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Theme and Narrative Elements in the Short Story In two to four double-spaced pages (excluding title and reference page), demonstrate your understanding of literary themes, using a short story from the readings in week one or two:  Describe what the theme of the short story is, using Chapter Seven of the text as a reference.Identify at least two of the literary elements in the short story that contribute to the theme (e.g., plot, point of view, tone, setting, character, symbolism, etc.), providing an example of each element.Explain how the selected literary elements affect the narrative theme Your paper should be organized around a thesis statement that focuses on how the literary elements contribute to the larger narrative theme. All sources must be properly cited.  The paper must include a separate title and reference page, and be formatted to APA (6th edition) style. The paper must be two to four pages in length (excluding the title and reference page), and formatted according to APA style. You must use at least two scholarly resources (at least one of which can be found in the Ashford Online Library) other than the textbook to support your claims and subclaims. Cite your resources in text and on the reference page. For information regarding APA samples and tutorials, visit the Ashford Writing Center, within the Learning Resources tab on the left navigation toolbar, in your online course. Carefully review the Grading Rubric for the criteria that will be used to evaluate your assignment.

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chapter 7

Short Story:
Theme and Symbolism

“In order to write about life,
first you must live it.”

—Ernest Hemingway, American writer

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CHAPTER 7Section 7.1 Theme

7.1  Theme

Perhaps, when thinking about what theme means, it’s best to be clear about what it does not mean. The theme in a piece of literature is not a summary of the plot; it is not a statement about a dominant impression or mood; it is not a moral or proposition; it is not the attitude
of the writer. Theme is more complex than any of these elements of fiction; it can’t be defined in
a single word.

Theme in fiction is associated with something abstract, something broad: The theme in a story is
associated with an idea that lies behind the story. Every story narrows a broad underlying idea,
shapes it in a unique way, and makes the underlying idea concrete. That’s how theme is created.
In other words, the theme in a story is a representation of the idea behind the story.

To identify a story’s theme it’s necessary to look beyond the plot. The plot tells you what hap-
pens in a story, but the theme tells you what the story is about. What you are required to do,
therefore, in identifying theme is to answer the question, How? You should ask questions such as
these: How does the writer use setting to narrow the underlying idea? How do characters make
particular aspects of the underlying idea clear? How does conflict reveal the strength or worth of
the underlying idea?

Everyone’s answers to these questions will vary somewhat. That’s all right; it’s to be expected
because we all filter our relationship to literature through our individual experiences. When a
story is written well, though, its theme will come alive through the characters, action, and other
elements—and it will be broadly recognized. For example: look back at Eudora Welty’s story “A
Worn Path”:

• It would be inaccurate to say that its theme is “dealing with a hard journey in winter.” That
is only a summary of the plot, a statement about what happens in the story.

• It would be more accurate to say the theme is love. A one-word statement of theme is not
possible in this case, however. “Love” or “the nature of love” is the broad idea behind the
story, the broad subject the story explores. But, as already explained, the theme will be
more concrete, more specific. It will be a narrowed representation of the idea behind the
story.

• So, it is more accurate, then, to say that the theme is “sacrificial love” or “love in action”
or “selfless love” or “love that overcomes troubles.” Each of these statements, although
not identical, indicates what the story is about.

7.2  Symbolism

A symbol is something that has a literal identity but also stands for something else—something that is widely understood and has been developed over a long period of time or by com-mon agreement. This second identity (or referent) is always abstract in nature. For example,
when you see a flag flying in front of the White House, you recognize it as a piece of cloth with a
colored pattern of stars and stripes. This is its literal identity. But you also recognize (sense, feel) that
it is something else, something abstract that can’t easily be put into words: It stands for a nation, for
all that makes the United States of America distinctive. In this way, the flag becomes a symbol. As
such, when you see it, it unlocks knowledge you have about the United States of America.

