Comparing Banks’ “Black Man White Woman in Dark Green Rowboat” to Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants”
Two short stories namely Russel Banks’ “Black Man White Woman in Dark Green Rowboat” and Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants” has the same theme which is abortion. The two main female characters in both stories are pregnant and contemplating whether they continue to raise the baby or to abort it.
In Banks’ “Black Man White Woman in Dark Green Rowboat”, the story opens with a series of seemingly unrelated and insignificant events that commence human activity in a trailerpark on “the third day of an August heat wave”. However, the random narrative events are the potential narratives of love and betrayal that could be constructed around the sexual encounter and the scheduled abortion of the white woman in the story. These are the events from which both reader and characters might discover patterns of cultural significance.
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Banks, however, refused to narrate them explicitly, and as events alluded to only in passing, they remain events that cannot be talked about, too “pregnant” with possible meaning to be controlled by the conflicting plots of social constraint that the black man and the white woman alternately wish to apply. The result is that the sexual encounter and the projected abortion are represented as little more than another instance of their life in the trailerpark.
The white woman in Bank’s story is hopeful that happy ending will be achieved once she has gotten past parental disapproval. She expected that her mother would understand her situation, although her father would not have permitted--as long as the evidence of their interracial premarital encounter is removed.
Similarly, Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants” is unusual in that its two central characters argue about a subject—abortion—that is never explicitly named in the story but referred to only as “it.” The American tries relentlessly to persuade his girlfriend, Jig, to agree to have an abortion, but Jig resists.
The story’s train station setting and its prominent two lines of tracks become a metaphor for their transient life and the two directions their lives can take from this critical turning point in their relationship. On one side of the station is a fertile landscape with fields of grain, a river, and trees—symbols of the possibilities having the baby could bring this couple; the other side, dry and empty, indicates the barrenness of their life if they choose to go through with the abortion.
The main female character in Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephant” can’t be seen as either caring (emotional in a positive and stereotypically feminine sense) or hysterical (emotional in a negative and stereotypically feminine sense). Hemingway refers to Jig as “the girl” throughout the story, perhaps to suggest her immaturity.
She is clearly at the mercy of her traveling companion since she doesn’t speak the language, while her companion does. Unlike her boyfriend, she is profoundly skeptical that after an abortion they could resume their relationship as if nothing had happened. When he insists that he has known people who have had abortions, she responds with bitter sarcasm: “And afterward they were all so happy”.
The only difference in both stories is that the “white woman” in Bank’s story has decided her own abortion; while in Hemingway’s story, Jig was resistant about the idea. Although I do not agree with both women undergoing abortion, I believe that Jig in Hemingway’s story comes off as a stronger female character because she had stood ground with her conviction.
Banks, Russel. “Black Man White Woman in Dark Green Rowboat”
Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills like White Elephants”
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