Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hills like White Elephants – Ernest Hemmingway

Hills like White Elephants – Ernest Hemmingway

An Analysis

Ernest Hemingway's "Hill's Like White Elephants" consists mostly of a dialogue between a pregnant girl and her husband, who would like her to have an abortion. The story defines a two-part theme. The first is a commentary about the way selfishness can corrupt a relationship. The second comments on life and what it means to bear life. This story is developed in a short period of time by Hemingway's use of two central elements, character and setting. Though the setting is heavily symbolic, and characters are drawn mostly in dialogue, both are strongly evocative of the theme.

Though Hemingway's descriptions in "Hills like White Elephants" are few, he uses every word to create a well defined setting. The story is set in the 1920's, which would have been present time when it was published. The story takes place in Spain, at a train station bar, somewhere between Barcelona and Madrid. It is a hot summer in the country, and there is very little shade. The man and girl sit outside at a table that looks over the train tracks and countryside. There are also other smaller details which Hemingway uses to refine the setting. These include, the bamboo curtain over the bar door, and felt coasters.
Even these small details in setting carry vivid symbolism that adds to the overall theme of the story. The story's opening description of the hot summer hints that there is trouble between the couple and leads into their heated discussion. There is no shade for either of them to hide in. They have to face a decision that could ultimately ruin their relationship. The first scenic hint that this story is about giving life comes with the way the girl sees part of the valley as brown and dry. This image symbolizes what her womb will be like when the abortion is over. Later she looks out over the fertile side of the valley and a cloud passes over it, symbolizing the loss of fertility that can come with abortion. She has a choice to make between death or fertility and life. Hemingway even uses something as seemingly insignificant as the curtain as a symbol. . The curtain is a barrier, much like the cervical opening is to the womb, which the man disturbs by walking through it in the end. Each element of the setting is in someway used to symbolize and develop the theme of the conversation between the two characters.
The topic of the conversation and the way both characters handle it, is the main element that draws their characters into sharp round focus. Though the girl does not want to talk about the issue, they do anyway. From this, the reader gets a clear picture of how each character feels, and reacts to such a brash topic. The man seems to think its no big deal to have an abortion and is drawn as a manipulative jerk. The girl, on the other hand, is submissive, but would like to keep the child growing in her womb. Both characters are drawn quickly, but very effectively, by thier viewpoints.

The man in the story is the villain. He is the one who knocked up the girl, and doesn't want to take responsibility. He tries to convince the girl that having an abortion is the only thing that will help their relationship. Apparently he has grown cold towards her since she found out that she is pregnant. She asks him if he will love her again if she has it done. He insists that he already does love her, but the reader can see that his selfishness, in only wanting her, has already began to take its toll on the relationship. He tries to convince her that the surgery is a "simple operation," all they do is "let the air in." He tries to tell her that everyone is doing it these days. He is a manipulative person who has no respect for life. He also manipulates her further by saying he doesn't care if she does it, that he would be ok if she didn't. He doesn't really mean it. He continually pushes her when she doesn't want to talk about it. He really has no respect for her. He corrupts their relationship with his selfishness, which eventually causes it to fall apart. The girl places close together the man’s manipulative nature in that she is submissive, willing to please, even though she feels otherwise. She is thinking about the life she carries inside of her, but she wants the love of her husband. She tries to avoid the conversation, so she won't have to deal with what he is making her do. When she does talk, they end up ordering several drinks. She seems to want to drown out her misery. One of the most character defining places in the story is when she says, "And we could have everything and every day we make it more impossible." She wants a full life with her husband but because of his attitude towards the life within her it is impossible. He says they could have everything, but "No once they take it away, you can never get it back." She knows they can't have everything. They can't have their child. She values life, but to save her marriage she feels she has to submit to her husband. By the end of the story she doesn't want to see his selfishness anymore and she tells him to stop talking. She knows deep down that the abortion will cause their marriage to fail, but she doesn't try to stop it. So the commentary on the workings of selfishness in a relationship is compete.
Nearly every line in "Hills Like White Elephants" has a purpose for story development and commentary. The setting and dialogue illustrate both the value of life, as well as how selfishness can ruin a good relationship. Through the development of each element, Hemingway emphasizes his double theme and also creates a well rounded, meaningful piece of literature.


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