Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" is a short story that was first published in 1927. The story takes place in Spain and revolves around a young couple who are at a train station, waiting for their train to Madrid. Throughout the story, the couple engages in a tense and emotional discussion about whether or not to have an abortion.
Hemingway is known for his spare and direct prose style, and "Hills Like White Elephants" is no exception. The story is told entirely through dialogue and description, with little exposition or authorial commentary. This minimalist approach allows the reader to immerse themselves in the characters' perspectives and emotions, making the story both intimate and ambiguous.
The story begins with a description of the landscape surrounding the train station, which is described as "brown and dry." The man and the girl sit at a table outside the station, drinking beer and looking out at the hills in the distance. The girl observes that the hills look like white elephants, and the man agrees.
As they continue to drink, the conversation turns to the girl's pregnancy. The man suggests that they have an abortion, while the girl expresses her uncertainty and fear about the procedure. The man tries to reassure her by downplaying the risks and emphasizing the simplicity of the procedure. However, the girl remains hesitant, and the conversation becomes increasingly tense and emotional.
Throughout the story, the characters' underlying tensions and conflicts are revealed through their words and actions. The man's impatience, selfishness, and desire for control are contrasted with the girl's vulnerability, uncertainty, and desire for emotional connection.
"Hills Like White Elephants" explores a variety of themes related to communication, power, and identity. One of the central themes of the story is the difficulty of communication between the man and the girl. The characters struggle to articulate their feelings and desires, leading to misunderstandings and conflict.
The story also explores issues of power and control, as the man tries to assert his dominance over the girl and convince her to have the abortion. The girl, meanwhile, grapples with questions of identity and agency as she tries to navigate the difficult decision of whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.
Like much of Hemingway's work, "Hills Like White Elephants" makes use of symbolism to convey deeper meanings and themes. The "white elephants" that the characters observe in the hills represent the unwanted and burdensome aspects of the girl's pregnancy. The barren and desolate landscape around the train station reflects the emotional emptiness and uncertainty of the characters' relationship.
This short story also shares many similarities with the works of other writers known for their spare prose style and exploration of complex human emotions and relationships. For example, Raymond Carver is known for his minimalist prose style and his focus on working-class characters and relationships. His stories often revolve around everyday moments and interactions, but are infused with a sense of ambiguity and tension. Like "Hills Like White Elephants," Carver's stories often explore the complexities of communication and the difficulties of intimacy.
Another example is Chekhov who is considered one of the masters of the short story form, and his work is marked by its subtlety and understatement. Many of his stories revolve around seemingly mundane moments and situations, but are rich with psychological depth and emotional complexity. Same as this one, his stories often explore the difficulties of communication and the ways in which people struggle to connect with one another.
Like Hemingway, Katherine Mansfield often employs symbolism and metaphor to convey deeper meanings and themes. Many of her stories revolve around moments of personal revelation or realization, as characters confront the complexities of their own emotions and desires.
Same as James Joyce who often employs a stream-of-consciousness narrative style that immerses the reader in the characters' thoughts and emotions. Many of his stories deal with themes of identity, desire, and alienation, and are characterized by their psychological depth and complexity.
Overall, "Hills Like White Elephants" is a powerful and thought-provoking story that uses spare prose and rich symbolism to explore complex themes related to communication, power, and identity. The characters' struggles and conflicts are rendered with empathy and nuance, making the story both intimate and universal. As a result, "Hills Like White Elephants" continues to be widely read and studied today as a classic example of Hemingway's unique literary style and his exploration of timeless human themes.
Genre: a short story, modernist fiction
Setting: the story takes place in a train station in Spain, situated near a river and surrounded by hills. The setting is described in great detail and serves as an important source of imagery throughout the story.
Point of view and Narrator: the story is told from a third-person limited point of view, with the narrator focusing primarily on the thoughts and emotions of the young woman known only as "the girl." The perspective is limited to her point of view, with the narrator withholding information about the thoughts and motivations of the other characters.
Tone and Mood: the tone of the story is understated and melancholic, characterized by a sense of tension and unease. The mood is somber, reflecting the complex emotions and difficult choices facing the characters.
Style: spare and minimalist, characterized by simple dialogue and a lack of explicit exposition. The story is marked by its use of vivid imagery, particularly in its descriptions of the surrounding landscape.
Major conflict: the major conflict in the story centers around the decision facing the young woman and the American man, as they consider whether or not to have an abortion. The conflict is characterized by a sense of tension and unease, as the two struggle to communicate and understand each other's perspectives.
Climax: the climax of the story occurs when the young woman tells the American man that she feels fine, implying that she has decided to go through with the abortion despite his objections. This moment marks a turning point in their relationship and sets the stage for the resolution of the story.
Ending: the ending of the story is left somewhat open-ended, with the two characters preparing to board their train and continue on with their lives. The final image of the story, with the hills in the distance looking like white elephants, serves as a poignant and powerful conclusion to the narrative. The story ends with a sense of ambiguity, leaving the reader to ponder the implications of the characters' decisions and the complexities of their relationship.
Symbols and Metaphors
Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" makes use of several symbols that help to enrich the story's themes and deepen its meaning. By making use of these symbols and others, Hemingway creates a rich and complex story that explores themes of love, loss, and the complexities of human relationships. Some of the key symbols in the story include:
The Hills - the hills that surround the train station where the story takes place are described as looking like "white elephants." This phrase is used to suggest something that is burdensome or unwanted, highlighting the weight of the decision facing the young woman and the American man.
The Train - the train that the young woman and the American man are waiting for symbolizes the journey that they are about to embark on, both literally and figuratively. The train represents the idea of moving forward and leaving the past behind, highlighting the sense of uncertainty and anxiety that surrounds the characters' decision.
The Beaded Curtain - the beaded curtain that separates the bar from the rest of the train station is a symbolic representation of the barriers that exist between the characters. It serves as a physical manifestation of their emotional distance and the difficulty they face in communicating with each other.
Alcohol - alcohol is a recurring motif throughout the story, representing the characters' attempts to numb themselves to the difficult emotions and decisions they are facing. It is also used to symbolize the idea of escape, as the characters seek to distract themselves from their problems through drinking.
The Setting Sun - the setting sun is mentioned several times throughout the story, serving as a symbolic representation of the end of the characters' relationship and the closing of this chapter of their lives.
Hemingway also makes use of several metaphors to create a deeper sense of meaning and to explore the complex emotions and relationships of his characters. Here are some of the key metaphors in the story:
White Elephants - when the young woman describes the hills in the distance as "white elephants," she is using a metaphor to express her sense that they are burdensome and unwanted. This metaphor is meant to suggest the weight of the decision facing the couple and to highlight the sense of uncertainty and anxiety that surrounds their conversation.
Jig's Pregnancy - Jig's pregnancy is used as a metaphor for the couple's relationship. The pregnancy represents the growth and development of their love, while the abortion they are considering represents the end of that growth and the potential loss of their relationship.
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