Identify a common theme in "Hills Like White Elephants," "The Story of an Hour," and Trifles.

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Gender roles aside, another major common theme between the three stories is the correlation between death and the happiness of female characters. "Hills Like White Elephants" contains a debate about an abortion that has not happened yet, "The Story of an Hour" deals with the aftermath of the death of a husband, and Trifles explores a wife's motives for killing her husband. Despite these differences, death plays a major role in determining the female characters' happiness in all three stories.

In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants", the female protagonist debates the possibility of having an abortion in relation to whether it will make her happy in her relationship. She is clearly worried that her significant other is losing interest in her:

"...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?"

She is so desperate for her boyfriend to love her again that she is contemplating getting an abortion. While the girl is clearly wrestling with her own feelings about the operation, the main factor in her decision has to do with improving her relationship. Though it has not happened by the end of the story, here, it is the possibility of death (of the fetus or of her imagined future as a mother) that brings about the potential for increased happiness.

In Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour," Mrs. Mallard is surprised to discover that the knowledge of her husband's death makes her happier than she's been in years. While she admits that she did love him, she finds that the prospect of being free from the constraints of patriarchal marriage gives her a renewed passion for life:

Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long.

Though she loved her husband, she becomes aware of just how oppressed her life had been since she had gotten married. In this story, both happiness and death have actually occurred: the former comes as a direct result of the latter.

In Susan Glaspell's Trifles, it is revealed early on that Mr. Wright has been murdered, and his wife is the main suspect. The implication is that Mrs. Wright—who had no children and was likely in an abusive relationship—snapped after her husband killed her pet bird. Mrs. Peters, one of the two women who discover the evidence for the murder, sympathizes with Mrs. Wright when reflecting on a similar instance in her life:

When I was a girl—my kitten—there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes—and before I could get there—[covers her face in an instant]. If they hadn't held me back I would have—[Catches herself, looks upstairs where steps are heard, falters weakly]—hurt him.

This anecdote gives insight into Mrs. Wright's potential state of mind prior to the murder. Her husband's actions had taken away the one thing in her life that (presumably) brought her happiness. Unlike the previous two pieces of literature, it is happiness (or a lack thereof) which results in death.

In short, each piece of literature explores the cause-and-effect relationship between death and happiness.

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The biggest theme I would look at if I were you would be the role of gender and in particular the position of women in these three brilliant texts. In "Hills Like White Elephants," for example, note how Jig assumes a subordinate position. Although her partner, the anonymous American, is in theory sensitive and caring about her and keeps on repeating she only has to get the abortion if that is what she wants, his very insistence is a form of bullying, and the way that he will not let the subject drop shows that the terms he offers Jig are clear: she either gets the abortion, or she loses him. Women are thus shown in this story to be objects who are to be manipulated and abused as the men choose.

If we consider "The Story of an Hour," it is clear that the position of women is another fascinating theme that is worthy of some consideration. Note the way that the suddenly-liberated Mrs. Mallard talks about her experience of marriage:

There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.
Even though her husband was not abusive or deliberately nastly, clearly the social position of women at the time of writing this story placed them in a subservient position, where, as the weaker sex, they were not allowed to live their lives for themselves. Finally, if we consider the masterful Trifles, the very title of the play indicates the way in which women were sidelined and patronised by the menfolk. Even though the women and their knowledge of housekeeping is what unlocks the secret of the murder, the men disdain their knowledge and make fun of them throughout the play, indicating the way in which women were looked down upon and disregarded in a patriarchal world.
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