Interesting Literature

A Summary and Analysis of Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Hills Like White Elephants’

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

‘Hills Like White Elephants’ (1927) is one of Ernest Hemingway’s best-known and most critically acclaimed short stories. In just five pages, Hemingway uses his trademark style – plain dialogue and description offered in short, clipped sentences – to expose an unspoken subject that a man and a young woman are discussing.

You can read ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ here before proceeding to our summary and analysis of the story.

Plot summary

A man (an American expatriate) and a young girl (or ‘girl’) are drinking in the bar of a railway station in Spain, while waiting for their train. As it’s hot, they order some beers to drink, and then try an aniseed drink. The girl looks at the line of hills in the valley of the Ebro and remarks that they look like white elephants.

Her male companion, with whom we deduce she is in some sort of relationship, says he has never seen a white elephant and then gets defensive and annoyed when she remarks that he wouldn’t have, presumably because they’re so rare.

Their small talk then takes in the curtains of the bar, but gradually their conversation turns to an ‘operation’ (of sorts) which the man is trying to persuade the girl to undertake.

This procedure, which is referred to as ‘it’ throughout the story, is almost certainly an abortion, the girl having fallen pregnant by the man. However, it becomes clear that he wishes her to get rid of the baby, although she remains undecided. Eventually, growing tired of the man’s attempts to sway her, she demands that he stop talking.

They hear that their train is arriving, but when the man goes outside there is no sign of it. When he goes back inside and asks the girl how she is feeling, she replies curtly that she’s ‘fine’.

The title of Hemingway’s story, ‘Hills Like White Elephants’, is fitting for a number of reasons. First and perhaps most obviously, the title of the story denotes not the main and most pressing topic of the two main characters’ conversation – the unspoken ‘it’, the girl’s ‘operation’, which the man is trying to encourage her to have – but one aspect of their small talk as they skirt around that topic.

The girl’s comment about the Spanish hills looking like white elephants is mere filler, an example of ‘treading water’ as she and her male companion drink enough alcohol to make broaching the dread topic of their conversation – without actually directly mentioning it – palatable or even possible.

‘White elephants’ itself has two potential meanings here. There is a rare albino elephant known as the white elephant, whose presence at the royal court, in countries like Burma and Thailand, was considered a sign that the monarch reigned justly, and that the kingdom would be blessed with peace and prosperity.

But the second meaning is implied in Hemingway’s story. A ‘white elephant’ is a Western cultural term describing a possession which its owner cannot dispose of. The maintenance cost of such a possession is out of proportion to its usefulness or desirability.

Given the (implied) topic of the man and girl’s conversation – the girl’s reluctant decision to abort the baby she has conceived by the man – this meaning of ‘white elephant’ comes into view with a tragic force. The (unwanted) baby the girl has conceived with the man is like the proverbial white elephant, something that would cost a great deal for her to keep and maintain.

But by the same token, she finds it hard to ‘get rid of’ her white elephant, presumably because of the finality of such an act, though it is also implied that she worries over the safety of the procedure. (We should remember that medical procedures in 1927 were often not as relatively clean or as advanced as they now are.)

So the very title of Hemingway’s short story, ‘Hills Like White Elephants’, subtly and obliquely references the very thing which the two of them cannot bring themselves to mention or name openly: the title, then, both reveals and conceals the real subject of the story.

‘Hills Like White Elephants’ contains many of the most representative elements of Hemingway’s fiction: the spare style, the plain and direct dialogue, and the Spanish landscape which he often wrote about. And yet all three of these things can be said to work against, or be in tension with, the story’s subject-matter.

The spare style exposes the uncomfortable nature of the couple’s relationship (despite his repeated exhortations that she shouldn’t go through with ‘it’ unless she wants to, he is clearly trying to persuade her to have the abortion for his sake); the directness of the dialogue masks the failure of the two characters to have a frank conversation about ‘it’; and the Spanish landscape is not mere backdrop but a detail that is brought into the story only because the girl is finding it hard to address the momentous subject she knows she must eventually face.

And that leads us to wonder whether there might not be another meaning playing around that title, ‘Hills Like White Elephants’: the so-called ‘elephant in the room’, the idiom (prominent in the United States by the early twentieth century) denoting a conspicuous and important issue which nobody wants to discuss.

One also wonders whether, somewhere in his prodigious mind, Hemingway was recalling Mark Twain’s 1882 detective story, ‘ The Stolen White Elephant ’, in which the elephant turns out to have been in the original spot all along. Like the proverbial elephant in the room, Hemingway’s ‘hills like white elephants’ are there, prominent and immovable, and even getting on a train is not going to allow one to escape their true meaning.

Because so much of the characters’ dialogue works by subtext and through small talk, we are encouraged to deduce the nature of their relationship through observing how they interact, even more than by paying attention to what they talk about.

The man’s response to the girl’s dismissive comment that he wouldn’t have ever seen an actual white elephant is a case in point, since it suggests a controlling aspect to his personality, whereby an offhand and largely meaningless remark is taken up by him and responded to in a manner that is as defensive as it is petty.

Similarly, it is worth pointing out that the girl goes back on her initial statement that the hills resemble white elephants, saying shortly after this that the hills don’t actually look that much like white elephants after all, and only remind her of their colour. (This is interesting because many so-called white elephants are ‘white’ only in name: many of them are actually grey or pinkish in colour.)

This similarly reflects her vacillation over ‘it’, the termination of her pregnancy which she is evidently reluctant to undertake. As so often in a Hemingway story, how he reveals things through characters’ dialogue is as significant – and perhaps in this case even more so – than what is (not) being said.

