Hills Like White Elephants (1385 words) Essay

Hills Like White Elephants
The most striking feature of the short story “Hills Like White Elephants” is
the manner in which it is told. It is not typical in the classical sense with an
introduction, a development of the story and an end. Instead, we get some time
in the life of two people, as if it were just a piece of a film where we have a
lot to deduce. This tale does not get everything done for the reader; we only
see the surface of what is going on. It leaves an open end because readers can
have their own ending and take part in the action when reading. The story told
here is that of a woman and a man on their trip to a place where she can have an
abortion. Everything in the tale is related to the idea of fertility and
barrenness. This main topic can be seen from the title “Hills Like White
Elephants,” where Hills refer to the shape of the belly of a pregnant woman.

White Elephants is an idiom that refers to useless or unwanted things, meaning
the fetus they plan on disposing of. Hemingway produces an effect of sympathy
for the girl through the setting that symbolizes their decision process. The
time passing symbolizes the pressure the two people are under, and through their
poor communication indicates that this relationship does not and will not work.

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The first impression the reader gets when reading the text is that the story is
set in the middle of a dry, barren place under the sun, with no shade or trees.

This reinforces the idea of lack of life, but, in contrast, they are in the warm
shadow of the building where life is. This emphasizes the contrast between the
pregnancy of the woman, as being fertile and everything around them, including
him, in this idea of fertility as he is also apart from the barrenness and
sharing the shadow. The “brown and dry” setting sets the tone for the
conversation between the couple (Hemingway 281). It allows the reader to
understand the feelings of entrapment held by the couple and especially the
young girl. The couple is also separated from the rest of the people that are
inside the bar by a bamboo beaded curtain. This gives the idea of privacy
reinforced by the idea of the warm shadow of the building that protects them
from the world that exists inside the bar, they are outside, with nature. There
is tension in the air at some moments, but they cannot express it openly.

Perhaps they don’t want to be heard in case somebody can understand them, or
maybe, it is just a problem of communication and of sharing feelings. It could
also be a combination of both. No woman should be subjected to making this type
of important decision in such a harsh environment. Another thing the reader must
take into account is the fact that the train is stopping only for two minutes, a
very brief time. This couple is being pressured into making a very important
decision in only a short amount of time. According to the narrator, “the
express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes,” leaving the couple with
no time to really go into discussing the important details of their relationship
and the decision they are making (Hemingway 282). As the story comes to an end,
the woman server informed the couple, “The train comes in five minutes,” and
a sense of urgency is brought to the conversation (Hemingway 284). This becomes
evident by the manner in which the couple is concluding their conversation. The
girl does not want to speak about the subject anymore, but the couple has not
finished talking things all the way through. In the end she just wants to get
this operation over and done with. Ernest Hemingway chose to use the couple’s
dialogue as the best way to express sympathy for the young girl to the reader.

This dialogue is presented as being very natural, but was carefully written,
because through it, the reader can deduce the kind of relationship they have.

The language here is a very simple one, even informal; this easy language
usually expresses feelings. The real theme of the conversation is not clearly
stated, but is underlying; they are talking about love, feelings and her
pregnancy. The problem that the two are having when communicating is that none
of them is hearing each other. In the beginning she wants to speak out about the
situation clearly and put the feelings on the table to be talked about openly.

When she asks such a simple question as, “What should we drink,” he changes
the subject instead of answering the question, and answers, “it’s pretty
hot”(Hemingway 282). This implies that he wants to change the subject and talk
about simpler things such as the weather. As the conversation goes on, the man
openly refers to the operation as if taking importance off it. He says it is not
important but very easy, like opening a window “It’s just to let the air
in”(Hemingway 283). He wants her to have the abortion but she is sure about
the fact that their relationship is going to change after that (Hemingway 282).

He wants to convince her that the decision has been hers by means of saying
things like, “if you don’t want to you don’t have to … But I know it’s
perfectly simple,” but he is the only one who has no doubts about it
(Hemingway 283). She is having the normal doubts a woman can have in a situation
like that. He feels that the pregnancy is a nuisance in their lives. The baby
would mean the necessity of settling down and starting a family and this would
be a change in their lives as they move a lot around. There is another allusion
when almost at the end of the story he says, “we can have the world” and she
replies, “No, we can’t. It isn’t ours anymore … And once they have taken it
away, you never get it back”(Hemingway 283). Here we can see that she wants
the baby and she knows that once she has the operation she won’t be able to get
the child back. At the very end, in the last sentence, he asks her if she feels
better, but what he is really asking is if she has made a decision and he wants
to know what she has decided. She replies: “I feel fine … There’s nothing
wrong with me. I feel fine”(Hemingway 284). Because they both want to make a
decision quickly, they are not careful and end up hurting each other. The
characters are really mysterious to us, we know nothing about their lives but
they seem to have nothing to do in life apart from sex and drinking. They are in
the middle of a surface level relationship, and these types of relationships
rarely work. They spend their time in the bar drinking alcohol, which is
considered a depressant. They order “anis” because she wants to try new
things, she might be considering the possibility of having a new relationship or
a new experience in life, but when she tastes it she says, “it tastes like
licorice” which is a very common and not exotic taste (Hemingway 282). She
adds that, “Everything tastes of licorice. Especially all the things you’ve
waited so long for…” implying that when you wait for something for a long
time, for instance a relationship, once you get it, it loses exotism and appeal
(Hemingway 282). It is apparent that the girl may be settling for less with her
American partner. Later on there is a reference to the routine they seem to be
in when she says, “that’s all we do, isn’t it- look at things and try new
drinks”(Hemingway 282). The girl is fed up with this relationship and
following the operation, she will most likely leave her companion. In
conclusion, Ernest Hemingway has given the reader the opportunity to feel
sympathy for the girl through the use of the setting, time restrictions, and
poor communication exhibited by the couple. Hemingway has provided a unique look
into the slice of this couple’s life by use of this out of the ordinary short
story. Through this different style, it has become very easy to have compassion
for the girl and understand the tough decision she is making. On the other hand,
it was very difficult to feel the same way about the man. He made repeated
selfish remarks and seemed as though he was only looking out for his best
interests throughout the conversation. In a time when abortions were taboo,
Hemingway was able to present his sympathy for the young girl through her tough
decision process.


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