In "Hills Like White Elephants" and "The Lesson," who, in your opinion, are the most sympathetic characters? Who are the most antagonistic? What kinds of information do you learn about their lives?

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In the short story "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway, not much action takes place. The story consists mainly of dialogue. It is told in Hemingway's "iceberg" style, in which much of the thematic content and even information lies beneath the surface. There are two main characters, a man and a woman, neither of whom have names. They are waiting at a station in the Ebro Valley in Spain for a train to Madrid. While they wait, they argue about something that they are contemplating doing that is never explicitly stated. However, it soon becomes obvious to readers that they are lovers, the woman is pregnant, and they are going to Madrid so she can get an abortion.

As they sit outside of the building in the shade, at first they confine their conversation to safe topics such as what drinks they should have. The man then attempts to break the tension by saying that the operation she is about to have is very simple. The woman wonders what will happen afterward; she is worried that after the operation, things will change between them, and perhaps they will break up. The man insists that they will continue to be happy but that she only has to go through the operation if she wants to. He emphasizes this point again and again. It becomes evident, though, that he is only using it to persuade her to go through with it, something that he very much wants her to do.

The woman loves the man and wants to please him, but she is having doubts. She is still tense and uncomfortable, and she asks the man to stop talking about it. He continues to tell her how simple and easy it is until she begs him to please stop talking and finally says that if he doesn't stop she will scream.

In the end, Hemingway leaves the situation ambiguous. The woman says she feels fine, but she is obviously far from fine. She is under intense pressure from the man to go through with the abortion, but it is uncertain what will happen if she does. It is illegal and unregulated, and she might be hurt. She might go through with it and then they might break up, or they might have the baby but still break up.

All these things considered, most readers would say that the woman is the more sympathetic character in the story. She is stressed, frightened, and under intense pressure. The man, on the other hand, is unsympathetic because he does not seem to understand or care about the trauma that the woman is going through.

The short story "The Lesson" by Toni Cade Bambara is vastly different in tone and subject matter than "Hills Like White Elephants." The main characters are the narrator—a young African American girl named Sylvia—and a woman named Miss Moore, who is determined to educate the neighborhood kids in the ways of the world. Miss Moore takes Sylvia, her cousin Sugar, and some other kids from their neighborhood in Harlem on an excursion to a fancy toy shop on Fifth Avenue. To the kids, the toys are ridiculously expensive and far beyond their means. Sylvia resents that Miss Moore has taken them there, seemingly to shame them, although that is not Miss Moore's intention. At the end of the story, it seems that the children have not learned whatever Miss Moore had intended to teach them.

In this story, deciding on the sympathetic and antagonistic characters is a matter of perspective. From Sylvia's viewpoint, Miss Moore is an antagonist because she drags the kids to places that they don't want to go, whereas she and her friends are sympathetic because they do their best to survive in the environment that they find themselves in. On the other hand, it's also possible to see Miss Moore as the sympathetic character because she is attempting to teach the children lessons that will later help them cope with real situations in the world, while Sylvia is antagonistic because she resists being taught by Miss Moore. As readers, we learn that the lives of these children are so difficult that it is hard for them to grasp the lessons that Miss Moore is trying to teach.

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