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CHAPTER 7Section 7.2 Symbolism

Table 7.1 Some Common Symbols

Common Nature Symbols
Spring Birth, new beginning
Summer Maturity
Autumn Aging
Winter Death, stagnation, sleep
Light Hope, knowledge, truth, safety
Darkness Fear, ignorance, evil, danger
Oak tree Strength, wisdom
Pine tree Immortality
Mountain Holy place (inspiration), safety, strength
Rose Beauty, love
Rain (ironic) Sadness or blessing
Lightning (ironic) Life-giving or death-causing
Mist or fog Isolation; uncertainty
Wind, storm Turmoil of human emotions
Water Source of life, regeneration
River Flow of human experiences
Sun Life source (masculine symbol)
Moon Patterned change (feminine symbol)
Gold Perfection
Common Cultural Symbols
Bull Constellation Taurus; aggressive investment market
White flag Surrender
Laurel garland (ancient
cultures)

Victory

Lotus flower (Asian culture) Rebirth; determined striving
Phoenix Renewal
Crown Designation of royalty
Common Color Symbols
White Innocence, light, purity, insight, life
Black Evil, ignorance, corruption, death
Red Passion, danger
Green Hope, inexperience
Yellow Decay, aging
Blue Peacefulness
Common Animal Symbols
Lion Pride, power
Lamb Gentleness, child of God
Dove Peace, purity
Raven Death
Snake Temptation, evil
Mouse Shyness, timidity
Owl Knowledge, wisdom, announcer of death
Eagle Liberty, freedom, strength

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CHAPTER 7Section 7.3 An Annotated Story Illustrating Elements of Theme and Symbolism

The effect of a symbol in literature can be intensified when it is used paradoxically—that is, when
it is used to convey a meaning opposite to its conventional meaning. A paradox is an apparent
contradiction. It seems contradictory, but it actually explains or reveals truth. The hills in Ernest
Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants” are a paradoxical symbol; instead of being
appealing and suggesting pleasant things, they remind the woman in the story of threatening,
unpleasant things.

You probably are familiar with many common symbols. There are several classifications of sym-
bols, including historical, religious, cultural, and psychological ones. Even the brief list in Table 7.1
suggests that we deal with symbols a lot in our everyday life, and we are aware of them in the
things we read and the movies we see.

7.3  An Annotated Story Illustrating Elements of Theme and
Symbolism

Because stories are imaginary, and story writers want you to understand and learn from the imaginary world they are creating, they find ways to make the theme stand out clearly, and they use symbols to convey feelings, describe settings, present characters, heighten con-
flict, and create various moods. The annotations of the story illustrate some of the ways Ernest
Hemingway uses theme and symbolism effectively in “Hills Like White Elephants.”

Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961)

A doctor’s son, he was born in Oak Park, Illinois, and had a love for the
outdoors, hunting, and fishing from his earliest years. He served in the
ambulance corps during World War I, an experience that influenced his
writing, especially his novel A Farewell to Arms. Hemingway spent time
with notable writers in Paris known as the Lost Generation. Their collec-
tive voices conveyed disillusionment and purposelessness that followed
World War I. He published seven novels and six collections of short stories.
He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and the Nobel Prize for Litera-
ture in 1954, these recognitions following the last of his major novels, The
Old Man and the Sea. Death and violence were predominant themes in his
works, which often pitted human courage in struggles against these forces.
Hemingway married four times, lived adventurously, and suffered from ill
health in his later years partly as a result of injuries from a plane crash dur-
ing a safari in Africa. He committed suicide in Ketchum, Idaho, at age 62.

Bettmann/CORBIS

Hills Like White Elephants
Ernest Hemingway (1927)

The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side
there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines
of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm
shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads,
hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies. The American
and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It

The distant hills symbol-
ize an exquisite place of
escape—but these hills

look like “white elephants”
(an ironic detail). They
remind her that conse-

quences of the decision she
faces might be costly.

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CHAPTER 7Section 7.3 An Annotated Story Illustrating Elements of Theme and Symbolism

was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty min-
utes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went to Madrid.

“What should we drink?“ the girl asked. She had taken off her hat and
put it on the table.

“It’s pretty hot,” the man said.

“Let’s drink beer.”

“Dos cervezas,” the man said into the curtain.

“Big ones?” a woman asked from the doorway.

“Yes. Two big ones.”

The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the
felt pads and the beer glass on the table and looked at the man and the
girl. 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.

“I’ve never seen one,” the man drank his beer.

“No, you wouldn’t have.”

“I might have,” the man said. “Just because you say I wouldn’t have
doesn’t prove anything.”

The girl looked at the bead curtain. “They’ve painted something on it,”
she said. “What does it say?”

“Anis del Toro.1 It’s a drink.”

