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Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants”

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Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants” is about a young couple discussing the decision of getting an abortion. Hemingway does not exactly state in the story that that is what they are talking about, but his use of figurative language helps you connect the dots. The story takes place outside a bar at a train station in Barcelona. The couple is there waiting for the train to take them to Madrid. There are many opinions about the story and how the scenery plays a huge role in giving the reader clues as to what is going on.

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In the beginning of the short story “Hills Like White Elephants” the characters explain that “it is very hot” (Hemingway 295) where they are. “The hot weather, the relief sought in beer and cold alcoholic drinks mirror a disagreement between the two people, the nature of which gradually becomes clear although without explicit statement”(Wood 1). At first it is not easy to connect that they are a couple.

According to Wood it is because “there is a distance and failure of communication between them” then she goes on to compare their relationship to the railroad “like the railroad tracks that are parallel and will never make contact” (Wood 1).

As the couple sits waiting for the train the man does not address the situation until after their disagreement. He is “consciously skirting use of negatively charged language (Wood 1). “It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig, the man said. It’s not really an operation at all” (Hemingway 295). The options of whether or not to get the abortion are “symbolized by the landscape” (Wood 1). One direction represents barrenness, infertility “The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white… in the sun and the country was brown and dry. ” (Hemingway 295).

On the other side it represents fruitfulness and fertility. “Across on the other side, were fields of grain and trees. ” (Hemingway 295). As the woman says the hills are “like white elephants” (Hemingway 295). As the conversation between them continues the woman’s remark “white elephants” (Hemingway 295) is often interpreted by the readers as “making an offhand remark” (Wood 1). “To the man, the developing infant is a white elephant – a gift that is valuable but unwanted, costly to maintain, and a problem he does not want to handle – a thing to be gotten rid of. (Wood 1) In the story the beaded curtain is referred to eight times which would seem like more than coincidence. “Eight times in this brief story Hemingway mentions the beaded curtain that hangs across the entrance of the cafe to keep out flies. The curtain has printed on it the brand name of the licorice-tasting drink they try, Anis del Toro. At one point the woman takes hold of two of the curtains’ beaded strands. Literary critics have interpreted this curtain in different symbolic ways ranging from umbilical cords to the door to the uterus” (Wood 2).

Even though Hemingway doesn’t use the word abortion “the readers become aware of what the according to Hemingway “simple operation is” that the woman doesn’t want but the man tries to persuade her to undergo” (Wood 2). According to Wood the man is being selfish and thinks the girl is being unreasonable “to even consider carrying the fetus to birth” (Wood 2). Wood also explains that his actions are shown by him leaving her to take the luggage and buy himself another drink inside the bar.

At the end the story leaves you thinking whether or not she will get the abortion, or will she keep it, or maybe the man will leave her. “The story has no need to present answers. Its purpose was to dramatize a situation even more common today than when the story was written” (Wood 2) Wood also made a very interesting point at the end stating that “The woman is not a victim and the man is not a seducer of the innocent. We sympathize with Jig, the female character. It is she that will have to undergo the “simple operation” or give birth to the child.

We favor fertility more than sterility; the grassy vegetation near the river is more attractive than the barren landscape in the opposite direction. But assuming the complications, expenses and responsibilities that come with a white elephant would require a major adjustment of lifestyle. ” (Wood 2-3) Stanley Kozikowski believes that the bamboo curtain helps “reformulate the events of the story into a new coherence”. According to Kozikowski the curtain also illustrates the “sweet past and bitter present”, her relationship and lifestyle before and her relationship and ultimately the decision she was to make after.

As she holds the string of bamboo beads in her hand “she maintains full literal possession of herself and her child. ” (Kozikowski 2) Even though the reader never really knows whether or not she get the abortion Kozikowski makes a good point by stating that “ But she nevertheless has an abortion of sorts, one precisely like hills like white elephants: Having taken “the [not their] two bags”–“Two heavy bags” (214) to the other side of the station, symbolically the mother and child, the man then goes into the bar from that other side, rinks “an Anis at the bar,” and finally, with an astonishing irony to which he is oblivious, struts “out through the bead curtain” (214) to the table outside, where they had sat previously, and where she, now smiling, remains seated. Conveyed out from the barroom, through the breezy doorway, through which the “air” gets “let in” from the other side “the man” is ironically terminated, expelled in her consciousness. ” (Kozikowski 2) The author of this article believes that She and her baby have come out “literally fine after this “awfully simple operation” (Kozikowski 2).

The man metaphorically walks out through the curtain and out of their lives. Throughout the story the woman’s perspective of the child is “everything” according to Kozikowski. The man referred to it as “only thing” Kozikowski then goes on and ties together that the man “becomes the very nothing—the white elephants—that he had urged the women to renounce moments before”. Kozikowski believes that when the women smiles she realizes how “things can be like other things”; hills can be like white elephants. Like Wood, Kozikowski also believes that the “white elephants” refer to the child as something precious but unwanted. An unwanted gift, a seemingly immense problem… but they also evoke that which is bright, lovely, beautiful with the promise of life” (Kozikowski 1). “The apparently distant hills attract to the “very hot” and “dry” Ebro plain and the train station an uncomfortable but refreshing “warm wind” (212) that blows through the bamboo curtain” The man feels as though the operation is just that simple “a quick remedy to a removable annoyance…the “wind” of the hills simply defines casually and literally what an abortion is: As “the warm wind blew the bead curtain against the table” (212), he is quick to say, “I know you wouldn’t mind it.

It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air in…. I’ll go with you…. They just let the air in and then it’s perfectly natural” (212)” (Kozikowski). He is using his words to persuade her into not running her life, which goes back to Wood when he called the man “selfish” he is thinking about no one or nothing but himself. This story is full of metaphors and similes to help the reader connect to what is going on. One can agree with the fact that the woman compared the fetus to white elephants.

It is an “unwanted but precious gift” (Kozikoeski 1). Then the question is to whom? Does the man just look at it as unwanted but precious and is just pushing his wants on the girl, or do they both mutually not want this precious gift. The railroad was use as well to compare their relationship as two tracks that never meet. At first it is not easy for the reader to pick up these connections but as one rereads and looks at other peoples takes on the story it helps the reader rethink the story and connect the dots.

Cite this Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants”

Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants”. (2016, Oct 13). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/hemingways-short-story-hills-like-white-elephants/

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