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Home › Literature › Analysis of Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants

Analysis of Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants

By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on May 25, 2021

The frequently anthologized Hills Like White Elephants  first printed in transition magazine in 1927 is often read and taught as a perfect illustration of Ernest Hemingway’s minimalist, self-proclaimed “iceberg” style of writing: In much of Hemingway’s fiction what is said in the story often is less important than what has not been said. Like the iceberg—only one-eighth of which is visible above the surface—Hemingway’s fiction is much richer than its spare language suggests. Hemingway has great faith in his readers and leaves them to discern what is truly happening from the scant facts he presents on the surface of his story. On a superficial level, Hills is merely about a man, a woman, and an “awfully simple operation” (275). What the narrator never actually tells the reader, however, is that “awfully simple operation” is an abortion, a taboo subject in 1925. Underneath the surface of this story are THEMEs and motifs that are characteristic of many of Hemingway’s other works as well. As do many of those works, “Hills” tells the story of an American abroad and depicts the strained relationships between men and women that clearly intrigued the author. As with many of the relationships Hemingway portrays, this man and woman apparently have nothing in common but sex and the heavy consumption of alcoholic beverages.

literary analysis essay hills like white elephants

Ernest Hemingway/Goodreads

Hills  is also a story of avoidance. Instead of having a significant, rational conversation about the issue at hand, the “girl,” Jig, says only that the hills of Spain look like white elephants. “Wasn’t that clever?” she asks the unnamed man (274). This rather inconsiderate male companion agrees, but he actually wants to talk about the procedure. Jig would rather not discuss it. When he pressures her, she replies, “Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me.” Jig is the typical Hemingway female, selfless and sacrificial. She is prepared to have the abortion, but the reader is left with the distinct impression that any previous magic between the couple is gone. “It isn’t ours anymore,” Jig tells the American (276). The unfortunate accident of pregnancy has ruined the relationship; it will never be the same. Hemingway explores many of the same themes in his important war novel A Farewell to Arms and in The Sun Also Rises.

Analysis of Ernest Hemingway’s Novels

BIBLIOGRAPHY Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills Like White Elephants.” 1927. Reprinted in The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigía Edition. New York: Scribner, 1987. Johnston, Kenneth. “ ‘Hills Like White Elephants’: Lean, Vintage Hemingway.” Studies in American Fiction (1982). Renner, Stanley. “Moving to the Girl’s Side of Hills.” The Hemingway Review (1995).

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Summary and Analysis Hills Like White Elephants

In the early 1920s, an American man and a girl, probably nineteen or twenty years old, are waiting at a Spanish railway station for the express train that will take them to Madrid. They drink beer as well as two licorice-tasting anis drinks, and finally more beer, sitting in the hot shade and discussing what the American man says will be "a simple operation" for the girl.

The tension between the two is almost as sizzling as the heat of the Spanish sun. The man, while urging the girl to have the operation, says again and again that he really doesn't want her to do it if she really doesn't want to. However, he clearly is insisting that she do so. The girl is trying to be brave and nonchalant but is clearly frightened of committing herself to having the operation. She tosses out a conversational, fanciful figure of speech — noting that the hills beyond the train station "look like white elephants" — hoping that the figure of speech will please the man, but he resents her ploy. He insists on talking even more about the operation and the fact that, according to what he's heard, it's "natural" and "not really an operation at all."

Finally, the express train arrives and the two prepare to board. The girl tells the man that she's "fine." She's lying, acquiescing to what he wants, hoping to quiet him. Nothing has been solved. The tension remains, coiled and tight, as they prepare to leave for Madrid. The girl is hurt by the man's fraudulent, patronizing empathy, and she is also deeply apprehensive about the operation that she will undergo in Madrid.

This story was rejected by early editors and was ignored by anthologists until recently. The early editors returned it because they thought that it was a "sketch" or an "anecdote," not a short story. At the time, editors tried to second-guess what the reading public wanted, and, first, they felt as though they had to buy stories that told stories, that had plots. "Hills Like White Elephants" does not tell a story in a traditional manner, and it has no plot.

In part, some of the early rejection of this story lies in the fact that none of the editors who read it had any idea what was going on in the story. Even today, most readers are still puzzled by the story. In other words, it will take an exceptionally perceptive reader to realize immediately that the couple is arguing about the girl's having an abortion at a time when abortions were absolutely illegal, considered immoral, and usually dangerous.

Early objections to this story also cited the fact that there are no traditional characterizations. The female is referred to simply as "the girl," and the male is simply called "the man." There are no physical descriptions of either person or even of their clothing. Unlike traditional stories, wherein the author usually gives us some clues about what the main characters look like, sound like, or dress like, here we know nothing about "the man" or "the girl." We know nothing about their backgrounds. Can we, however, assume something about them — for example, is "the man" somewhat older and "the girl" perhaps younger, maybe eighteen or nineteen? One reason for assuming this bare-bones guesswork lies in tone of "the girl." Her questions are not those of a mature, worldly-wise woman, but, instead, they are those of a young person who is eager and anxious to please the man she is with.

It is a wonder that this story was published at all. When it was written, authors were expected to guide readers through a story. In "Hills Like White Elephants," though, Hemingway completely removes himself from the story. Readers are never aware of an author's voice behind the story. Compare this narrative technique to the traditional nineteenth-century method of telling a story. Then, such authors as Dickens or Trollope would often address their readers directly.

