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 Compose a symbol analysis of “The Other Wife” and “Hills Like White Elephants.” What do the symbols reveal about the central conflict in the text? 

The Other Wife

by Colette

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“TABLE FOR TWO? This way, Monsieur, Madame, there is still a table next to the window, if Madame and Monsieur would like a view of the bay.”        Alice followed the maitre d’.        “Oh, yes. Come on, Marc, it’ll be like having lunch on a boat on the water . . .”        Her husband caught her by passing his arm under hers. “We’ll be more comfortable over there.”        “There? In the middle of all those people? I’d much rather . . .”        “Alice, please.”        He tightened his grip in such a meaningful way that she turned around. “What’s the matter?”        “Shh . . .” he said softly, looking at her intently, and led her toward the table in the middle.        “What is it, Marc?”        “I’ll tell you, darling. Let me order lunch first. Would you like the shrimp? Or the eggs in aspic?”        “Whatever you like, you know that.”        They smiled at one another, wasting the precious time of an over-worked maitre d’, stricken with a kind of nervous dance, who was standing next to them, perspiring.        “The shrimp,” said Marc. “Then the eggs and bacon. And the cold chicken with a romaine salad. Fromage blanc? The house specialty? We’ll go with the specialty. Two strong coffees. My chauffeur will be having lunch also, we’ll be leaving again at two o’clock. Some cider? No, I don’t trust it . . . Dry champagne.”        He sighed as if he had just moved an armoire, gazed at the colorless midday sea, at the pearly white sky, then at his wife, whom he found lovely in her little Mercury hat with its large, hanging veil.        “You’re looking well, darling. And all this blue water makes your eyes look green, imagine that! And you’ve put on weight since you’ve been traveling . . . It’s nice up to a point, but only up to a point!”        Her firm, round breasts rose proudly as she leaned over the table.        “Why did you keep me from taking that place next to the window?”        Marc Seguy never considered lying. “Because you were about to sit next to someone I know.”        “Someone I don’t know?”        “My ex-wife.”        She couldn’t think of anything to say and opened her blue eyes wider.        “So what, darling? It’ll happen again. It’s not important.”        The words came back to Alice and she asked, in order, the inevitable questions. “Did she see you? Could she see that you saw her? Will you point her out to me?”        “Don’t look now, please, she must be watching us . . . The lady with brown hair, no hat, she must be staying in this hotel. By herself, behind those children in red . . .”        “Yes I see.”        Hidden behind some broad-brimmed beach hats, Alice was able to look at the woman who, fifteen months ago, had still been her husband’s wife.        “Incompatibility,” Marc said. “Oh, I mean . . . total incompatibility! We divorced like well-bred people, almost like friends, quietly, quickly. And then I fell in love with you, and you really wanted to be happy with me. How lucky we are that our happiness doesn’t involve any guilty parties or victims!”        The woman in white, whose smooth, lustrous hair reflected the light from the sea in azure patches, was smoking a cigarette with her eyes half closed. Alice turned back toward her husband, took some shrimp and butter, and ate calmly. After a moment’s silence she asked: “Why didn’t you ever tell me that she had blue eyes, too?”        “Well, I never thought about it!”        He kissed the hand she was extending toward the bread basket and she blushed with pleasure. Dusky and ample, she might have seemed somewhat coarse, but the changeable blue of her eyes and her wavy, golden hair made her look like a frail and sentimental blonde. She vowed overwhelming gratitude to her husband. Immodest without knowing it, everything about her bore the overly conspicuous marks of extreme happiness.        They ate and drank heartily, and each thought the other had forgotten the woman in white. Now and then, however, Alice laughed too loudly, and Marc was careful about his posture, holding his shoulders back, his head up. They waited quite a long time for their coffee, in silence. An incandescent river, the straggled reflection of the invisible sun overhead, shifted slowly across the sea and shone with a blinding brilliance.        “She’s still there, you know,” Alice whispered.        “Is she making you uncomfortable? Would you like to have coffee somewhere else?”        “No, not at all! She’s the one who must be uncomfortable! Besides, she doesn’t exactly seem to be having a wild time, if you could see her . . .”        “I don’t have to. I know that look of hers.”        “Oh, was she like that?”        He exhaled his cigarette smoke through his nostrils and knitted his eyebrows. “Like that? No. To tell you honestly, she wasn’t happy with me.”        “Oh, really now!”        “The way you indulge me is so charming, darling . . . It’s crazy . . . You’re an angel . . . You love me . . . I’m so proud when I see those eyes of yours. Yes, those eyes . . . She . . . I just didn’t know how to make her happy, that’s all. I didn’t know how.”        “She’s just difficult!”        Alice fanned herself irritably, and cast brief glances at the woman in white, who was smoking, her head resting against the back of the cane chair, her eyes closed with an air of satisfied lassitude.        Marc shrugged his shoulders modestly.        “That’s the right word,” he admitted. “What can you do? You have to feel sorry for people who are never satisfied. But we’re satisfied . . . Aren’t we, darling?”        She did not answer. She was looking furtively, and closely, at her husband’s face, ruddy and regular; at his thick hair, threaded here and there with white silk; at his short, well-cared-for hands; and doubtful for the first time, she asked herself, “What more did she want from him?”        And as they were leaving, while Marc was paying the bill and asking for the chauffeur and about the route, she kept looking, with envy and curiosity, at the woman in white, this dissatisfied, this difficult, this superior . . .

