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Our inability to change the past has made it a controversial issue to consider when making decisions that will affect the unknown results of the future. The past is an uncountable dimension of time, solidifying itself with each second gone by. The past can be utilized divinely or can act as the epicenter of pain and discontent, as shown in Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway, and Rope by Katherine Anne Porter. The past acts as an overhanging fog causing miscommunication and detest in both of these vessels of literature.

A lavish lifestyle with continuous migration sets the past in Hills Like White Elephants and creates a dilemma which the couple must solve, with the train rapidly encroaching and a problem that creates a schism between the two.  The man is so fearful of losing his past he tries to convince his acquaintance that “[i]t’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” the man said. “It’s not really an operation at all” (Hemingway, 2008). He does not know how to deal with having a child, so whenever she brings up the subject of settling down, he just “[has] another drink”. This problem creates a crevice in their communication, with the man always wanting things to “be fine afterwards. Just like [they] were before” (Hemingway, 2008). The lifestyle he is so reluctant to give up, creates lapses in time, where there is no communication at all “[y]es, with water… [i]t tastes like liquorice” (Hemingway, 2008) and an awkward silence resides through the time period of ordering and receiving the drinks. Although they “try and have a fine time”, the girl tries to carve out a truth from the man, while evaluating her options, and with the baby always on her mind. The past acts as a reason for mistrust for the couple in Rope aswell, splicing proper communication into minor arguments.

The couple have unneeded conversations about minute details that stem from two weeks of unknown events of the past. The woman’s paranoid state conceives that her spouse convicted the most horrible sin of cheating on her, and the guy is unavailable to express his emotions about the truth. They are unable to sit down and have a talk, so they bicker about tiny things like “[h]ad he bought the coffee” (Porter, 1928) or other circumstantial arguments. In addition, the rope acts as an emblem of the past, always showing its clingy face at every strenuous encounter, further dividing the couple. “What was that he had there… the rope again” (Porter, 1928) having almost a glue like presence, the rope manages to stay with the man like a tainted memory of those two weeks. Due to that omnipresent rope, like the past, major communication to discuss the truth was obstructed by diminutive quarrels.

The past is a colossal agent to consider when arranging plans for the future, and it could be one’s demise, or one’s growth of wisdom. Kathrine Anne Porter and Ernest Hemingway both used the past as a reason to create a barrier, where communication is a lacking and strained element, in Rope and Hills Like White Elephants, respectively. The inability to utilize the past for preparation of the future will render even the mightiest person obsolete; and with the failure to change or affect this intangible dimension, one can only move on and forgive, but not forget. 


Hemingway, E. (2006). Hills like white elephants. In T. R. Arp & G. Johnson (Eds.), Story and Structure (pp. 210-214). Boston, MA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Porter, A.P. (1928). Rope. Unknown: Unknown