In contrast, we have no idea how to react to Hemingway's characters. Had Hemingway said that the girl, for example, spoke "sarcastically," or "bitterly," or "angrily," or that she was "puzzled" or "indifferent," or if we were told that the man spoke with "an air of superiority," we could more easily come to terms with these characters. Instead, Hemingway so removes himself from them and their actions that it seems as though he himself knows little about them. Only by sheer accident, it seems, is the girl nicknamed "Jig."

That said, during the latter part of the 1990s, this story became one of the most anthologized of Hemingway's short stories. In part, this new appreciation for the story lies in Hemingway's use of dialogue to convey the "meaning" of the story — that is, there is no description, no narration, no identification of character or intent. We have no clear ideas about the nature of the discussion (abortion), and yet the dialogue does convey everything that we conclude about the characters.

In addition, the popularity of this story can be found in the change in readers' expectations. Readers in the 1990s had become accustomed to reading between the lines of fictional narrative and didn't like to be told, in minute detail, everything about the characters. They liked the fact that Hemingway doesn't even say whether or not the two characters are married. He presents only the conversation between them and allows his readers to draw their own conclusions. Thus readers probably assume that these two people are not married; however, if we are interested enough to speculate about them, we must ask ourselves how marriage would affect their lives. And to answer this question, we must make note of one of the few details in the story: their luggage. Their luggage has "labels on them from all the hotels where they had spent nights." Were these two people, the man and the girl, to have this child, their incessant wanderings might have to cease and they would probably have to begin a new lifestyle for themselves; additionally, they might have to make a decision whether or not they should marry and legitimize the child. Given their seemingly free style of living and their relish for freedom, a baby and a marriage would impose great changes in their lives.

Everything in the story indicates that the man definitely wants the girl to have an abortion. Even when the man maintains that he wants the girl to have an abortion only if she wants to have one, we question his sincerity and his honesty. When he says, "If you don't want to you don't have to. I wouldn't have you do it if you didn't want to," he is not convincing. From his earlier statements, it is obvious that he does not want the responsibility that a child would entail; seemingly, he strongly wants her to have this abortion and definitely seems to be very unresponsive to the girl's feelings.

On the other hand, we feel that the girl is not at all sure that she wants an abortion. She's ambivalent about the choice. We sense that she is tired of traveling, of letting the man make all the decisions, of allowing the man to talk incessantly until he convinces her that his way is the right way. He has become her guide and her guardian. He translates for her, even now: Abortion involves only a doctor allowing "a little air in." Afterward, they will be off on new travels. However, for the girl, this life of being ever in flux, living in hotels, traveling, and never settling down has become wearying. Their life of transience, of instability, is described by the girl as living on the surface: "[We] look at things and try new drinks."

When the man promises to be with the girl during the "simple" operation, we again realize his insincerity because what is "simple" to him may very well be emotionally and physically damaging to her.

The man is using his logic in order to be as persuasive as possible. Without a baby anchoring them down, they can continue to travel; they can "have everything." However, the girl contradicts him and, at that moment, seems suddenly strong and more in control of the situation. With or without the abortion, things will never be the same. She also realizes that she is not loved, at least not unconditionally.

Thus we come to the title of the story. The girl has looked at the mountains and has said that they look "like white elephants." Immediately, a tension between the two mounts until the man says, "Oh, cut it out." She maintains that he started the argument, then she slips into apology, stating that, of course, the mountains don't really look like white elephants — only "their skin through the trees."

From the man's point of view, the hills don't look like white elephants, and the hills certainly don't have skins. The girl, however, has moved away from the rational world of the man and into her own world of intuition, in which she seemingly knows that the things that she desires will never be fulfilled. This insight is best illustrated when she looks across the river and sees fields of fertile grain and the river — the fertility of the land, contrasted to the barren sterility of the hills like white elephants. She, of course, desires the beauty, loveliness, and fertility of the fields of grain, but she knows that she has to be content with the barren sterility of an imminent abortion and the continued presence of a man who is inadequate. What she will ultimately do is beyond the scope of the story.

During the very short exchanges between the man and the girl, she changes from someone who is almost completely dependent upon the man to someone who is more sure of herself and more aware of what to expect from him. At the end of their conversation, she takes control of herself and of the situation: She no longer acts in her former childlike way. She tells the man to please shut up — and note that the word "please" is repeated seven times, indicating that she is overwhelmingly tired of his hypocrisy and his continual harping on the same subject.

the Ebro a river in northeastern Spain; the second longest river in Spain.

the express a direct, non-stop train.

white elephant something of little or no value.

"Hills Like White Elephants" is set in Spain. An American man and a girl are sitting at an outdoor café in a Spanish train station, waiting for a fast, non-stop train coming from Barcelona that will take them to Madrid, where the girl will have an abortion.

In the story, Hemingway refers to the Ebro River and to the bare, sterile-looking mountains on one side of the train station and to the fertile plains on the other side of the train station. The hills of Spain, to the girl, are like white elephants in their bareness and round, protruding shape. Also notable is that "white elephant" is a term used to refer to something that requires much care and yielding little profit; an object no longer of any value to its owner but of value to others; and something of little or no value. Throughout this dialogue, the girl's crumbling realization that she is not truly loved is a strong undercurrent that creates tension and suppressed fear.

"A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" takes place in Spain as well. It centers around two waiters and an elderly man who patronizes the café late at night before closing time. He is a drunk who has just tried to kill himself. One of the waiters is older and understands the elderly man's loneliness and how important the café is to the old man's mental health.

Hemingway explores older men's loneliness by using the older waiter as a sounding board for the elderly man's defense. Although the elderly man is without a companion or anyone waiting at home for him, he indulges his lapses from reality in a dignified and refined manner, expressed in his choosing of a clean, well-lighted place in the late hours of the night. The importance of the clean, well-lighted place where one can sit is integral to maintaining dignity and formality amidst loneliness, despair and desperation.