“Could we try it?”

The man called “Listen” through the curtain. The woman came out from
the bar.

“Four reales.” “We want two Anis del Toro.”

“With water?”

“Do you want it with water?”

“I don’t know,” the girl said. “Is it good with water?”

“It’s all right.”

5

 Ironic symbol—
The hills, tradi-

tionally a symbol
of attractiveness,
beauty, tranquil-
ity, appear to Jig

as not having
these qualities.

10

15

20

1. A liqueur with a licorice taste. Description of it its bitter-sweet qualities emphasizes the woman’s ambivalence.

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CHAPTER 7Section 7.3 An Annotated Story Illustrating Elements of Theme and Symbolism

“You want them with water?” asked the woman.

“Yes, with water.”

“It tastes like licorice,” the girl said and put the glass down.

“That’s the way with everything.”

“Yes,” said the girl. “Everything tastes of licorice. Especially all the things
you’ve waited so long for, like absinthe.”

“Oh, cut it out.”

“You started it,” the girl said. “I was being amused. I was having a fine
time.”

“Well, let’s try and have a fine time.”

“All right. I was trying. I said the mountains looked like white elephants.
Wasn’t that bright?”

“That was bright.”

“I wanted to try this new drink. That’s all we do, isn’t it—look at things
and try new drinks?”

“I guess so.”

The girl looked across at the hills.

“They’re lovely hills,” she said. “They don’t really look like white ele-
phants. I just meant the coloring of their skin through the trees.”

“Should we have another drink?”

“All right.”

The warm wind blew the bead curtain against the table.

“The beer’s nice and cool,” the man said.

“It’s lovely,” the girl said.

“It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” the man said. “It’s not really
an operation at all.”

The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.

“I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let
the air in.”

25

Theme—One of
several refer-

ences by the girl
to “being fine,”
including com-

ment in the final
line of the story.

30 The setting is
described objec-

tively, without
emotion. (Even
though, we dis-
cover, that the
matter Jig and

the American are
discussing has

significant emo-
tional aspects.)

35

40

There’s an under-
lying edginess in
the tone of their

conversation

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CHAPTER 7Section 7.3 An Annotated Story Illustrating Elements of Theme and Symbolism

The girl did not say anything.

“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.”

“Then what will we do afterwards?”

“We’ll be fine afterwards. Just like we were before.”

“What makes you think so?”

“That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us
unhappy.”

The girl looked at the bead curtain, put her hand out and took hold of
two of the strings of beads.

“And you think then we’ll be all right and be happy.”

“I know we will. You don’t have to be afraid. I’ve known lots of people
that have done it.”

“So have I,” said the girl. “And afterwards they were all so happy.”

“Well,” the man said, “if you don’t want to you don’t have to. I wouldn’t
have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple.”

“And you really want to?”

“I think it’s the best thing to do. But I don’t want you to do it if you don’t
really want to.”

“And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll
love me?”

“I love you now. You know I love you.”

“I know. But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like
white elephants, and you’ll like it?”

“I’ll love it. I love it now but I just can’t think about it. You know how I
get when I worry.”

“If I do it you won’t ever worry?”

“I won’t worry about that because it’s perfectly simple.”

“Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me.”

“What do you mean?”

 Although never
directly stated,

it’s clear they
are discussing an

abortion, which
the American

wants the girl to
proceed with.

45

Ironic conversa-
tion related to

love and caring.

50

55

60

The girl’s sarcasm
not only reflects
her feelings but

contributes to
establishing the

theme of the
story.

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CHAPTER 7Section 7.3 An Annotated Story Illustrating Elements of Theme and Symbolism

“I don’t care about me.”

“Well, I care about you.”

“Oh, yes. But I don’t care about me. And I’ll do it and then everything
will be fine.”

“I don’t want you to do it if you feel that way.”

The girl stood up and walked to the end of the station. 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.

“And we could have all this,” she said. “And we could have everything
and every day we make it more impossible.”

“What did you say?”

“I said we could have everything.”

“No, we can’t.”

“We can have the whole world.”

“No, we can’t.”

“We can go everywhere.”

“No, we can’t. It isn’t ours any more.”

“It’s ours.”

“No, it isn’t. And once they take it away, you never get it back.”

“But they haven’t taken it away.”

“We’ll wait and see.”

