The main characters in the short story “Mr. and Mrs. Elliot” by Ernest Hemingway are Mr. and Mrs. Elliot. Although several other characters appear – including Mrs. Elliot’s best friend – we will only mention them in connection to the way in which the Elliots relate to them
Mr. Elliot’s full name is Hubert Elliot (l. 17) and he is twenty-five years old (ll. 19-20).
His outer characterization does not focus too much on his appearance, but on his decision to remain a virgin until marriage:
Mr. Elliot’s inner characterization is based on his belief that keeping himself sexually pure will be the basis of a perfect relationship. Still, we learn that his decision to remain a virgin until marriage often brought him mockery and rejection from many women:
He had been in love with various girls (…) and always told them sooner or later that he had led a clean life. Nearly all the girls lost interest in him. He was shocked and really horrified at the way girls would become engaged to and marry men whom they must know had dragged themselves through the gutter. (ll. 23-28)
When he first meets Cornelia, he has no serious intention to marry her, but finds himself persuaded to do so:
At first Hubert had no idea of marrying Cornelia. He had never thought of her that way. She had been such a good friend of his (…) He could never remember just when it was decided that they were to be married. But they were married. (ll. 44-50)
As soon as they engage in the physical part of their relationship while married, Mr. and Mrs. Elliot realize that it is not what they expected. Still, Mr. Elliot is determined to make this part of the relationship better, much to his wife’s discontent, as she “could not attempt it very often” (ll. 61-62). In a way, Mr. Elliot’s determination to have a baby may be associated with his feelings of frustration and with a feeling of failing masculinity.
Mrs. Elliot’s first name is Cornelia.
Her outer characterization presents her as a woman of forty, with Southern origins, from a “very old Southern family” (l. 89), and the owner of a tea shop (l. 15).
Mrs. Elliot’s inner characterization reveals that she has a distaste for the physical part of her relationship with her husband: “they tried as often as Mrs. Elliot could stand it” (ll. 1-2). Her husband does not seem to understand her reluctance when it comes to being intimate and Mrs. Elliot does not tell him. She simply tolerates him because they both want to have a baby.
Mrs. Elliot is not liked by her mother-in-law, who sees her presence as a reason to cry and feel miserable: “his mother cried when he brought Cornelia home after their marriage but brightened very much when she learned they were going to live abroad” (ll. 32-34). Although the author does not mention it, it is safe to assume that she is rejected because of her age.
When she tries to help her husband with his poems, she is treated badly and cries often, which is a sign that she is not happy in her marriage:
Hubert, however, was writing a great number of poems and Cornelia typed them for him. They were all very long poems. He was very severe about mistakes and would make her redo an entire page if there was one mistake. She cried a good deal and they tried several times to have a baby before they left Dijon. (ll. 67-72)