“Hills like White Elephants” is a very short story by Ernest Hemingway telling of the conversation between a man and a woman regarding the pregnancy of the woman. The point of view or the voice employed in the short story is a third person point of view where there is a narrator separate from the main characters in the story. This point of view or voice is very effective in the story because such requires that the narrator is a distant observer so as not to intercede in the intimacy of the conversation between the two characters.
This is effectively achieved because both characters, albeit having a choppy and seemingly disjointed conversation, reconcile in their views at certain points which totally disregards the need for the intrusion of a material narrator who is necessarily part of the story or one of the characters. The story is set in a bar in a train station where the couple waits before bounding the train.
Such a setting allows exploration of the other, more important elements of the story, which serve as potent symbols for the central theme of abortion, so for instance, in the lines, ““The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white.” (Hemingway); and the lines where the girl continues to describe the barren landscape, “They look like white elephants”. (Hemingway), the setting where both couples are offer an unobstructed view of these hills, which, in the story, are used to imply the perception of the female protagonist who is struggling with a pregnancy that is unwanted by her partner, the male protagonist. So, in effect, these lines, while illustrating the view from the train station offers the female’s perspective of the pregnancy as something that is not supported by her partner, hence the almost indifferent description of the scenery.
The bar setting also works well in infusing the tale with symbolic meanings, for instance, when the girl says, ““Everything tastes like licorice. Especially the things you’ve waited so long for, like absinthe. ” (Hemingway) she is actually referring to the pregnancy, which, perhaps, she had wanted for so long, but was not supported by her partner. So, in effect, this line would not have been as effective had it been said in the bedroom or an office, so the setting works quite effectively in making the symbols more adequate for the central theme.
The characters in the story, Jig, the female, and her male partner are in a situation where they are arguing whether to have the baby that Jig was currently pregnant with. The ways the characters are characterized in the story contribute a lot to how the story turns out to be.
The female, protagonist, who is initially adamant about having the baby later shows some evidence of softening up because perhaps of her love for her partner and the desire to make things right again, hence, the lines, ““But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you’ll like it?” (Hemingway) where the girl seems to be testing the reaction of the male character to whatever decision she makes. The male character, on the other hand is quite insistent that his mate get an abortion, and as is quite clear in the conversations, does not seem to care about what his partner feels.
This indifference of the male character is very clear in the rapidly successive dialogue in the lines, “”I said we could have everything. /We can have everything. /No, we can’t. /We can have the whole world. /No, we can’t. /We can go everywhere. /No, we can’t. It isn’t ours any more. /It’s ours. /No, it isn’t. And once they take it away, you never get it back. ” (Hemingway) Here, it is quite clear that the male character seems to be avoiding the matter presented by the male character and his responses are all in the negative because he seems to be focused on one objective and one goal alone which is to have the baby being carried by the female character aborted.
In this particular story the dynamics between the setting, the characters, and the point of view all work together in support of the central theme. Such a story succeeds in conveying the desired emotions to the reader while at the same time paying much attention to conventions and literary standards, hence, making the story very successful in its execution.
Courtney from Study Moose
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