Hills like White Elephants – Ernest Hemmingway
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.
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.
ROLL NO. 13