       The day Colette (1873-1954) died, the worst thunderstorm in sixty-seven years hit Paris. Her last conscious act was to gesture toward the lightning and cry out, “Look! Look!” The words suggest the essence of her genius.        At eighty-one Colette was a legendary figure. A Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor, president of the Goncourt Academy, she would, to crown her career, receive a state funeral—unexampled honors for a French woman. A veteran of three marriages (the last a happy one), music hall performer, journalist, autobiographer, novelist, short story writer, deeply versed in the natural world of plants, flowers and animals, a connoisseur of more than a single variety of love, in the best sense a woman of the world, she ranked as one of the most vivid personalities of her time. During the final years of a long, crowded life, unable to stir from her Palais-Royal apartment, she reigned, surrounded by her beloved cats, as an object of wonder and pilgrimage.        Few have treated more revealingly at least one great theme, that of sexual love. She was most comfortable with the novella (Chéri, La Fin de Chéri, Gigi, Mitsou), but she excelled also in a kind of post-Maupassant short story, tender, sensual, witty, completely French, completely feminine.        “The Other Wife” is a deft, wry trifle, a small triumph of observation (“Look! Look!”). As with an O. Henry story, everything erupts in the last few words, indeed in the very last word. But her sensibility works on a plane quite different from his.

       —Clifton Fadiman



The hills across the valley of the Ebro’ were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies. The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went on to Madrid.

“What should we drink?” the girl asked. She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.

“It’s pretty hot,” the man said. “Let’s drink beer.” “Dos cervezas,” the man said into the curtain. “Big ones?” a woman asked from the doorway. “Yes. Two big ones.” The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the

felt pads and the beer glasses on the table and looked at the man and the girl. The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.

“They look like white elephants,” she said. “I’ve never seen one,” the man drank his beer. “No, you wouldn’t have.” ” I might have,” the man said. “Just because you say I wouldn’t have

doesn’t prove anything.” The girl looked at the bead curtain. “They’ve painted something on it,”

she said. “What does it say?” “Anis del Toro. It’s a drink.” “Could we try it?” The man called “Listen” through the curtain. The woman came out

from the bar. “Four reales.” “We want two Anis del Toro.” “With water?” “Do you want it with water?” ” I don’t know,” the girl said. “Is it good with water?” “It’s all right.” “You want them with water?” asked the woman.

1. River in the north of Spain.

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“Yes, with water.” ” I t tastes like licorice,” the girl said and put the glass down. “That’s the way with everything.” “Yes,” said the girl. “Everything tastes of licorice. Especially all the

things you’ve waited so long for, like absinthe.” “Oh, cut it out.” “You started it,” the girl said. ” I was being amused. I was having a fine

time.” “Well, let’s try and have a fine time.” “All right. I was trying. I said the mountains looked like white ele-

phants. Wasn’t that bright?” “That was bright.” ” I wanted to try this new drink. That’s all we do, isn’t it—look at things

and try new drinks?” ” I guess so.” The girl looked across at the hills. “They’re lovely hills,” she said. “They don’t really look like white ele-

phants. I just meant the coloring of their skin through the trees.” “Should we have another drink?”

