Analysis: "Hills Like White Elephants"

Topics: Ernest Hemingway, Unborn child, Pregnancy Pages: 6 (2418 words) Published: August 26, 2014
‘Hills like White elephants’ by Ernest Hemingway revolves around a conversation between a girl and an American man. The story is written in simple sentences and when one reads the story one does not really notice the subtleties present. Hemingway’s iceberg theory is relevant to this story because though the story seems to be simply about a man and a woman having a causal conversation there are undertones of more serious and pressing issues. It is set at a train station in between Barcelona and Madrid. Hemingway does this on purpose in order to highlight the fact that the relationship between the American and the girl is at crossroads. Throughout the passage there is no explicit sign of conflict however there is a slight undercurrent of uncertainty and tension. The entire passage is written in third person, it is objective and just states the facts of the conversation without really giving the reader any background information about the situation or the characters. This is probably been done to maintain a sense of mystery. The title of the passage is also significant as ‘white elephants’ are symbolic of something that is unwanted and as the whole conversation between the American and woman revolves around whether to do an ‘operation’ or not to get rid of something that is supposedly an unborn baby, making the operation an abortion, this symbol is extremely important. The first paragraph of the passage is dedicated to describing the setting. It starts with a description of the hills as ‘long and white’ and how there was ‘no shade on this side’. It then goes on to describe the other side across the rail tracks as a ‘warm shadow’ of the building and a beaded curtain ‘to keep the flies out’. By describing the two sides the author creates two contrasting images, one where there is shade and another where there is just the hot sun, it also mentioned that the American and the girl sit in the shade. This can be said to be symbolic of conflict in the story. The shady area is the easier option, which is going ahead with the abortion while the other side, which is hot, and without shade is the harder choice to keep the unborn baby. The setting is also symbolic as they are physically at a junction point between Barcelona and Madrid however they are also mentally at a junction as they are not sure what to do with the baby. The first line that the girl utters; ‘what shall we drink’ speaks volumes about her character and relationship with the American she is with. It is the start of her uncertainty, helplessness and dependence on the American. This is also conveyed when she says ‘lets drink beer’ and then the American goes on to translate it into Spanish. It shows how dependent she is on the man to survive, not only linguistically in this particular setting but also otherwise. Her indecision of whether to have a new drink with water or not, also conveys the indecision she faces deeper issue of whether or not to have an abortion. Also though she is pregnant she is consuming alcohol, which is bad for her unborn child indicating that finally she might just agree with the American and go for the abortion. Her preoccupied nature ‘looking off at the line of hills’ indicates that something is bothering her though what is not explicitly stated. It should be noted that though she was very eager to drink something when she arrived she is so preoccupied that she does not notice that the drinks have arrived. Also the contrast between the ‘white hills’ and the ‘brown, dry’ countryside portrays the purity of the unborn child while the brown dry countryside is symbolic of the American and the girl who are at fault. Also the fact that the girl refers to the ‘white hills’ as ‘white elephants’ shows how unwanted the unborn born child is though the he or she has done nothing wrong. The man who is also the antagonist in the passage is portrayed as the more dominant character and behaves according to Hemingway’s rigid conception of reality....
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