“Come on back in the shade,” he said. “You mustn’t feel that way.”

“I don’t feel any way,” the girl said. “I just know things.”

“I don’t want you to do anything that you don’t want to do—”

“Nor that isn’t good for me,” she said. “I know. Could we have another
beer?”

“All right. But you’ve got to realize—“

65

70

The American’s
insincerity may

have become bla-
tant dishonesty—

further support-
ing the

theme.

75

The distant
mountains and

the river are sym-
bols of separa-

tion; the girl is far
from experiencing

a resolution of
her

dilemma.

80

The insincerity
of the American

adds to the force-
fulness of the

theme.

85

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CHAPTER 7Section 7.3 An Annotated Story Illustrating Elements of Theme and Symbolism

“I realize,” the girl said. “Can’t we maybe stop talking?”

They sat down at the table and the girl looked across at the hills on the
dry side of the valley and the man looked at her and at the table.

“You’ve got to realize,” he said, “that I don’t want you to do it if you
don’t want to. I’m perfectly willing to go through with it if it means any-
thing to you.”

“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 any-
one else. And I know it’s perfectly simple.”

“Yes, you know it’s perfectly simple.”

“It’s all right for you to say that, but I do know it.”

“Would you do something for me now?”

“I’d do anything for you.”

“Would you please please please please please please please stop
talking?”

He did not say anything but looked at the bags against the wall of the
station. There were labels on them from all the hotels where they had
spent nights.

“But I don’t want you to,” he said, “I don’t care anything about it.”

“I’ll scream,” the girl said.

The woman came out through the curtains with two glasses of beer and
put them down on the damp felt pads. “The train comes in five min-
utes,” she said.

“What did she say?” asked the girl.

“That the train is coming in five minutes.”

The girl smiled brightly at the woman, to thank her.

“I’d better take the bags over to the other side of the station,” the man
said. She smiled at him.

“All right. Then come back and we’ll finish the beer.”

He picked up the two heavy bags and carried them around the station
to the other tracks. He looked up the tracks but could not see the train.

90

95

The girl reveals
not just her frus-
tration with the

American, but
strength she’s
going to need
to resolve her

dilemma.

100

105

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CHAPTER 7Section 7.4 Allegory and Motif

7.4  Allegory and Motif

When the setting, the characters, the plot, and other elements in a story are all symbols, the literary form is called an allegory. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is perhaps the most recog-nized allegory in English literature. Every aspect of the protagonist’s literal journey in the story
from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City corresponds to, or illustrates, a dimension of the spiritual
journey the story seeks to explain.

Simply put, an allegory is a story that is designed to illustrate an abstract concept or system that exists
outside the story. Thus, all aspects of the story have a one-to-one relationship to the controlling, out-
side abstraction or idea. Sometimes, therefore, allegories are called “philosophical” fiction, a term that
emphasizes the fact that what happens in an allegory is of secondary importance; what the story points
to (the outside idea the allegory mirrors) is primary. Notice the allegorical structure that Leonard Cohen
uses in the following poem “Go by Brooks.” The speaker’s invitation to a lover to travel past brooks, rivers,
and oceans becomes a journey in which the brooks, rivers, and oceans are an allegory for increasingly
challenging life experiences. The innocence of the “fish stare” develops into the commotion of the “eels
throng” and becomes an ordeal where “whales sail.” All these elements point beyond themselves—
allowing the narrator’s abstract statements of love to have imaginative, faithful, and deepening aspects.

Responding and Reflection—Questions

Connecting
1. The title initially offers little indication of the story’s theme. In what ways do the refer-

ences to the hills and to white elephants help you to identify the theme?

Considering
2. Do you agree that the power (or control) shifts during the story from the man to the

woman? If so, at what point does it occur?

Concluding
3. What values are important to the woman? To the man? How are symbols used to

emphasize personal values in this story?

Coming back, he walked through the bar-room, where people waiting
for the train were drinking. He drank an Anis at the bar and looked at
the people. They were all waiting reasonably for the train. He went out
through the bead curtain. She was sitting at the table and smiled at him.

“Do you feel better?” he asked.

“I feel fine,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.”

Reprinted with the permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.,
from THE SHORT STORIES OF ERNEST HEMINGWAY by Ernest Hemingway.

