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Short Story Analysis of Hills Like White Elephants.
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Short Story Analysis of Hills Like White Elephants
Short Story Analysis of Hills Like White Elephants
Hills Like White Elephants is a short story written by Ernest Hemingway. It was first published in the collection Men Without Women in 1927. The story is set at a train station in the Ebro River valley of Spain where a couple is waiting for their train to Madrid. Due to the fact that the young woman (called Jig) is pregnant, the man tries to persuade her to have an abortion.
The story offers a neutral scenic narration. This is due to all the dialogue. You get an external perspective of it and on the action. The narrator doesn’t appear omniscient or omnipresent in my opinion. If we look at focalisation it’s manifest a direct discourse because the whole story is based on the couple’s conversation.
The action of the story takes place at a train station in the Ebro valley which is in Spain. It must be located somewhere between Madrid and Barcelona because it is mentioned that “the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes […] and [it] went to Madrid.” (ll. 7f.). This particular day is very dry and “hot” (l. 6) and so the scenery in the valley is barren. However there’s something which is presented bright and white – the hills across the valley. There’s not given a certain set of time but it must be around the 1920s. The couple is sitting in the shadow of a building, which is supposed to be a bar, and they are drinking beer.
There are two main characters in this story, the man - referred to as “the American” (l. 5) - and the girl, whom he calls “Jig” (l. 63). They’re both rather round, static and opaque because they’re complex individuals, who don’t develop through the story but you don’t know everything about them; you can’t rumble them. You could maybe say that Jig develops in this way that she is actually against the abortion. Owing to their way of communication it can be said, that their relationship is rather superficial. They don’t go into deep detail when talking. Furthermore they don’t even enunciate the words which they mean. Their conversation is based on description such as “an awfully simple operation” (l. 60) which is supposed to mean the abortion. You can’t understand their conversation without interpreting in particular words or phrases. The couple is connected by the past, present and future. The stickers on the bags and suitcases make obvious that they travelled through whole Europe in the past for getting to Spain. Their present is obviously set in the short story, at the station. And the operation will probably take place in the future. (There is a third character as well, the bartender. But she isn’t important for the meaning of the story, she’s rather flat due to nothing being mentioned about her.)
Being is forced to interpret is very typical for Hemingway’s style of writing. He is fond of using “ingenious symbolism and efficient and powerful dialogue” (http://en.wikipedia.org, Hills Like White Elephants) One example for symbolism is the Hills Like White Elephants. This is the title of the story and it appears throughout the whole story again and again, so you can maybe call it a leitmotif. “The term \"white elephant\" came, in English, to mean a thing which is more trouble than it is worth, or has outlived its usefulness to the person who has it.” (http://en.wikipedia.org, White Elephants (pachyderm)). If you translate this term into the story the valleys/elephants stand for the unborn child. The couple or particularly the man doesn’t want the child to be born. It would be in his way and so he tries to persuade Jig to have the abortion done. “It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig, […] , it’s not really an operation at all.” (ll. 60 f.). Right at the beginning Jig seems very thoughtfully since she catches sight of the white valleys. This can also lead to another interpretation of the “Hills Like White Elephants”. For the man […] they suggest the unborn child […], when Jig mentions them a third time, “the image is of a fully pregnant woman…with her distended belly bursting with life and with her breasts…making a trinity of white hills”” (Smith, Paul, A Reader’s guide to the Short Stories of ERNEST HEMINGWAY, 1989). So this shall make clear, that Jig is not really sure about the abortion, so the white elephants appear in front of her face again. She can’t stop thinking of them and of her child respectively whereas the man doesn’t care. Although he realizes that she’s not sure about this step and that she is probably in an emotional disturbance, he tries to convince her subliminal: “If you don’t want to you don’t have to. […] But I know it’s perfectly simple.” (ll. 79 f.). He puts pressure on her because she thinks, that “he doesn’t love her anymore” if she got the baby (cp. Ll. 84f.). This is rather a manipulation of her.
Apart from this symbol we can find a lot of other ones, e.g. the “cloud” (l.102). “The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain […]” (ll. 102 f.). “Grain” is a symbol for fertility, but the cloud covers it in the dark. This then points up the imminent murder of the unborn child.
Furthermore “in Hemingway’s dialogue as in his narrative prose, the testimony of feelings is conspicuously minimal.” (Waldhorn, Arthur, A Reader’s Guide To ERNEST HEMINGWAY, 1972). As mentioned above the American and Jig are not very emotional. Especially Jig tries to hide her feelings by repressing them. At first she tries this by changing the topic: “Could we have another beer?” (ll. 120 f.) But than she realizes that it didn’t work out and so she just wants to “stop talking” (l. 123). The American is rather cold and he is not interested in Jig’s point of view. It’s evident that she is kind of naïve and capable of influence. She would do everything the man tells her. He gets her this far that “she doesn’t care about herself “(l. 93) anymore and is rather acceding to the abortion.
About the plot it can be said that the narratee is lead right into the story without any introduction, so the beginning is in medias res. The first turning point can obviously be found in line 60. Since the man starts talking about the abortion the mood changes. The girl becomes quite calm and keeps silent. Then she joins the conversation. There is a second turning point as well in line 100. Jig looks into the wide nature and realizes that she would prefer keeping the baby. But the man doesn’t want her to keep it and tries to convince her to have the operation. Thus she expresses the wish to stop talking. The end of the action has got an open ending because the reader doesn’t know whether she kept the child or not.
As a conclusion I would say that this short story makes you really think. The reader has to interpret and find the topic himself. If I hadn’t read the works I cited from, I wouldn’t have known what the story is about. But if you get the chief-attraction, you realize how much you can interpret in only few words or phrases. Furthermore Hills Like White Elephants expound how men could manipulate their women in the early 20th century.
1) Smith, Paul. A Reader’s guide to the Short Stories of ERNEST HEMINGWAY. Boston, Mass., 1989.
2) Waldhorn, Arthur. A Reader’s guide to ERNEST HEMINGWAY. New York, 1972
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