The two works being compared are the short story “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway and the poem "Q and A" by Ron Koertge. Comparatively the works complement each other in a way that is not as hard to distinguish as one might think. They both use exceptional imagery, and the use of questions motivates the reader to dig deeper into what the questions actually mean. The tone, symbolism, and voice are all very similar and noticeably unique in both works. Simply put the short story and poem seem to align in a way that is unexpected yet brilliantly fitting for each other. The word placement used in both of them leaves both of them open ended although the reader may feel there is a conclusion to be found.
In the short story “Hills Like White Elephants” the imagery starts off beautifully. Hemingway describes the scene where Jig and the American are both sitting waiting for the train. He is able to describe the landscape with buildings in it to make it sounds as if it were almost a paradise, when in reality, it may not be as wonderful as described. The scenery sounds almost as if it’s a desert, hot and dry with rolling hills that, as Jig announces, “They look like white Elephants.” The same goes for Koertge in his metaphors. In the last stanza when describing how to remember parts of speech, he somehow influences a beautiful setting by describing useless mundane things, a cigarette, a door, and a hand towel, and somehow turns them into something beautiful,
“Picture a fancy restaurant: an adjective
lights the cigarette of a noun. Two adverbs
accompany a verb to the rest room. An
article holds the door; a preposition hands
the verb a warm hand-towel.”
The use of questions throughout both of the writings can appear a bit confusing. However, it seems that both the poem and the story are trying to provoke individual thought from the reader. By using a strong confident voice to push the reader in a certain direction, that confidence only gets taken away by subtle messages that seem to underlie the bigger words. The tone in both the poem and the story adds a sad undertone to each piece. It is difficult at first to understand what that sadness is, but by the end of both works one can understand that something that is beautiful can also be considered sad. The voice and tone used in both works feels as though it is strong enough to pull a reader in a certain direction and then takes a different path only a few moments later.
Hemingway does this when he begins to talk about what is assumed to be an abortion. Jig and the American begin talking and Jig asks whether or not they’ll be alright, the American assures her that they will only to say “if you don’t want to you don’t have to. I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to.” It’s almost as if he’s playing with the Jig. Once she finally feels comfortable with a decision, the American almost changes his mind. As Flynn points out, the literature “Contained expressions of frustration, uncertainty, puzzlement” (Pg. 241) One can easily be confused by the threads that Hemingway leaves for readers and they have no choice but to look deeper into certain meanings reinforced with words that seem to be carelessly placed, but are in fact so carefully placed that it is truly confusing at moment.
There are many instances that lead to these feelings; just as in “Q and A” when the question is asked “Do words have feelings? Because of one picture, a thousand words/are burdened with low self-esteem.” This is profound, because Hemingway forces the reader to question himself, while Koertge literally questions the reader by asking them directly, however the same result is achieved by confusing the reader while bringing him to an answer as well. Hemingway’s thematic elements are beautiful, and they make you feel something, perhaps in the case of this story, a bit melancholy. While Koertge asks the question and then makes the reader realize that yes, in fact words are beautiful and he has just made something beautiful for someone to look at and read. He uses the word “dictionary” and “thesaurus” challenging the reader by making the reader wonder if those words are also considered beautiful.
The symbolism in both works narrowly escape imagination. Though Koertge certainly does leave more up to the mind's eye, his writing can still be seen as symbolic. As stated by __ it is suggested that symbolism is “an elusive idea of the mind. In such a case, we have recourse generally to an explanation; we convey through many words an abstract sense of the thing.” (Pg. 520) Koertge’s use of symbolism certainly relates to this last description, as his symbols can be used to describe a number of different scenarios. While Hemingway leads the reader blindly through, hinting toward abortion but never really coming to a conclusion by the end of the reading.
To finalize the comparison, it is easy to state that Hemingway and Koertge have a similar style of writing, though one is a poet and the other a storyteller. Although they both express themselves in different ways, it is easy to find comparisons between the two by delving into their style and holding them side by side. Both have an incredible sense of voice and set the tone perfectly during their pieces to enhance the certain aspects that they want the reader to get a sense of. They are tricky writers but if one looks deep enough into the mystery that these two writers are capable of capturing, a beautiful story is told and can be deeply appreciated.
Cazamian, Louis. "Symbolism and Poetry." University of Toronto Quarterly 5.4 (2013): 520-543. Print.
Flynn, Elizabeth A. "Gender and Reading." College English 45.3 (1983): 236-253. Print.