Hemingway's "Hills like White Elephants" and the Tradition of the American in Europe. (Articles)

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It is understandable that of the two best known expatriate American novelists of the 1920s, Fitzgerald, not Hemingway, should be the one more often recognized as the heir to James's international fiction (Washington 35-69; Weston). Hemingway's wounded and frivolous wanderers in Europe seem so far removed in their motives and practices from their Jamesian cousins that they quite naturally have yielded their inheritance to Fitzgerald's Dick Diver and Charlie Wales. (1) Yet Hemingway, of course, chose to represent Americans in Europe much more consistently than Fitzgerald or, for that matter, than James himself. Recent studies that find in James an important predecessor to Hemingway in other respects (Tintner) inevitably raise a question: despite the enormously different historical, ideological, and personal contexts, are there parallels between the two writer's international projects?

An answer to this question must speak more to common patterns than to direct influence. In grafting the American in Europe onto the literary consciousness of his country, James himself was simply bringing closer to the surface a tradition that, because it is so tightly bound up with American ideology and the American sense of self, could never depend on a single writer to keep it alive. If Hemingway follows James in depicting the national adventure in Europe, that is less because of an unconscious inscription of James's novels onto his own fictional practice than because of a deeper encoding shared by the two canons: Europe traditionally represents to American novelists a life, or Life itself, that remains somehow unavailable back home. The paradox of Europe as both the antithesis of America and the only field upon which Americans can become themselves runs throughout both authors' works. Their two representations of that paradox, having taken such different routes, converge at one point where Hemingway's work seems to echo James's directly.

To appreciate the significance of this moment, and of Hemingway's development of James's international vision, one must distinguish between two seemingly contrary aspects of the old world in James's canon. The first comes into play in such tragicomic works as The Ambassadors: Europe as a field of freedom where the psychic and practical responsibilities of American life can apparently be dodged. The second comes into play in James's greatest international fictions, The American, The Portrait of a Lady, The Wings of the Dove, and The Golden Bowl: Europe as the field of danger where the easy terms of American success become difficult and thus engaging, where the prospect of serious competition for the desired object and of obstacles to obtaining it makes the effort suddenly and excitingly worthwhile. (The notorious shift in mode halfway through The American can be attributed to a parallel shift within Christopher Newman toward this second Europe.) Hemingway's contribution to the tradition of the international novel was to invest that first of James's Europes with all the significance and weight that James himself attached only to the second. In this light the echo can best be understood.

The Wings of the Dove and "Hills Like White Elephants" both revolve around Americans (Milly and the couple in Hemingway's story (2)) hoping to keep what they have by defying the temporal limits that threaten to transform their booty into waste. These three Americans look upon Europe as at once the prize that will give substance to their inheritance and the only means by which their gains can be made permanent. Permanence, however, rests on very different grounds for Milly and her two descendants. For Milly the promise of permanence seems to come from that European narrative system that the novel has already anatomized in her absence, albeit not in the pure form in which she, like so many of James's Americans, imagines it. Kate Croy, Milly's English friend, both describes this world as its most trenchant analyst and struggles within it as the novel's chief conspirator: as she warns Milly, in London everyone is "hideously relative to tiers and tiers of others" (James, Wings of the Dove 170). …


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