“All right.” The warm wind blew the bead curtain against the table. “The beer’s nice and cool,” the man said. “It’s lovely,” the girl said. “It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” the man said. “It’s not

really an operation at all.” The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on. ” I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let

the air in.” The girl did not say anything. “I’ll go with you and I’ll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in

and then it’s all perfectly natural.” “Then what will we do afterward?” “We’ll be fine afterward. Just like we were before.” “What makes you think so?” “That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us

unhappy.” The girl looked at the bead curtain, put her hand out and took hold of

two of the strings of beads. “And you think then we’ll be all right and be happy.” ” I know we will. You don’t have to be afraid. I’ve known lots of people

that have done it.” “So have I , ” said the girl. “And afterward they were all so happy.”

“Well,” the man said, “if you don’t want to you don’t have to. I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple.”

“And you really want to?”

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” I think it’s the best thing to do. But I don’t want you to do it if you don’t really want to.”

“And 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?” “I’ll love it. I love it now but I just can’t think about it. You know how I

get when I worry.” ” I f I do it you won’t ever worry?” ” I won’t worry about that because it’s perfectly simple.” “Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me.” “What do you mean?” ” I don’t care about me.” “Well, I care about you.” “Oh, yes. But I don’t care about me. And I’ll do it and then everything

will be fine.” ” I don’t want you to do it if you feel that way. ” 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.

“And we could have all this,” she said. “And we could have everything and every day we make it more impossible.”

“What did you say?” ” I said we could have everything.” “We can have everything.” “No, we can’t.” “We can have the whole world.” “No, we can’t.” “We can go everywhere.” “No, we can’t. It isn’t ours any more.” “It’s ours.” “No, it isn’t. And once they take it away, you never get it back.” “But they haven’t taken it away.” “We’ll wait and see.” “Come on back in the shade,” he said. “You mustn’t feel that way.” ” I don’t feel any way,” the girl said. ” I just know things.” ” I don’t want you to do anything that you don’t want to do—” “Nor that isn’t good for me,” she said. ” I know. Could we have another

beer?” “All right. But you’ve got to realize—” ” I realize,” the girl said. “Can’t we maybe stop talking?” They sat down at the table and the girl looked across at the hills on the

dry side of the valley and the man looked at her and at the table. “You’ve got to realize,” he said, “that I don’t want you to do it if you

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don’t want to. I’m perfectly willing to go through with it if it means any-thing to you.”

“Doesn’t it mean anything to you? We could get along.” “Of course it does. But I don’t want anybody but you. I don’t want any

one else. And I know it’s perfectly simple.” “Yes, you know it’s perfectly simple.” “It’s all right for you to say that, but I do know it.” “Would you do something for me now?” “I’d do anything for you.” “Would you please please please please please please please stop

talking?” He did not say anything but looked at the bags against the wall of the

station. There were labels on them from all the hotels where they had spent nights.

“But I don’t want you to,” he said, ” I don’t care anything about it.” “I’ll scream,” the girl said. The woman came out through the curtains with two glasses of beer and

put them down on the damp felt pads. “The train comes in five minutes,” she said.

“What did she say?” asked the girl. “That the train is coming in five minutes.” The girl smiled brightly at the woman, to thank her. “I’d better take the bags over to the other side of the station,” the man

said. She smiled at him. “All right. Then come back and we’ll finish the beer.” He picked up the two heavy bags and carried them around the station to

the other tracks. He looked up the tracks but could not see the train. Coming back, he walked through the barroom, where people waiting for the train were drinking. He drank an Anis at the bar and looked at the people. They were all waiting reasonably for the train. He went out through the bead curtain. She was sitting at the table and smiled at him.

“Do you feel better?” he asked. ” I feel fine,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.”


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