Monday, January 18, 2010

Hemingway and Faulkner

I appreciate the opportunity to read these two authors in tandem, for rarely do I get to see such dramatically different styles juxtaposed against each other so vibrantly. In Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” short sentences stand out in a staccato back-and-forth pace with no description given by the author. Hemingway leaves the emotion and mood of the scene to be established by the statements of the characters with no stage directions as to how each sounded. The only context he provides to the scene is through the backdrop and landscape of a remote train stop.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this short story surrounds that train stop. While the challenge that the couple in the story faces is never stated, the decision they will eventually reach (outside the confines of the story) will impact their lifestyle in years to come. The choices before them, represented by the two rail lines, are at a head, and they disagree with what path they should take. What I felt was most intriguing about the train station was that it is presented in a very lonesome and isolated manner, imagined alone in a vast empty desert only connected to civilization by those two tracks. Yet upon examination it is clearly a bustling center, including a well stocked bar (complete with liquor company advertising) and it fills up as the train’s arrival time nears. Perhaps this isn’t a bustling station, but it is far from the isolated outpost at the edge of the frontier that it is first presented as. The isolation one feels in the story, then, is between the couple at its heart and the decision between them. Of course, as in so many of Hemingway’s stories, so much is left to the reader that this can only be considered speculation.

It is the minimalism in Hemingway’s tale that makes Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” stand out in comparison. Faulkner has divided this short inspection of the deterioration of a woman’s life and the deviant behavior to which she turns into a collection of anecdotes adding up to a full tale. Faulkner spends much more time examining the nuances and disparities in Emily’s life from the view of her neighbors, judging her from the outside. This external view of the story is far different from the intimacy of Hemingway’s story, in which the topic of discussion is kept private even from the reader. Rather, Faulkner has laid bare all of Emily’s actions and missteps through life and allowed for those through whom he is telling the story to lay judgment on her.

This difference in perspective is perhaps best seen in the fact that Hemingway allows the reader to see very fully one intimate moment in the lives of his couple, in which no past or future can or should be taken into account, and the words and events occur only when they spill from the characters themselves. Faulkner, on the other hand, carefully concocts of Emily’s life events and cleverly plays them out in a disorderly fashion for dramatic effect, each event leading to one earlier, or perhaps later, and ultimately leaving the reader with the emotions that he put into the tale, rather than their own.

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