Copyright © 1927 by Charles Scribner’s Sons. Copyright renewed © 1955 Ernest Hemingway.

An ambiguous state-
ment—“There’s nothing
wrong with me.” Are her

inner feelings unchanged?
Is her mind made up

about what do to? How
strong is she? This final
question opens up the

theme of courage—more
specifically the search for

courage and dignity. As in
other Hemingway stories,

the behavior that the
woman’s quest requires
is not considered simply
on the basis of right and

wrong. She’s seeking a
personal code in deal-
ing with her complex

situation. It is not entirely
revealed in the story, but it
includes being composed.

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CHAPTER 7Section 7.4 Allegory and Motif

Go by Brooks
Leonard Cohen (1968)

Go by brooks, love,
Where fish stare,

Go by brooks,
I will pass there.

Go by rivers,
Where eels throng,

Rivers, love.
I won’t be long.

Go by oceans,
Where whales sail,

Oceans love,
I will not fail.

“Go by Brooks,” from The Spice-Box of Earth by Leonard Cohen. Bantam Ballantine, 1968.

When a theme recurs in a story, it is referred to as the motif. Writers often use descriptive detail,
dialogue, figurative language, and action to develop the motif, a repeated pattern throughout the
story. Jean Rhys makes creative use of each of these elements in illustrating the speaker’s efforts
to identify with her past life, an important motif in “I Used to Live Here Once.”

5
10

Leonard Cohen (b. 1968)

Popular Canadian song writer and poet, Leonard Cohen was born in Montreal. He studied at
McGill University and published his first book while a student there. The poems in The Spice-
Box of Earth (1961) brought him wide recognition that was expanded by his first album (1967).
It included “Suzanne” and “So Long Marianne,” two long-standing classics. He has written
prolifically since, earning international recognition, most recently with “Hallelujah,” a song of
mystery and spiritual depth.

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CHAPTER 7Section 7.5 An Annotated Story Illustrating Elements of Allegory and Motif

I Used to Live Here Once
Jean Rhys (1976)

She was standing by the river looking at the stepping stones and remem-
bering each one. There was the round unsteady stone, the pointed one,
the flat one in the middle—the safe stone where you could stand and
look around. The next one wasn’t so safe for when the river was full the
water flowed over it and even when it showed dry it was slippery. But
after that it was easy and soon she was standing on the other side.

The road was much wider than it used to be but the work had been
done carelessly. The felled trees had not been cleared away and the
bushes looked trampled. Yet it was the same road and she walked along
feeling extraordinarily happy.

It was a fine day, a blue day. The only thing was that the sky had a glassy
look that she didn’t remember. That was the only word she could think
of. Glassy. She turned the corner, saw that what had been the old pavé1
had been taken up, and there too the road was much wider, but it had
the same unfinished look.

She came to the worn stone steps that led up to the house and her
heart began to beat. The screw pine was gone, so was the mock summer
house called the ajoupa, but the clove tree was still there and at the top
of the steps the rough lawn stretched away, just as she remembered it.
She stopped and looked towards the house that had been added to and
painted white. It was strange to see a car standing in front of it.

There were two children under the big mango tree, a boy and a little girl,
and she waved to them and called “Hello” but they didn’t answer her or

5

1. A setting of precious stones placed together so closely that no metal shows

Jean Rhys (1890–1979)

Her birth name was Gwendolyn Rees Williams. She was born in the West Indies to a Creole
mother and a Welsh father. She completed some schooling in England, married, and lived in
Europe. She was supported in her writing by the famous English author Ford Maddox Ford,
with whom she had an affair that ended bitterly. Rhys is recognized most for her novel Wide
Sargasso Sea (1966), which presents the plot of Charlotte’s Brontë’s Jane Eyre from the point of
view of the mad woman who is married to the novel’s hero. Being called a “white nigger”
while growing up in the West Indies, she was aware of mistreated and helpless females. She
often portrayed their needs and dilemmas in her writings.

7.5  An Annotated Story Illustrating Elements of Allegory and Motif

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CHAPTER 7Section 7.5 An Annotated Story Illustrating Elements of Allegory and Motif
Responding and Reflection—Questions

Connecting
1. Beginning with use of the word once in the title, there are subtle details in the story to

suggest that the narrator has died. The last sentence states, “She knew.” At what point
did you realize that the narrator’s view is from beyond death? Or do you think the
story has a different point of view?

