Hemingway quotation

Ernest Hemingway FAQ: Symbolism

Question What symbolism is present in "Cat in the Rain"?

Answer "Cat in the Rain" is based in part on the rainy day Ernest and Hadley (first wife) spent at the Hotel Splendide in Rapallo, Italy circa 1923. Here are some thoughts to help jumpstart your critical thinking about the story:

1) What is the relationship like between the husband and the wife? Does he pay her any mind? Does he serve her? Does he truly consider her wants and needs? What are her wants and needs? In what ways is the husband repressing these needs?

2) Notice the repetition of the word, "American." Is Hemingway making a statement here about American women, wives in particular, being inherently more nagging, childish, and spoiled? Or is he simply trying to depict the Americans as foreigners, isolated not only in their surroundings, but also from each other?

3) Many have interpreted the wife's remark that she wants a kitty as symbolic of her desire to have a child. Or perhaps she is already pregnant and just imagining what it will be like when the baby comes. Obviously, the woman is in search of something here (companionship, attention, love, a sense of belonging) and seemingly willing to go to whatever extremes to get what she wants.

4) How does the wife view the padrone? How does the padrone view the wife? He too seems to see her as childish and is eager to cater to her whims, but to the point that his manner of servitude is more patronizing than professional.

5) The wife gets her cat in the end. The only question is which cat. Is it the cat the wife had spied outside or is it another cat, one that the padrone had personally arranged to be brought up? Which scenario makes for a better ending?

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Question What symbolism is present in "The End of Something"?

Answer The most prevalent symbol in "The End of Something" is the destroyed lumber mill, which represents Nick and Marjorie's soon-to-be destroyed relationship. As they row past the mill, Marjorie remarks that it reminds her of a castle. Nick says nothing to this. Hemingway feels it unnecessary to explain Marjorie's allusion to the castle, that this is most likely the way she views her relationship with Nick, as a well defended fortress incapable of destruction. He is also not tempted to analyze why Nick doesn't respond. He simply uses Marjorie's allusion and Nick's lack of response to connect the future fate of their relationship with the past fate of the mill, one of ultimate ruin. This is Hemingway's "theory of omission" in practice.

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Question What symbolism is present in A Farewell to Arms?

Answer Rain in Hemingway is often indicative of rebirth or death, occasionally a mixture of both. It could also be representative of transition and change. It can bring replenishment and nurture life, but in large amounts, in over excess, it can bring suffocation and death. How might such symbolisms apply to A Farewell to Arms?

What about symbolisms in the first chapter of the novel? How is the time frame of events being established, (the passing of seasons, etc.)? When Hemingway writes that the troops wore bulging capes making them look like pregnant women, what might he be foreshadowing? What contradictions do we see emerging between the mountains and the plains? What is Hemingway setting us up for?

For further discussions on symbolisms in A Farewell to Arms, see Ernest Hemingway: Critiques of Four Major Novels edited by Carlos Baker, in particular Charles R. Anderson's essay, "Hemingway's Other Style" and Carlos Baker's essay, "The Mountain and the Plain."

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Question How is setting symbolic in the story, "Hills Like White Elephants"?

Answer In "Hills Like White Elephants," the narrative is almost all dialogue between Jig and the American man, so we must take our clues from them.

It appears that the American man is trying to persuade his partner to get an abortion. The topic of their conversation is never directly stated, only ambiguously implied by Hemingway. However, if we bring into play the symbolism of Jig's statement that the hills resemble white elephants, we might be able to make a more definitive case that this is in fact a story about unwanted pregnancy.

Some have interpreted the hills as representing the rounded shape of a pregnant woman's belly. A more interesting symbolism is not of the hills per se, but of the white elephants. In Webster's Dictionary, under "white elephant," one of the definitions reads: "a property requiring much care and expense and yielding little profit."

This seems to describe how the American man might view children. In stating that the hills resemble white elephants, Jig also seems to be implying that she is not enthusiastically anticipating the birth of this child. She later, however, reverses her original observation, and in doing so, allows Hemingway to beautifully capture her indecision, as well as the general tension of the story itself.

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Question What does the mountain Kilimanjaro represent to Harry in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"?

Answer Harry sees himself as a failed writer. He spends much of the story reflecting on his failures. His failures are amplified by the fact that he is dying. The five flashbacks represent the personal experiences Harry had hoped to write about. After each flashback, he becomes more and more distraught that he will not have the opportunity to get these stories on paper.

Harry had come to Africa with the hopes of rekindling his talents. Africa was where he was the happiest and therefore the ideal setting for writing. However, Harry's talent for writing was slipping before he came to Africa and with his leg becoming infected and the gangrene setting in, his fate as a failed writer seemed sealed. Would Harry have been able to regain the stature he desired as a writer even if he was not being confronted by death? This is one of the questions Hemingway wants us to ponder.

The dream Harry has (just before he dies) of flying towards the top of Kilimanjaro is another sequence in which to ponder. We do, for a moment, get the sense that Harry is at peace in the presence of the majestic Kilimanjaro. The story ends not with Harry's dream of ascending mount Kilimanjaro, but with the crying of the hyena. This brings us back to the reality of Harry's death and reminds us of his failed ambitions. Kilimanjaro represents the sovereign height to which every writer wishes to rise. With death breathing down his neck, Harry can now only dream of reaching such a height.

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Question What does light signify in the story, "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"?

Answer The idea of a well-lighted place is of great significance to this short story. It illuminates the connection between the old man and the older waiter, both of whom favor well-lighted places especially at night. A well-lighted atmosphere is an atmosphere in which the old man and older waiter can escape their loneliness. In the darkness of the night, the men are more vulnerable to thoughts of suicide and despair. Darkness and sleep must be avoided, for in these states there is nothingness, "nada."

The old man and the older waiter have nothing to go home to except darkness. The younger waiter, on the other hand, has a wife to go home to, and is therefore anxious to close up the café. When he refuses to refill the old man's brandy, the older waiter wonders what difference an extra hour would make. The older waiter can empathize with the old man and understands his attraction to a clean, well-lighted place.

On some level, the younger waiter may also understand why the old man prefers drinking in a clean, well-lighted place to drinking at home, but his concern for himself takes precedence over his concern for the old man. After all, he is young and has confidence. With such confidence, it seems slightly strange that he would be rushing home to his wife. A confident man must know that his wife will be waiting in bed for him regardless of how late the hour.

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