Hills Like White Elephants Analysis

Ernest Hemingway was an outstanding American journalist and writer of “lost generation”. All his literary works seem to be simple and easy to read, but on the other hand, they are full of hidden implications and inner meanings. The story Hills Like White Elephants is one of them. The short story itself is a conversation between a young man and his lady, but actually it reveals a spiritual tragedy of a young girl Jig – the fear of abortion and a possible loss of her beloved. 

Hills Like White Elephants Summary

The story begins with the description of the scenery: “The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side, there was no shade and no trees and the station between two lines of rails in the sun” (Hemingway). Hemingway’s short and emphatic depiction of landscape concentrates all reader’s attention to the upcoming dialogue. It helps to remove all the excess that could divert attention. This intensifies the tension effect, increases the value of each subsequent word.

Recall how skillfully Hemingway draws hills, whitening on the sun, mercilessly scorched by the sun; the earth and the green fields, tree-lined shores of rivers and moving shadows of clouds. These contrasting images are full of functional significance. It stages the state of mind of a girl that resembles the scorched earth. At first, the girl compares the hills with white elephants with admiration and happiness, but when this image appears the next time they bear a heartbreaking tone. In the final part, when the “white elephants” appear again, but Jig’s eyes see only how they descend into the parched valley. Along with the dream of a child die colors of the world and hope for good luck: they fade together. The decision to kill her unborn child turns into profound psychological stress; she instinctively knows that she says goodbye to the highest value in her life.

Hills Like White Elephants Meaning

The phrase “white elephants”, which is present in the name of the story and often sounds in the text is very vast in itself: usually it is used when it comes to some kind of property that is like a burden owner or a gift, which you do not know how to get rid of, or a thing, which requires wasteful care but has no benefit. The plot of the story is developing in such a way that the word “abortion” is not once pronounced. Hemingway uses euphemisms in order to mask the real topic of conversation, as he does not want to put interlocutors and the reader in an uncomfortable situation. Throughout the conversation appear different phrases that disguise the word “abortion”   – “white elephants”, “an awfully simple operation”, “not really an operation at all”, “perfectly natural” and “perfectly simple” (Hemingway). It is Hemingway’s writing style, as the underwater part of an iceberg that hides not only the word “abortion”, but also the fear of a young girl, unconscious pain for the unborn child, that will not see the light of day. The heroine’s dreams of a child are inextricably linked to her dream of happiness and measured family life. These attributes are genetically inherent in every woman; they are the essential purpose and duty: to be a parent, the one who gives life. For the young lady, abortion equals the collapse of her hopes and will only lead to the continuation of a meaningless life.

“The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.
‘They look like white elephants,’ she said.
‘I’ve never seen one,’ the man drank his beer.
‘No, you wouldn’t have.’

Hills Like White Elephants Theme

‘I might have,’ the man said. ‘Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything’” (Hemingway). Replica “never seen a white elephant”, if taken literally, could mean questioning their existence. But white elephants are found in nature, and in Thailand, they are considered sacred animals. The conflict over the white elephants metonymically replaces conflict on the deepest level: the inability to resolve the first one tows the undecidability of the second. And, accordingly, the opposite is true: “But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you’ll like it?’ (Hemingway) After this replica white elephants do not appear in the novel, however, quote, moving from the discourse of the characters in the title, takes on the quality of metonymic concept, expressing the idea of loneliness.

A perception of meaninglessness, absurdity, emptiness of life, a feeling of terrible spiritual poverty appears. She feels that life will be unstable, lose stability, love becomes soulless and turn will turn into bitter loneliness with licorice taste. “Everything tastes of licorice. Especially all the things you’ve waited so long for” (Hemingway).

Hills Like White Elephants Symbolism

Although the whole story is a conversation between two people, the characters still do not communicate. They both talk, but do not listen to each other’s words and do not understand the other’s point of view – appears a communicative failure. It is worth mentioning, that Jig does not speak Spanish – the detail that highlights her inability to be understood and to be taken seriously. The characters lie to each other that after a “perfectly natural” operation they still be happy and will love each other. In order to overpass an awkward topic of conversation they drink alcohol.

All in all, at first glance the story is easy. But if you think deeper about it, the ease of disappears immediately. Although none of the characters calls a spade a spade, the impression does not change, and after reading remains heavy sediment. In a few pages raises important questions of understanding and trust between man and woman. The final of the story remains opened to the reader, so everyone can only guess about the fate of the characters.

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