Literary Comparison Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette and Dagoberto Gilb
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The stories “The Hand” by Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette and “Love in L.A.” by Dagoberto Gilb have numerous elements of symbolism. At first sight, it seems quite hard to compare such different stories. The first short story was written 69 years earlier than the second one. The similarity of the symbols in “The Hand” by Colette and “Love in L.A.” by Dagoberto Gilb is not obvious at first, but after careful analysis one can find a lot of similarities in the use of symbols in these stories.
Colette in “The Hand” tells a story about a young woman that got married not long ago and is in love with her husband. However, one night she notices that the hand of her husband that she likes to kiss is not as perfect as it seemed to her. She understands that love and marriage are not so ideal and do not look like a dream; she realizes that marriage means also diplomacy and sometimes obedience. In the morning, despite her fear and disgust, the wife kisses her husband’s hand.
“Love in L.A.” is a modern love story. When driving, Jack crashes into the car of a young pretty woman. Jack starts to flirt and lies about himself to make Mariana like him and, maybe, avoid covering the damages. Finally, Mariana gives her phone number to Jack and they take adieu.
The Colette’s story takes place in a half-lit room. The room is a symbol of protection from the worries of the outer world, peace and even isolation. In this story, the half-light symbolizes a possibility that something unpredictable can happen, so that the wife feels some kind of tension and cannot sleep. On the other hand, the little presence of light annoys the wife, but she does not want to turn it off because she is afraid to wake her husband up. Through this action, the author shows that the unnecessary sacrifice of the wife is voluntary.
Night in “The Hand” symbolizes the darkness that scares with its horrible secrets. Moreover, it remains as a symbol of loneliness. The wife is still asleep as well as her husband. It makes an impression that she is all alone. The Night consists of the dark thoughts that always appear when the light is fading. One cannot have such thoughts during the daytime as they are chased away by the noise of the day.
The next symbols that one can find in “The Hand” are curtains. They symbolize the protection and isolation. On the other hand, they symbolize some kind of prosperity or housewifery because poor or impractical people do not hang curtains on their windows. “The blue color of the brand-new curtains, instead of the apricot-pink through which the first light of day filtered into the room where she had slept as a little girl” (Colette, 1924, p. 231). Curtains are the symbol of maturity and the changes connected with them in the bride’s lifestyle. Moreover, they show the domination of the husband as a pink color is always associated with females, whereas blue one is associated with males.
“The Hand” begins with the scene where the husband “had fallen asleep on his young wife's shoulder” and he “had slipped his big arm under the small of her slim, adolescent back, and his strong hand lay on the sheet next to the young woman's right elbow” (Colette, 1924, p. 230). This position symbolizes protection and authority that the man exerts. However, the husband’s weight also confines the wife, which is the reason why she cannot escape.
Dreaming in the Colette’s story symbolizes protection from the terrors of night and dark thoughts that can come to one’s mind when he or she is tired and too weak to resist them. At the same time, it is a symbol of susceptibility. When reading the story, it may seem to the reader that the husband and wife are at the distant islands. Probably, that is the reason why the woman finally looks at her man without pink glasses and sees him in different light.
In Colette’s short story, a hand is one of the most obvious symbols. The usage of the hand here is not only direct. The hand is a symbol of tenderness, help and protection. When people get married, they put rings on their fingers. The hand with a ring is a symbol of marriage and connection between two loving people. A hand of the man can become “a protective belt, a warm bulwark against all the terrors of night” for a woman (Colette, 1924, p. 232). Furthermore, a hand is the symbol of power and dominance as people use hands to force somebody to do something or to prove their superiority. Thus, the hand is an instrument used for both good and violence at the same time.
There is also an action in “The Hand” that can be considered symbolic. It is a kissing of the hand. It seems familiar and absolutely normal when a man kisses a woman’s hand. However, if it happens conversely, when a woman kisses a hand of a man, it looks very weird and sometimes unnatural. In the Colette’s story, the wife kisses her husband’s hand. The kiss symbolizes respect and adoration. Perhaps, the woman subconsciously tries to persuade him not to harm her. One can especially notice that in the moment when her husband’s hand holds the knife. The wife “concealed her fear, bravely subdued herself, and, beginning her life of duplicity, of resignation, and of a lowly, delicate diplomacy, she leaned over and humbly kissed the monstrous hand” (Colette, 1924, p. 232). This action also proves that submission is completely the choice made by the wife.
Another symbol used in “The Hand” is morning. The morning symbolizes purifying from terrors of night and an opportunity to start a brand new life. In the morning the woman sees the hand that is disgusting in the same way as it was last night. It is the point where she has to decide what to do. Unfortunately, the wife makes a decision to leave things as they are and obey.
In the same way as Colette, Dagoberto Gilb in his “Love in L.A.” uses the morning as the symbol of opportunity given to people to start their new life. The main character meets a girl that can change his whole life, but he is not ready to change it. He prefers just to dream and does not want to make his dreams come true.
Dream is used as a symbol in “Love in L.A.” too. The reason why the car accident happens is Jack’s daydream. Daydream portrays Jack as an irresponsible, romantic and impractical person.
Like the room in “The Hand,” motionless traffic in “Love in L.A.” isolates the main characters and restraints their actions. On the other hand, motionless traffic symbolizes stagnation of Jack’s life with its rare dashes Jack does.
One more symbol that is used in “Love in L.A.” is a car. The car is a place where one can hide. Moreover, the car is an expression of its owner. If Jack changed his car “he'd probably have to change his whole style” (Gilb, 1993, p. 267). Thus, a model of the car tells a lot about the person that owns it. Jack is an owner of Buick ’58 – an old worn-out car, which he probably bought on his own as he is unemployed and has no money for a new car. Mariana owns Toyota – a new quite expensive car bought for her by her parents. Therefore, one can see that Jack is far more independent than Mariana.
The way Jack’s and Mariana’s cars crash is also symbolic. Car accident in “Love in L.A.” represents how people meet and fall in love because it always feels like a crash. The leading role of the male and his dominance in physical power is shown when two cars crash - Jack’s car causes the accident. As a result, Mariana’s car is damaged and there are no scratches on the Jack’s car because it is older and stronger than Mariana’s new one.
In “Love in L.A.”, like in “The Hand”, actions connected with hands are also presented. When the main characters meet each other, “they shook hands” quite formally (Gilb, 1993, p. 268). This action is an expression of peace and respect; it is like they raised a white flag to each other. When Jack’s hand touches Mariana’s hand for the second time, “her hand felt so warm and soft he felt like he'd been kissed” (Gilb, 1993, p. 269). Now this gesture expresses sympathy, hope and a chance to continue their relationship.
Dagoberto Gilb in “Love in L.A.” and Colette in “The Hand” are full of symbolic elements throughout their short stories. Both authors use actions and objects as symbols. Some of them are similar and have the identical meanings. However, there are a number of symbols used by Dagoberto Gilb and Colette that differ. The symbols presented in Dagoberto Gilb’s “Love in L.A.” and Colette’s “The Hand” help readers to understand the points that the authors were trying to emphasize. Wide usage of symbols helps the authors reach every reader on a unique and even more personal level.