How can I compare "Black Man and White Woman in Dark Green Rowboat" to "Hills Like White Elephants"?

Expert Answers
rareynolds eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Banks’ story shares many similarities with Hemingway’s – in fact, you might call the Banks story a sort of homage to Hemingway. The stories share a common structure – each consists primarily of a conversation between a man and a woman – and a common problem – an unwanted pregnancy. Banks’ style emulates Hemingway’s – compare, for example, this bit from Hemingway:

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.

With this bit from Banks:

The man looked over her head and beyond, all the way to the shore and the trailerpark. The shapes of the trailers were blurred together in the distance so that you could not tell where one trailer left off and another began.

There are several similarities in these passages. The reductive, factual nature of the descriptive language is one thing, but there is also a connection between the outer appearance of things and the inner emotional states of the man and Jig. That is, the implacable reality of the landscape is a representation of the inevitability of their emotional situations. Both characters are, literally, between a rock and a hard place.

At the same time, the stories differ in that Banks inverts Hemingway’s power dynamic. In Hemingway, the man is trying to pressure the woman into having an abortion; in the Banks story, the roles are reversed – the woman has decided to have the abortion, and the man has little choice but to accept her decision. The Hemingway story is about the man exerting control over the woman’s body; in the Banks story, the conflict has more to do with the woman asserting her privilege as a white woman over her black lover. In each case, however, the issues that play out through the dialog have to do with sexual power (Bank’s female protagonist is keenly aware of her sexual power over the man, whereas Hemingway’s male protagonist exerts a more directly manipulative control over Jig’s body). In the Hemingway story, Jig finally declares “I don’t care about me,” an expression of her lack of personal agency in her own pregnancy. In the Banks story, the man simply says, as they start to row back to shore, “I wish I could leave you here.” Does he mean, he wishes to kill her? Does he mean that he wishes he could leave their relationship behind? In any case, as with Jig’s declaration, the man’s threat is empty. Each character seems resigned to submit to the power of their lover.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
What comes to mind for me is that both stories are told mostly indirectly. Neither follows the traditional plot structure. In "Hills Like White Elephants" there is mostly dialogue. In "Black Man and White Woman in Dark Green Rowboat" the story is told mostly as a jumble of events. I think you should begin by reviewing summaries of both stories. You can find detailed information on "Hills Like White Elephants" on enotes. Here is a link to a summary: Here's a link to an analysis of the other story:
Read the study guide:
Hills Like White Elephants

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