Hemingway Vs. Chekhov
An American man is traveling with his girlfriend. She is going to have an abortion to make everything right for her boyfriend. This is the plot of “Hills like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway. The plot, despite some differences in the action of the characters, has some similarities with “TheLady with the Dog” by Anton Chekhov. One of the most important aspects of the Chekhovian style is the setting, especially in the matter of location. For instance, in the “The Lady with the Dog,” the plot could not happen in any city other than Yalta. Dimitri, the main character, in his 40s, is a Russian man unsatisfied with his marriage and goes to Yalta, the town that has been known as the city of affairs. The reputation of the city also justifies the presence of Anna, a young married woman who is on vacation in Yalta and is interested in talking to a stranger. It was not strange, in the late 19th century, for a young woman from a middle-class family, whose husband is a government employee, to use Yalta as a getaway city and try to experience something that would bring a little bit of color to her boring routine life. Chekhov’s stories are shaped by the location. Does this mean that the location is not important for the other writer? The answer is no, it is important. In most stories by Hemingway, changing the location does not change the plot. This means that location and setting are important. However, in many stories, they are not the foundation of the story in that any small change in the setting can destroy the entire story, which is true inChekhov’s case.
“A Lady with the Dog,” can not happen anywhere else because the city (cities) is also characters of the story. The specific appearance, culture, and atmosphere of Yalta and Moscow plus the face that summer and winter give to the cities, shapes the foundation of the plot. Hemingway takes this road in “Hills like White Elephants” as well, although he does not make it a required foundation of the story like Chekhov.
He needs his American characters in another part of the world, in a country that has some signs of romanticism in its culture and its atmosphere can contradict with the purpose of the story. Somewhere that his characters even have some difficulty with the language, and a language that is poetic enough to draw a contrast to the story. This separates the characters from the environment around them. Then he gives life to the rail station by shaping it as another character. The junction, a spot where no one stays for a long time. The junction is alone, separated and sad. Hemingway tries to make a clear scene in his story, for his audience, which gives the story more visual power to increase the mood; giving life to the location and the symbolic use of the characteristic of the location is one of the most important aspects of writing that, possibly, Hemingway has borrowed from Chekov.
The center of the setting (location) in both stories is the same. Both stories are about the detachable connection in a junction. Yalta in “ALady with the Dog” and the rail station in “Hills like White Elephants” play the role of a point where things are joined. However, the fact is that nothing, in either location, lasts forever. Yalta was the city for a summer vacation in the 19th century and it was a dead town by the end of the summer. On the other hand, the railroad spot, where the American and his girlfriend are waiting, is just a place where trains from Barcelona and Madrid would meet for only two minutes, “It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went on to Madrid” (Hemingway 228). The writer has chosen the location carefully. Yalta and the train station describe the main characters of the story and their detachable situation. The love between Dimitri and Anna are taboo. They are both married. Their one-night-stand suddenly turns into something more serious. However, will they divorce their spouses? Is their love real or is it just a glancing lust? Chekov leaves his audience with no clear answer. The Same situation applies to “Hills like White Elephants.” The girl has to choose between killing her unborn baby and losing her boyfriend. The story does not make it clear that the man is a hundred percent sure that after the abortion will continue his relationship with his girlfriend, although he says everything will be OKafter that, “We’ll be fine afterward. Just like we were before” (Hemingway 230). At the end of the story, Hemingway leaves the audience with same uncertainty that Chekhov does -he same uncertainty and temporality that the locations are based on.
Chekov has been a play writer for decades. His experience in theater brought a great power of visualization in his short stories as well. Chekhov immediately, from the beginning of the story, attracts the audience’s participation, “It was said that a new person had appeared on the sea-front: a lady with a little dog” (Chekhov 69). The phrase “it was said” brings ambiguity to the story. Who said? Why has he/she said it? In addition, whom he/she have said it to?
The ambiguity appears after a few sentences in Hemingway’s story as well, “TheAmerican and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building” (Hemingway 228). The assumption in both stories is that the audience knows the background of what is happening, or if the audience does not know, it does not matter. This is a theatrical approach to a story. Chekhov, according to his background as an actor and later a playwright, has a long history of using this kind of technics in his short stories, but it can be considered as a different approach in Hemingway’s style of writing. Hemingway does not stop there. He continues his story, “Hills like White Elephants,” exactly like a play. He uses short descriptions, structured by short sentences. The list of, mostly unclear, dialogues make the story much closer to the absurdist plays rather than Chekhov’s realistic approach with long and detailed descriptions. This makes a huge difference between the two writers, although both stories are full of performances and actions.
Chekhov, Anton. “A Lady with the Dog.” 2013. 40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology. Ed. Beverly Lawn. 4th ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004. 69-84. Print.
Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills like White Elephants.” 2013. 40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology. Ed. Beverly Lawn. 4th ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004. 228-232. Print.