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Analysis of 'Hills Like White Elephants' by Ernest Hemingway

A Story That Takes on an Emotional Conversation on Abortion

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Ernest Hemingway 's "Hills Like White Elephants" tells the story of a man and woman drinking beer and anise liqueur while they wait at a train station in Spain. The man is attempting to convince the woman to get an abortion , but the woman is ambivalent about it. The story's tension comes from their terse, barbed dialogue .

First published in 1927, "Hills Like White Elephants" is widely anthologized today, likely because of its use of symbolism and demonstration of Hemingway's Iceberg Theory in writing.

Hemingway's Iceberg Theory

Also known as the "theory of omission," Hemingway's Iceberg Theory contends that the words on the page should be merely a small part of the whole story—they are the proverbial "tip of the iceberg," and a writer should use as few words as possible in order to indicate the larger, unwritten story that resides below the surface.

Hemingway made it clear that this "theory of omission" should not be used as an excuse for a writer not to know the details behind his or her story. As he wrote in " Death in the Afternoon ," "A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing."

At fewer than 1,500 words , "Hills Like White Elephants" exemplifies this theory through its brevity and the noticeable absence of the word "abortion," even though that is clearly the main subject of the story. There are also several indications that this isn't the first time the characters have discussed the issue, such as when the woman cuts the man off and completes his sentence in the following exchange:

"I don't want you to do anything that you don't want to—" "Nor that isn't good for me," she said. "I know."

How Do We Know It's About Abortion?

If it already seems obvious to you that "Hills Like White Elephants" is a story about abortion, you can skip this section. But if the story is new to you, you might feel less certain about it.

Throughout the story, it is clear that the man would like the woman to get an operation, which he describes as "awfully simple," "perfectly simple," and "not really an operation at all." He promises to stay with her the whole time and that they'll be happy afterward because "that's the only thing that bothers us."

He never mentions the woman's health, so we can assume the operation is not something to cure an illness. He also frequently says she doesn't have to do it if she doesn't want to, which indicates that he's describing an elective procedure. Finally, he claims that it's "just to let the air in," which implies abortion rather than any other optional procedure.

When the woman asks, "And you really want to?", she's posing a question that suggests the man has some say in the matter—that he has something at stake—which is another indication that she's pregnant. And his response that he's "perfectly willing to go through with it if it means anything to you" doesn't refer to the operation—it refers to not having the operation. In the case of pregnancy, not having the abortion is something "to go through with" because it results in the birth of a child.

Finally, the man asserts that "I don't want anybody but you. I don't want anyone else," which makes it clear that there will be "somebody else" unless the woman has the operation.

White Elephants

The symbolism of the white elephants further emphasizes the subject of the story.

The origin of the phrase is commonly traced to a practice in Siam (now Thailand) in which a king would bestow the gift of a white elephant on a member of his court who displeased him. The white elephant was considered sacred, so on the surface, this gift was an honor. However, maintaining the elephant would be so expensive as to ruin the recipient. Hence, a white elephant is a burden.

When the girl comments that the hills look like white elephants and the man says he's never seen one, she answers, "No, you wouldn't have." If the hills represent female fertility, swollen abdomen, and breasts, she could be suggesting that he is not the type of person ever to intentionally have a child.

But if we consider a "white elephant" as an unwanted item, she could also be pointing out that he never accepts burdens he doesn't want. Notice the symbolism later in the story when he carries their bags, covered with labels "from all the hotels where they had spent nights," to the other side of the tracks and deposits them there while he goes back into the bar, alone, to have another drink.

The two possible meanings of white elephants—female fertility and cast-off items—come together here because, as a man, he will never become pregnant himself and can cast off the responsibility of her pregnancy.

"Hills Like White Elephants" is a rich story that yields more every time you read it. Consider the contrast between the hot, dry side of the valley and the more fertile "fields of grain." You might consider the symbolism of the train tracks or the absinthe. You might ask yourself whether the woman will go through with the abortion, whether they'll stay together, and, finally, whether either of them knows the answers to these questions yet.

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Analysis: “Hills Like White Elephants”

Although the story’s historical setting is indeterminate, it appears contemporary with the story’s 1927 publication. During this period, Hemingway was preoccupied with the lives of expatriate Americans living in post-World War I Europe, the so-called Lost Generation—a term coined by Gertrude Stein but made famous by Hemingway’s 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises . The idea of lostness relates to the psychological aimlessness of this generation, who came of age during a war of such unprecedented inhumanity and destructiveness that it seemed to invalidate traditional beliefs about faith, meaning, or even inherent human goodness. To many, the American Dream now smacked of parochialism and vapidity, and expatriation to Europe was increasingly common. Partly because it forsook the traditional American work ethic and the “back to normal” postwar mindset, an indulgent and even superficial lifestyle became a leitmotif of Lost Generation literature. Nevertheless, while these writers might have honored postwar disillusionment, they sometimes critiqued their generation’s lifestyle as potentially hollow or disoriented.

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Home — Essay Samples — Literature — Ernest Hemingway — Analysis of “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway

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Analysis of "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway

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Published: Mar 1, 2019

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In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants," a couple engages in a cryptic conversation at a train station, addressing the topic of abortion without explicitly mentioning it. The man is pushing for an abortion, while the woman, known as Jig, leans towards keeping the baby.

The story's subtext reveals that they are discussing an abortion, with the man insisting it's a common "operation." He desires to maintain the status quo in their relationship, which suggests that a baby would disrupt their current dynamic.

