illustration of train tracks with low hills in the background and one of the hills has the outline of an elephant within it

Hills Like White Elephants

by Ernest Hemingway
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What are the differences and similarities in the use of point of view in "Cathedral" by Raymond Carver and "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway?

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Carver's "Cathedral" is a first-person ("I") narrative told from the point of view of a man meeting his wife's blind friend Robert for the first time. Hemingway's "Hills like White Elephants" is told from a detached third-person narrative point of view. If "Cathedral" were being filmed, we could imagine the...

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Carver's "Cathedral" is a first-person ("I") narrative told from the point of view of a man meeting his wife's blind friend Robert for the first time. Hemingway's "Hills like White Elephants" is told from a detached third-person narrative point of view. If "Cathedral" were being filmed, we could imagine the camera on the shoulder of the host. If "Hills Like White Elephants" were being filmed, we could imagine a camera held by someone completely separate from the two protagonists, recording from afar.

In "Cathedral," the first-person point of view illuminates the seeing host's growing sense of oneness and acceptance of Robert, the blind man. Because we are inside the narrator's head as he prepares himself mentally for Robert's visit and then experiences the visit, we progress with him from perceiving the blind man as a crippled "other" to someone he shares common ground with.

For example, as the two men are "watching" a show about famous cathedrals in Europe, it occurs to the narrator to wonder what a cathedral is like from Robert's perspective. He says to Robert:

Something has occurred to me. Do you have any idea what a cathedral is? What they look like, that is? Do you follow me? If somebody says cathedral to you, do you have any notion what they’re talking about? Do you the difference between that and a Baptist church, say?

Robert doesn't, but it becomes clear to the narrator as he tries to verbally describe a cathedral that Robert still doesn't get it. However, the two men, once so separate, share a perspective as the narrator draws a cathedral and Robert puts his hand around the narrator's:

He found my hand, the hand with the pen. He closed his hand over my hand. "Go ahead, bub, draw," he said. "Draw. You’ll see. I’ll follow along with you. It’ll be okay."

When Robert tells the narrator to close his eyes, he does so as he draws, and has the experience of being blind.

The story breaks off with the narrator saying of drawing with eyes closed and then keeping them closed when he is done: "It’s really something." We don't know what will happen in the relationship, but we do know that the narrator has gotten closer to Robert and has had an experience of seeing the world from his point of view.

In "Hills Like White Elephants," the detached point ofview mirrors and helps express the alienation and lack of connection between Jig and her American boyfriend. Although the narration is detached, we come to side with Jig because the American is so insincere when he repeats over and over that he wants her to do whatever she wants about having an abortion when it is clear he wants her to have it. We are left at an impasse at the end. As with the Carver story, Hemingway leaves things unresolved with the lines:

"Do you feel better?" he asked.

"I feel fine," she said. "There's nothing wrong with me. I feel fine."

In "Cathedral," the point of view shows two characters coming together and the narrator gaining some insight into Robert. In Hemingway's story, on the other had, the point of view illuminates the stalled and hostile relationship between Jig and her boyfriend, showing them apart and alienated from each other. They are not able to see the world through each other's perspective.

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