Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

With which character did you identify the most in this story? Why?


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I'm sorry, your question cannot be answered as asked. Title of story please?

This kind of question on a test or as an essay can be tricky, even if you have read the story well. But if you didn't read the story, you may still be able to get more than a "0" for your answer. In all cases, some solid skills can help.

Some people get stuck up front because a teacher is asking them to write about themselves and their own opinions. Writing and English and social science teachers often ask students to write about themselves; writing is seen as "data" in the communications sciences as much as numbers and chemicals are seen as "data" in mathematics and chemistry. When asked this kind of question, don't be afraid to use the first-person, "I", in your reponse, even though you would not normally do such a thing in other classes.

If you don't feel comfortable telling the teacher who you "are," make up a character for yourself, or say instead that one of the characters reminds you instead of your father or your uncle. You're not likely to lose much credit for an answer like that, as long as you demonstrate with the answer that you read the story. If the teacher challenges you later, speak confidentially with her or him and explain that you are uncomfortable with personal writing at this time and would prefer to have alternative assignments or handle them in different ways.

Now onward to how to answer this question, if you read the story. First, think: was there a character I liked or disliked more than the others? If yes, flip back through the story to find specific things that character did or said that you can quote in your paper. Use one of these for each paragraph, explaining how you could or could not see yourself doing something like that. Remember to have an introduction, even if it's only one sentence, that includes the name of the story, the writer, when it was published, and establishes the general theme, if that's expected.

Many people get stuck because they do not find ANYONE in the story that acts or thinks like they do themselves. If that is your problem, you might mention in your answer that one use for literature is to help us see other people's stories and learn from them, but honestly, there were no characters in the story with whom you could easily identify. Then you can write the paper by talking about specific things characters did that you would not have done; remember to use quotes and cite page numbers, if your teacher expects that. Use your conclusion to talk about how modern times have set you up to make it difficult to really appreciate the characters' points of view: minorities have greater rights; women can get abortions legally (that's what Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" is supposed to be about, according to most expert readers); perhaps you have not yet been scarred by war, as Hemingway was, or perhaps your generation's wars have been of a different sort.

If you read the story but didn't understand it, you can still talk about just one character, if you can remember how that character ended up. Be careful not to pick a character at random and use a few quotes to get points: your teacher will see through this and will likely tell you that your ending will be as bad as theirs, if your reading habits don't improve. *(skip immediately now to the bottom of this "answer" if you need help with your reading)

If you didn't read the story, maybe you took good class notes of the discussions? A look back through your own notes may help you remember enough of a class discussion to find specific points in the story to write about.

If you really didn't read the story, you might try to BS about Hemingway's characters; they are emotionally complex, and their motives can be misunderstood on quick readings. You might pick ANY character in any Hemingway story and say that you identify with him--almost always him--in that you are more emotionally complex than you seem on the surface.

If you are a woman, you might say that you found it hard to find a character with which to identify: Hemingway as a writer has been heavily criticized by the women's movement for his stories having either no female characters or ones who are emotional children. It's pretty easy to look through a Hemingway story for the women characters: as these feminist critics point out, it's almost easier to talk about the women Hemingway does NOT have in his stories than the ones he does. (There is an actual reading technique called "deconstruction" where you read for what's missing! and "feminist criticism" reads specifically to look at how an author treats women's roles in the story.)

If you have a day or two to prepare for a test when you haven't read the story, look for summaries of the story online and get your own text opened to see where the events in the summary are really taking place in your own book. You might read key paragraphs to anticipate answering questions like this one. Read as much of the actual story as you can, to get a feeling for the writer's techniques and "voice": your teacher probably wants you to appreciate these things more than the actual storyline. IMO, you'll be better prepared for a test if you read two pages in depth of the actual story than you will be if you read only online summaries.

Also check to see if there are people reading the stories out loud online; putting an audio on in the background while you're doing dishes or walking the dog or having your daily commute might be a way to help you answer all the questions better. :-)

*If you need help with your reading, this question is strangely a great filter to read through. What are the characters doing that you like or don't like? When you start a story, whenever someone does something you like, put a "+" in the margin or a "-" for things you don't like. If it's not your book, use a light pencil or a sticky note. If it's in electronic form, copy and paste the sentence into an email to yourself, but remember to note the page number. This will make you pay attention to the reading in a way that you're not likely doing now.