Jig's behavior throughout the story reflects her growing frustration with the man. She belittles him early on when discussing white elephants, implying he lacks depth. Jig's sarcasm and condescension highlight her disdain for the man's narrow-mindedness. She recognizes that he avoids dealing with unwanted things, much like their unborn child.

As the story unfolds, Jig's attitude becomes more assertive. She becomes exasperated by the man's insincere statements and attempts to silence him. This shift suggests that she has made her decision.

The story's conclusion, with the man going to the bar and Jig smiling, implies that the abortion has occurred in her mind, and she knows what she must do. The relationship is terminated, and she seems resolved to move forward with her choice.

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literary analysis essay hills like white elephants

“Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway: Analysis of Literature Tools Essay

The author has embraced the use of dialogue in the short story extensively as one way of plot advancement. Throughout the story, we read the conversation between the man, the girl, and the woman. The author advanced his story by the creation of discussions among the three characters at the railway station while they were waiting for the train to arrive. Their communication develops from the time the story begins and continues through to the end of the story. This dialogue contributes to the development of the plot as it shows how their communication advances and how they can express their views and opinions.

Through communication between the girl and the man, we can perceive that the environment they are living in is hopeless and there is no brighter future ahead of them. The use of expressions like “hills like white elephants “enables us to realize there is desperation in the minds of the girl and the man. The expression implies that similar to white elephants, their hopes do not exist. The fact that the man and the girl are restless at the railway station and continue to drink while waiting for the train shows they are impatient due to delays in their transition to the next step. This shows they are tired of being where they were and need some changes.

The author has used dialogue in the short story as a way to break the monotony of narration hence making the story more interesting. If this story was to be acted, it would be entertaining due to the presence of the dialogue whereas if it were to be read, the conversation between the man and the girl would make it lively and entertaining.

Through the use of dialogue, we understand the characters in the story and we can predict their next behavior. We learn the girl as being short-tempered when she angrily asks the man to shut up by saying” Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?”

The author has successfully portrayed the girl as being sarcastic in the way she answers the man. As compared to normal communication, it is great sarcasm to be answered the way the girl does to the man. She repeatedly gets back at the man using the same words the man uses. For instance when she says “I don’t care about me” she puts it in a way that sounds so sarcastic but with a great expression of her intentions that she does not care whether anything happens to her or not.

The girl is arrogant and seems to be so frustrated that she even feels there is no need to be humble and calm. She addresses the man with great contempt and also asks him to shut up. When she is told to do it, she seems to be on the defensive side and it looks like she has been greatly disappointed.

She is very temperamental towards the man and does not hesitate to express her anger and frustrations with the man. Even though they have spent many nights together she can not restrain from unleashing her anger at the man by asking him to do her a favor by shutting up. It is very unfortunate that instead of her enjoying the company of the man while waiting for the train, she feels he is a bother to her and deserves to keep silent.

The girl is inquisitive and does not let anything pass her notice without seeking clarifications when she keeps asking the man all sorts of questions about what she does not understand. For instance, she asks’ Then what will we do afterward?”, “What makes you think so?” and she seems not satisfied with any answer given to her.

Eudora Welty curved the figure of a real woman in the character of Phoenix Jackson, an old woman striving to take care of her grandchild. Her love is seen through her struggles to ensure she gets drugs for her grandson. Phoenix is courageous enough to go through the woods alone towards the drug store to get treatment for her grandchild. She encounters great threats like the hunter who threatened her with a gun. Despite the many animals she encounters in the woods like the wild dog, she does not retreat home but forges her way to make sure she gets to the drug store. Even though her grandson had been suffering for several years, she has the strength to attend to him and ensure that he gets treatment. Phoenix is an optimistic lady who even though her grandson is sick, hopes to get treatment for him. She leaves him at home and goes on a long journey to seek treatment and while there keeps hoping that the drugs will heal the child. Even though the grandson has suffered for a long time and struggled with the disease, she never gives up and continues to visit the doctor and the nurse to get treatment for him. This is not the first time she is visiting the doctor and keeps hope alive that one day her sick grandson will recover.

She is an illusionist and talks to imaginary creatures by warding off animals and talking to them as though they understand her. Her mind is preoccupied with images of ghosts and when she sees a scarecrow she thinks it is a ghost. The fact that she talks of the grandson who exists in her mind alone but is absent from the story, is a clear indication that either old age or senility has overcome her.

Eudora Welty managed to devise a critical approach to the use of symbols in her short story that has elaborate literal and practical illustrations. To her, the title “A Worn Path” is an image used to indicate that the story is about dejection and devaluation due to continued use. A path that is constantly used has to be smooth and easy to walk on but in this context, the path is torn due to long time usage and most importantly with total negligence. The author tries to explain how society has rejected and abandoned its responsibilities like parenting and provision of basic needs. The absence of the son’s parents without an explanation of where they are shows how careless and irresponsible they are to their duties. This symbolizes the abandonment of parental roles to other people while the parents are in pursuit of a professional career or income. The name Phoenix is about a tale of a sacred Egyptian bird that moved from Arabia every 500 years to Heliopolis and sacrificed itself then resurrected young and beautiful. Phoenix thus represents this bird that sacrificed its life for the sake of future generations. She can not walk without the use of a cane made from an old umbrella symbolizing how poor she was. The nickel that Phoenix picked from the man who dropped it and from the nurse which she gladly appreciates symbolizes desperation and poverty that has rocked society to an extent that a valueless item is magnified to have great value. The endless trips to the doctor to seek treatment for the grandson symbolize the constant attempts aimed at ensuring the future generations are protected and preserved at all costs by those who have these responsibilities.

