ERNEST HEMINGWAY'S "HILLS LIKE WHITE ELEPHANTS" is, if taken literally, a story in which little actually "happens": a couple has drinks at a train station in Spain and argues about something rather vague. A useful approach to such an enigmatic text is to examine the very language of which it is made. The story is, after all, a textual artifact, one that historically has been subjected to intensely close reading. Yet a particular reading of this or any story is a phenomenon of processing linguistic data within an interpretative framework. Thus, it is worthwhile to examine how the story creates points of emphasis and importance through precise patterns in its grammatical structure. London School Stylistics tries to combine quantitative linguistic analysis with traditional literary interpretation, partly in order to add to the former's relevance and the latter's substance. It engages in statistical analysis of a text's language and uses that analysis to supplement interpretation, calling the making of meaning through these linguistic patterns "motivated prominence." A stylistic analysis of "Hills Like White Elephants" will enable us to see how, at the textual level, the story is able to manufacture such a rich interpretative web from ostensibly gossamer materials.
The stylistician M.A.K. Halliday observes that motivated prominence is frequently generated by the repetition of words, clauses, and groups of related words or"lexical sets" (112-114). It is also generated by patterns of question and answer (106-107). Both kinds of linguistic pattern are put to productive use in "Hills Like White Elephants." Furthermore, the story's limitation of agentive actions, and its effusion and precise use of cognitive verbs and pronominal substitutions, construct a textual pattern that greatly expands the stakes of the story's dispute. An analysis of these instances of motivated prominence will help us to develop an understanding of how the story's ambiguity does not obfuscate a...
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