Ernest Hemingway published “Hills like White Elephants” in 1927. The narrative is a young couple is sitting at a train station near the Ebro Valley in Madrid, Spain to highlight the fact that their relationship is at a crossroad. Hemingway expresses many themes and literary elements throughout this short story. A plot is a dynamic element in fiction, a sequence of interrelated, conflicting actions and events that are typically build to a climax and bring about a resolution (Clugston, 2010).
The couple sits at a table to have a couple of beers and a conversation. At first the girl talks about what they should have to drink and what she sees outside. You can tell that it is more going on at least in their feelings or its more going on in the story. From (Line 41) “It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig” the man said. “It’s not really an operation at all. This explains why their conversation they were having earlier been awkward.
The seemingly petty conversation here about hills and drinks and an unspecified operation is in actuality an unarticulated but decisive struggle over whether they continue to live the sterile, self-indulgent, decadent life preferred by the man or elect to have the child that Jig is carrying and settle down to a conventional but, in Jig’s view, rewarding, fruitful, and peaceful life (Holladay, 2004). The American was asking his girl to have an abortion without using the word so others would not be entertained or concerned at all. Hemingway knows how to raise suspense to the readers.
The point of view is how the action is presented to the reader (Clugston,2010). Although “Hills like White Elephants” is primarily a conversation between the American man and his girlfriend, neither of the speakers truly communicates with the other, highlighting the rift between the two. Both talk, but neither listens or understands the other’s point of view. Frustrated and placating, the American man will say almost anything to convince his girlfriend to have the operation, which, although never mentioned by name, is understood to be an abortion.
He tells her he loves her, for example, and that everything between them will go back to the way it used to be. Another literary element is character. A character is an imaginary person in a piece of literature (Clugston, 2010). In “Hills like White Elephants” there are three characters. The American, who is the male protagonist of the story. His name is never revealed throughout the story. He also tries to convince the girl to have the operation and he does not care what she does. He disconnects his self from the surroundings and not listening and understanding what the girl is saying. The Girl, who is the female protagonist of the story.
The American calls the girl, Jig. She alternates the conversation to talk about the operation then avoids it altogether. The thing she says does not clearly defines her emotions or personality. Jig is more of a realistic character. She has issues and behaviors of real people. The bartender is a woman who served drinks to the American man and the girl. The bartender only speaks Spanish. The characters add so much to the theme of the story. A theme in a story is associated with an idea that lies behind the story. In other words the theme in a story is a representation of the idea behind the story (Clugston, 2010).
The theme of “Hills like White Elephants” involves a question of responsibility. The theme of a piece of fiction is its controlling idea or its central insight, and the unifying statement about life implied in the story (Arp & Johnson, 2006). Hemingway does this in describing the couple’s dilemma about Jig’s pregnancy. The theme exists when an author attempts to record life as it happens. “Hills Like White Elephants” centers on a couple’s verbal duel over, as strongly implied by the text and as widely believed by many scholars, whether the girl will have an abortion of her partner’s child.
Jig, clearly reluctant to have the operation, suspects her pregnancy has irrevocably changed the relationship but still wonders whether having the abortion will make things between the couple as they were before. The American is anxious that Jig have the abortion and gives lip service to the fact that he still loves Jig and will love her whether she has the procedure done or not. As the story progresses, the power shifts back and forth in the verbal tug-of-war, and at the end, though it is a topic of fierce debate among Hemingway scholars, it seems that Jig has both gained the upper hand and made her decision.
The theme of the story is revealed through the couple’s dialogue and through symbolism. Symbolism is something that has a literal identity but also stands for something else (Clugston, 2010). “Hills like White Elephants” is filled with symbolism. The narrator describes the character symbolic. Jig is called a girl throughout the story to represent her naive behavior, immaturity and lack of confidence about her opinion. The American is called a man throughout the story, representing his position about his opinion on the abortion. The bags they carry have tags on them displaying all of the hotels that the couple has stayed in.
This shows that the couples are not serious about a child, still want to have fun and be sex animals. The setting of the story is symbolic. The story takes place at a train junction. This setting represents the fact that their decision can change the direction of their lives. It is less important that we know the course chosen than the significance of the two choices. The rootless barren life, devoid of responsibility represented by the dry hills (Fletcher, 1980). The other side of the valley is green and has a river. The two sides symbolize the decision that Jig has to make.
The green side represents fertility, life, hope and the hot, brown side represents sterility. There is several more symbolism in the story, let’s move on to the next literary element. Tone is the attitude reflected by the author in a literary work; it identifies the author’s approach to the subject a story deals with. The tone in “Hills like White Elephants” The narrator is very controlled, giving us a bare minimum of information outside of the conversations between the man and Jig, or between the man and the woman serving the drinks. This narrator controls the tendency in narrators to tell what the story means.
This is giving the readers lots of credit for being intelligent, but can also make for rough reading. We aren’t used to stories being told mostly in dialogue. Speaking of dialogue, both Jig and the man are having a rather controlled conversation. The fact that they are having this conversation in a public place might or might not contribute to this control. “Hills like White Elephants are very interesting and have many literary elements. From the plot to the tone, Hemingway was very brilliant how privatized his conversation and still managed to get his point across. The symbolism made it seem as if we were there with him and Jig.
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