The writer of this short story has managed to use language in a symbolic manner that has portrayed the real issues that surrounds the life of human beings.

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"“Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway: Analysis of Literature Tools." IvyPanda , 13 Jan. 2022, ivypanda.com/essays/hills-like-white-elephants-by-ernest-hemingway-analysis-of-literature-tools/.

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1. IvyPanda . "“Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway: Analysis of Literature Tools." January 13, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/hills-like-white-elephants-by-ernest-hemingway-analysis-of-literature-tools/.

Bibliography

IvyPanda . "“Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway: Analysis of Literature Tools." January 13, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/hills-like-white-elephants-by-ernest-hemingway-analysis-of-literature-tools/.

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literary analysis essay hills like white elephants

Hills Like White Elephants

Ernest hemingway, everything you need for every book you read..

Hemingway’s writing style in “Hills Like White Elephants” is minimalist and unadorned. It’s likely that his sparse style emerged from his years as a journalist combined with modernist literature’s commitment to ambiguity. “Hills Like White Elephants” essentially contains two different stylistic components: simple, cryptic dialogue and short interludes describing the surrounding scenery. Both of these elements are present in the following passage, in which the girl starts to consider the man’s proposal that she should have an abortion:

The girl stood up and walked to the end of the station. Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river through the trees. “And we could have all this,” she said. “And we could have everything and every day we make it more impossible.” “What did you say?” “I said we could have everything.” “We can have everything.” “No, we can’t.” Cite this Quote

The first part of this passage is one of the rare moments in the story in which Hemingway moves his focus away from the couple arguing at their table and looks to the scenery. Here, his language becomes more descriptive, helping readers picture the “fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro,” as well as the mountains and the “shadow of a cloud” moving across the fields.

After this, Hemingway moves into an extended period of uninterrupted, tense dialogue between the man and the girl. Because he doesn’t include descriptions of the tone of voice, facial expressions, or body movements of either character, it’s hard for readers to know exactly what is happening in this scene. That the girl says “we could have everything” and then changes her mind to “no, we can’t” indicates that something has shifted inside her mind, but Hemingway’s minimalist style makes it impossible to know what. This is his way of forcing readers to come to their own conclusions about the scene (and the story as a whole).

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literary analysis essay hills like white elephants

"Hills Like White Elephants" Literary Analysis Essay

Hills like a white elephant is a short story that was written by Hemingway Ernest in the 20th century to be specific in 1938. The story revolves around a poetic issue of a couple that is still young and is in the plan of terminating a pregnancy. The word abortion has not been mentioned anywhere in the text but Hemingway has tried to use some literary aspect, imagery, and settings to bring forward the inner meaning and message behind the story. The real story tell takes a brief period but the message brought forward is much bigger than itself. An American girl, 'Jig' stands outside a stop station for trains in Spain, she is trying to figure out a course of action after facing an unexpected pregnancy.

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The focus of the entire story is on the pregnant Jig, therefore, bringing in the topic of abortion through the use of different images, scenes. Hemingway reasons to create this story and the character was probably influenced by the reflective feelings he had on abortion or even seems like the look and behavior and the nature of human beings on how we go against what we stand for or is meant for us and ending up doing undesired things just to make someone be satisfied in place of our dignity. The man titled as 'The American is the only protagonist in the story, and Hemingway is trying to bring his personality in a less flattering way as compared to Jig, this is evident when he is insensitive to Jigs feelings despite the kind word he uses in the story. Different opinions may come up from the man's character, for instance, an argument can be created that the man leads up to being someone who has his interests and cares only for himself and that can be a good reason to why he has not been given a correct first name in the story like jig.

The few first lines of the story introduce the tense atmosphere that is reflective of the whole story, and one can have a clear outline of what the entire story is all about. The first case of imagery in the introduction part of the story is the Hemingway introduction of background of the story as quoted 'The hills across the valley of Ebro were long and white, on the sides there were no shades nor trees, and the station was situated between two rails with the couples setting the table under s shade in the station. The two rails that passed the station symbolizes that the two characters had only two choices and direction from which they are expected to decide as they are on the verge of making a very fundamental decision drastically. The girl seemed to be towed caring for the man to the extent of her as a character had to be adamant about two choices. The environment of the location, the landscape plays a symbolic role whereby when the girl sees the hills, she says that the look like a white elephant. The white elephant in the story is a metaphor for a very highly rated and expensive financial burden that she will be facing throughout her life. The white color of the elephant symbolizes the innocence and the unborn child. It indicates how innocent the unborn child is and does not deserve any harm.

The girl also admires the rest of the scene s she stands up, walks through the station to the end, she notices that across the other end of the station were plantations of grains and trees on the banks of the river Ebro, far away from the river she sees mountains. A shadow of clouds moved across the river and the grain fields. The field of grains in the story represents fruitfulness and fertility probably between the couples to signify the ability to conceive. The Ebro river represents life as it is the primary reason for the existence f the field of grains and the trees along its banks. The girl appreciates the scenery and the interference of shadows and clouds trying to connect the beauty and the nature of the scene to her unborn child. The thought of the clod and the shadow represents the thought of abortion which overcomes her happiness. The American man is for the idea of terminating the pregnancy as everything she says is focused on persuading the woman to accept his opinion. The girl looked across the dry side of the valley, and the hills as the man look down at the table. The girl looking at the dry side of the valley brings in connection with how her body will be after aborting the child and how sterile and barren she might be.

