Hills like white elephants essay
Ernest Hemmingway´s “Hills like white elephants” (1927) is an essay, about a man and a woman waiting for a train to Madrid, all the while discussing an operation. The story takes place in a train station bar, surrounded by hills, in a valley in Spain. The story contains three characters, two protagonists and one lesser character; The American, the girl (aka “Jig”) and the bartender. The American is the male protagonist, whose name is never revealed. Throughout the entire story the American behaves very masculine. This is a classic Hemmingway feature; a masculine man who is tough as nails, yet intelligent and in control. Throughout the story he tries to convince the girl to have the operation, ignoring the problems that the girl has and oversimplifying the whole thing. In contrast to the American, the girl is less ...view middle of the document...
Another thing one will notice, is that it is never directly mentioned what operation is to take place, although considering the situation and the context, one can be fairly certain that it is an abortion. This is another ironic feature as the protagonists drink beer throughout the story, witch one should not do while pregnant. It seems as if the drinking is used as an excuse to not talk about the abortion; a lot of talking, but no communication. It seems as if they are trying to get further and further away from each other, clearly indicated in the two ending up drinking alone (the girl at the table, and the man at the bar), suggesting that the relationship is coming to an end.
A white elephant symbolizes something that no one wants, in this case the unborn baby. The girl casually says that the hills look like white elephants in the beginning of the story, but this clearly has a deeper meaning. Perhaps she is trying to discuss the baby? If so, the American misses this hint completely.
The setting of the story is at a train station. This suggests that the relationship is at a crossroad. One will also see that the train station is in the middle of a valley, highlighting that there is little or nothing more in their relationship, and that there is only one more obstacle before the split (that would be the journey by train). Also, the contrast between the white hills and the valley is a symbolic way of showing the contrast between life and death, fertility and sterility, further indicating that the operation is an abortion.
If one only reads the text once, one will think of it as nothing more than a conversation between two people, a rather dull conversation even. But if one reads the text several times, knowing that there is a lot of symbolism in it, one will soon see that there is much more to it than just a dull conversation. This is what is called the “iceberg theory”, and is very present in Hemmingway’s texts.