Considering
2. Consider the following details. Explain how each functions as symbols of her life jour-

ney on earth and as symbols in an allegorical journey.
a. Her journey across the river
b. Her association with various stones in the river
c. The wider road, carelessly constructed
d. The glassy sky
e. Her reaching out to the unresponsive children
f. The cold that occurred “all of a sudden”

Concluding
3. Rhys’s story pictures a journey, looked at two ways. It illuminates critical points and

patterns in a typical life journey and also contemplates them from beyond time, estab-
lishing differences that perspective brings. What things are implied as significant and
not significant in a life journey?

turn their heads. Very fair children, as Europeans in the West Indies so
often are: as if the white blood is asserting itself against all odds.

The grass was yellow in the hot sunlight as she walked towards them.
When she was quite close she called again, shyly: “Hello.” Then, “I used
to live here once,” she said.

Still they didn’t answer. When she said for the third time “Hello” she
was quite near them. Her arms went out instinctively with the longing to
touch them.

It was the boy who turned. His grey eyes looked straight into hers. His
expression didn’t change. He said: “Hasn’t it gone cold all of a sudden.
D’you notice? Let’s go in.”

“Yes, let’s,” said the girl.

Her arms fell to her sides as she watched them running across the grass
to the house.

That was the first time she knew.

“I Used to Live here Once” by Jean Rhys. From SLEEP IT OFF LADY by Jean Rhys.
Copyright © 1976 by Jean Rhys. used by permission of the Wallace Literary Agency, Inc.

10

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CHAPTER 7Section 7.6 Summary and Selections

Allegory: a fictional work in which the setting,
characters, plot and other elements are all sym-
bols, each conveying an aspect of an abstract
moral, religious, or social concept.

Mood: the atmosphere in a literary work, cre-
ated to establish emotion or emphasize feeling;
what the reader feels.

Motif: a recurring theme in a literary work.

Paradox: an apparent contradiction.

Symbol: something that has a literal identity,
but also stands for something else—something
that is widely understood and has been devel-
oped over a long period of time, or by common
agreement.

Theme: associated with an idea that lies behind
a literary work. In a story, theme is a represen-
tation of the idea behind the story.

7.6  Summary and Selections

Chapter 7 discusses two elements that every short story writer depends on to express the meaning of a story: theme and symbols. Theme can be stated directly, but usually writers prefer an indirect approach, choosing to include hints about its meaning several times dur-
ing the story. In other words, theme has to be inferred. The first hint may be in the title or in the
names of the characters. The annotation accompanying Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”
illustrates ways writers use symbols to reveal both the context and the content of a story’s theme.
An additional story is included for further exploration of these narrative writing techniques.

Hills Like White Elephants
Selected to show how theme (and characterization, too) can be developed distinctly and effectively
in a story that has minimal action, lean descriptive detail, and fragmentary dialogue. Hemingway
uses symbols of life and death effectively to explore a complex theme: the dilemma that significant
life decisions present. Following the “white elephant” reference in the title, which suggests that
the abortion could be approached as something inconsequential, there are several clearer images
of death, each of which is balanced against an image of life: the arid landscape around the station
(death) contrasts with the vibrancy of colors beyond (life); the baggage with the couple’s hotel tags
is a reminder of their carefree life together that is now changed (death); by moving the bags to the
point where Jig will board the train, the American advocates the abortion and the continuation of
their relationship (life); the Anis del Toro drink, which Jig had never tried before failed to enliven
her or improve things: it just tasted like licorice. Intentionally, Hemingway uses symbols like these
and the couple’s conflicting feelings to reveal the depth of the dilemma they face, not to resolve it.

I Used to Live Here Once
Selected to show how a journey motif can be used to capture the intentions and struggles associ-
ated with various happenings in a person’s lifetime and also to intimate what a holistic view of
those incidents (at the point of death or beyond the scope of time) might be like.

Go by Brooks
Selected to illustrate how a journey motif can be used as an allegorical structure. The journey
associated with brooks, rivers and oceans depicts fidelity in a love relationship, but on a larger
scale it identifies the universal human journey from the world of innocence into the world of expe-
rience, where encounters and choices become incrementally challenging.

Key Literary Terms and Concepts Presented in This Chapter

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