The main reason behind the American insisting on conducting an abortion may be the need of him maintaining his lifestyle and the unwillingness to parent. He realizes that when Jig was to continue with the pregnancy, he will have to settle down for a family which could mean a lot and even the end of to enjoying his doings in the world. The lifestyle will not be the same with a presence of the bay, or maybe it will be a bit difficult in the current situation. This evident when the man says to Jig that 'I don't want anyone but you' and 'I don't think want anyone else.' It illustrated that he is ready to keep the relationship as it is by not introducing anyone else 'the baby' in between them. The girl has doubts, but for the sake of the relationship and the lifestyle the man wants for her, she goes along with the American man. The story ends with no definite conclusion or somewhat agreement between the couples regarding the abortion. The author of the novel seems t have intentionally concluded the tale without a precise determination of the decision of the couples to create suspense and to let the readers end for themselves on what happened next for the couples.

The text is genuinely feministic as the girls are the dominant character of the story, and in most cases, she is seen as the key decision maker in the book. She has transformed to be a critical independent woman who cannot be quickly moved and stands up for the actual thing she wants for her life. The end of the story indicates that there is no agreement, but throughout the text, it states how one can influence you to make decisions and do things that you don't stand for.

Works Cited

Gillette, Meg. "Making Modern Parents in Ernest Hemingway's 'Hills Like White Elephants' and Vina Delmar's Bad Girl." Modern Fiction Studies (2007)

Hashmi, Nilofer. " 'Hills Like White Elephants: The Jilting of Jig." Hemingway Review (2003): 72-83.

Hemingway, Ernest. "Hills Like White Elephants." The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. (1938): 273-278.

"Hills like White Elephants" Literary Analysis." Topics, Sample Papers & Articles Online for Free, 13 Jun 2016

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Hills Like White Elephants by Hemingway, Essay Example

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At first look, Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway appears to be a simplistic argument between a man and a woman. The reader is provided little information about the couple, and is therefore forced to infer information about their situation based on the details. When the text is analyzed, one can learn a great deal about the pair that is not immediately apparent. Such understanding of detail is important because this conversation is representative of how a sensitive topic might be discussed in public. Ultimately, tone, symbolism and the use of context are among the literary devices utilized to confer an understanding of the story to the reader.

One of the most important literary elements that help the reader understand the meaning of Hills Like White Elephants is the tone. When the reader is first introduced to the characters, it appears that the two are having a casual conversation and decide to drink beer while waiting for the train. After the initial word exchange, the careful reader can observe that the woman feels forlorn, as she abandons her empty conversation about beer to stare longingly at the mountains in the distance. The conversation that follows becomes an argument, and although the two seem to be arguing about nothing, it clearly concerns the matter that put the woman in such a strange mood. After more debate, now regarding an operation, the man convinced the woman to calm down. In the end, she proclaims that she feels fine and that there is nothing wrong with her. The tone of this story is therefore indicative of the plot. As a consequence of this literary element alone, the reader is now aware that the woman was worried about an operation that is traveling to receive. However, it appears that the operation is optional and that the man would prefer her to get it done so things can go back to the way that they were “before”.

Symbolism also plays an important role in the meaning of the story. The woman keeps telling the man that she believed that the hills resemble white elephants, and that he wouldn’t know much about white elephants. After all of the details of the story have been compiled, it becomes clear that the operation that the man and woman are talking about is an abortion and that the white elephant is symbolic for the woman’s pregnancy or the potential of her having a child. When she looks at the hills, she thinks about whether or not she is making the right choice by getting an abortion. At first, she engages in an argument with her partner because she believes that there’s no way he had ever seen a white elephant, which is indicative of the fact that he couldn’t possibly know the struggle that she is currently facing. By the end of the story, the woman ceases to discuss the beauty of the hills, demonstrating that she has been convinced by her partner to get the surgery. The symbolism of the white elephant is important to this story because it reflects the changing mood of the woman towards her impending situation. After recognizing what both options would entail, she finally decides to ignore the beauty of the hills because doing so will be more immediately relevant to her happiness.

The use of context is also an important literary element that helps one to gain a greater understanding of this story. In this case, the two clues that are the most helpful are those that indicate that the man and woman are located at a train station and that the woman will be receiving an operation. This information allows the reader to infer that this is the purpose for travel and question why this is necessary. This evidence, combined with the tone of the story in addition to an understanding of symbolism helps the reader understand why the woman must travel out of the country for the operation. Since she is getting an abortion, she must do so away from her friends and family since this type of operation is not considered to be socially acceptable. Furthermore, it is likely that the operation is not legal where she is living. The details of this situation demonstrate the extent to which the woman must go to in order to make her partner, and potentially herself, happy in the end.

In conclusion, knowledge of tone, symbolism, and context are necessary to gain a true understanding of this story. The author is very subtle throughout the passage so that only one who has great analytic skill can gain a true understanding of the words before them. Ultimately, these literary elements allow one to be aware that the plot concerns a man and woman traveling so that the woman can receive an abortion. She is sad about the situation, but is convinced to go ahead with it, which ends her sadness. The use of these literary elements make the story more meaningful because it reflects the secrecy of the situation that the couple would have wished to have.

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  1. A Summary and Analysis of Ernest Hemingway's 'Hills Like White Elephants'

    'Hills Like White Elephants' contains many of the most representative elements of Hemingway's fiction: the spare style, the plain and direct dialogue, and the Spanish landscape which he often wrote about. And yet all three of these things can be said to work against, or be in tension with, the story's subject-matter.

  2. Literary Analysis: Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants

    "Hills Like White Elephants" written by Ernest Hemingway that is the controversy revolving around the theme of abortion between the American man and the girl named Jig waiting for a train at the station.

