girl’s” situation. The reader must know what a “white elephant” is, which is a symbol for the baby she will or will not have. A white elephant is an item that can’t be disposed of by the owner and causes great burden without any benefit to the owner. Ernest Hemingway compares the “white elephant hills” to symbolize the baby if she kept it, being burdened with it, and it not holding any value to her, while on the other side, if she did abort the baby, she would be free, in the “fields of grain and trees” without any burden to her. Jhumpa Lahiri writes, “He had held his son, who had known life only within her, against his chest in a darkened room in an unknown wing of the hospital.” With the aid of the story, we can infer that Lahiri specifically included the words “darkened room”, and “unknown wing” are to symbolize how Shoba was ignorant about the fact that Shukumar had held their dead baby in his arms.

Authors also use the lengths of their sentences and diction as ways of developing, or setting the tone of a story. Jhumpa Lahiri uses average length sentences while Jamaica Kincaid uses long, run-on sentences, with semicolons to act as breaks. Lahiri uses regular sentences to tell a story, but Jamaica Kincaid uses short phrases to develop. For example Jamaica Kincaid writes in her short story “Girl”, “this is how you set a table for tea; this is how you set a table for dinner; this is how you set a table for dinner with an important guest; this is how you set a table for lunch; this is how you set a table for breakfast; this is how to behave in the presence of men who don’t know you very well, and this way they won’t recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming”. Jamaica Kincaid’s choice of diction makes the story feel as if it were a long list that the girl in the story heard from her mother. The high usage of phrases creates a nagging sensation felt by the girl and the reader alike.”

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Contained in Stories From All Over the World. (2021, Jul 05). Retrieved from