14 December 2014
Setting the Atmosphere
In literature, setting is just as important as characters, point of view, and plot. Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Hills like White Elephants” and Susan Glaspell’s play “Trifles” both have characters that are different types of people but are connected by how they relate to their choices; and the potential consequences and the uncertainty of their fate. The use of symbolism in both stories introduces the reader to the settings and creates a mood of empathy towards Jig and Mrs. Wright. Both writers conveys the setting in three realms: time (era), domain (kitchen and train station), and regional (geographical). Collectively the three setting elements portray values, ideals and attitudes of Jig and Mrs. Wright giving deeper meaning to the outcome of both stories.
Hemingway sets “Hills like White Elephants” at a train station to highlight the fact that the relationship between the American and Jig, his girlfriend, is at a crossroads. The train station and landscape can represent many things. The train station and its two opposing tracks can be viewed by the reader as the two choices the couple must make, “On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun.” (Hemingway). The landscape on one side is green, lush and fertile symbolizing the baby and pregnancy. While the landscape on the other side is dry and desolate symbolizing the abortion and loneliness. Jig compares the unborn child to white elephants that are unwanted things that bring shame and are hidden from the public. “They look like white elephants.” She said.” (Hemingway). The main characters must decide where to go and, in this case, whether to go together and continue their relationship or face the evitable fate of saying their goodbyes.
The setting for Glaspell’s “Trifles” is set in a rural area, specifically at an abandoned farmhouse. Being set in a rural landscaping, the relatively larger distance between neighbors in rural farming areas implies a sense of loneliness that parallel’s Mrs. Wright’s loneliness. When Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale discuss Mrs. Wright’s personality and relationship with Mr. Wright, Mrs. Hale mentions that the house “never seemed a very cheerful place” (Glaspell). In “Trifles” the Wright’s home is described as “Down in a hollow surrounded by lonesome polar trees” (Glaspell). Mr. Wright was no company for her. The reader immediately concludes Mrs. Wright was separated from society.
The time period in which a piece of literature takes place affects the meaning of the story. Both writers artistically uses the values and attitudes of gender in both stories. The underlying pressure of the both stories pits men against women. Women in the United States had not been granted the right to vote and were looked upon as decorative, useful only in the home. The American in “Hills like White Elephants” was condensing and dominating trying to influence Jig’s decision on having the abortion, “Doesn’t it mean anything to you? We could get along. /” Of course it does. But I don’t want anybody but you. I don’t want anyone else. And I know it’s perfectly simple.” (Hemingway). The men in “Trifles” considered themselves intellectually superior in their attempt to solve the murder. The men do all their investigating everywhere but in the kitchen because it’s the woman’s domain. They never considered their opinion or input into the investigation. In fact as the Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peter’s take note of “trifles”, the men dismiss the women as unimportant. (Glaspell).
Although both stories took place in different countries and seasons, the common thread was “coldness”. Both authors skillfully uses this setting element to characterize attitudes of all main characters. The conversation between the American and Jig began with a topic both dreaded to discuss. The sarcastic tone Jig provided when answering the American’s questions