  3. Hills Like White Elephants Summary & Analysis

    Summary Analysis The story opens with an extended description of a train station located in Spain's Ebro valley. In these opening details the landscape's barren, hot, and shadeless nature is emphasized.

  4. Analysis of Ernest Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants

    The frequently anthologized Hills Like White Elephants first printed in transition magazine in 1927 is often read and taught as a perfect illustration of Ernest Hemingway's minimalist, self-proclaimed "iceberg" style of writing: In much of Hemingway's fiction what is said in the story often is less important than what has not been said.

  5. Hills Like White Elephants

    Nothing has been solved. The tension remains, coiled and tight, as they prepare to leave for Madrid. The girl is hurt by the man's fraudulent, patronizing empathy, and she is also deeply apprehensive about the operation that she will undergo in Madrid. Analysis This story was rejected by early editors and was ignored by anthologists until recently.

  6. Analysis of Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"

    Ernest Hemingway 's "Hills Like White Elephants" tells the story of a man and woman drinking beer and anise liqueur while they wait at a train station in Spain. The man is attempting to convince the woman to get an abortion, but the woman is ambivalent about it. The story's tension comes from their terse, barbed dialogue .

  7. Hills Like White Elephants Analysis

    The aimlessness of the characters in ''Hills Like White Elephants'' is one of the characteristics of the fiction of the Lost Generation. Jig and the Americans are expatriates, moving from ...

  8. Hills Like White Elephants Literary Devices

    Intro Plot Summary & Analysis Themes Quotes Characters Symbols Lit Devices Theme Viz Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on White Elephants makes teaching easy. Everything you need for every book you read. "Sooo much more helpful than SparkNotes. The way the content is organized

  9. Hills Like White Elephants Story Analysis

    Analysis: "Hills Like White Elephants". Although the story's historical setting is indeterminate, it appears contemporary with the story's 1927 publication. During this period, Hemingway was preoccupied with the lives of expatriate Americans living in post-World War I Europe, the so-called Lost Generation—a term coined by Gertrude ...

  10. Critical Analysis of "Hills Like White Elephants" by E. Hemingway

    This story is a good example to highlight Hemingway's unique style and manner of conveying deep meaning through superficial descriptions. In his article "Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants," Kozikowski notes that the writer creates a curtain between the two characters (107).

  11. 'Hills Like White Elephants' by E. Hemingway Literature Analysis

    The story, set in a bar at a Madrid train station is about an American man and a Spanish woman having a conversation about possibilities of aborting their unborn child. The title itself bears the image of the hills symbolizing the distended stomach of a pregnant lady which captures the expectations on the side of the woman.

  12. Hills Like White Elephants Themes

    Men, Women, and Relationships. At the heart of "Hills Like White Elephants" is Hemingway's examination of the man and girl 's deeply flawed relationship, a relationship that champions "freedom" at the cost of honesty, respect, and commitment. In this sense, the man and girl represent stereotypes of male and female roles: the male as ...

  13. Hills Like White Elephants English Literature Essay

    The short story "Hills Like White Elephants," by Ernest Hemingway, is about a young couple and the polemic issue of abortion. However, since the word "abortion is found nowhere is the story, it is mainly understood through Hemingway's use of literacy elements: setting and imagery/symbolism.

  14. Hills Like White Elephants Literary Analysis

    Hills Like White Elephants Literary Analysis Essay details Category: Literature Subcategory: Writers, Books, Literary Genres Topic: Ernest Hemingway, Hills Like White Elephants, Short Story Words: 781 (2 pages) Download Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.

  15. "Hills like White Elephants" Literary Analysis

    "Hills like White Elephants" Literary Analysis Categories: Hills Like White Elephants About this essay Download Analysis, Pages 8 (1979 words) Views 1368 Trying to decide on a course of action when faced with an unexpected pregnancy, an American and a girl sit outside a train stop in the dusty part of Spain and drink on it.

  16. Analysis of "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway

    The first time she has smiled or seemed content in the entire story was when she finally knew what she needed to do. She was not content when the man was bullying her into getting an abortion, so we can conclude that her happiness at this point in the story is the result of being left alone for a few minutes so that she could decide what she want to do on her own.

  17. "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway

    The use of expressions like "hills like white elephants "enables us to realize there is desperation in the minds of the girl and the man. The expression implies that similar to white elephants, their hopes do not exist. The fact that the man and the girl are restless at the railway station and continue to drink while waiting for the train ...

  18. Analysis of Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants

    Hills Like White Elephants", by Ernest Hemingway, is a short story published in 1927, which is set at a train station in Spain. In this story the reader eavesdrops on a conversation held by "the American and the girl with him". Most of the story is predominately dialogue between the two characters. During this conversation, the reader may ...

  19. Hills Like White Elephants Literary Devices

    Explanation and Analysis: Hemingway's writing style in "Hills Like White Elephants" is minimalist and unadorned. It's likely that his sparse style emerged from his years as a journalist combined with modernist literature's commitment to ambiguity. "Hills Like White Elephants" essentially contains two different stylistic components ...

  20. "Hills Like White Elephants" Literary Analysis Essay

    Hills like a white elephant is a short story that was written by Hemingway Ernest in the 20th century to be specific in 1938. The story revolves around a poetic issue of a couple that is still young and is in the plan of terminating a pregnancy.

  21. Hills Like White Elephants by Hemingway, Essay Example

    At first look, Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway appears to be a simplistic argument between a man and a woman. The reader is provided little information about the couple, and is therefore forced to infer information about their situation based on the details.