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Finding White Elephants in Dialogue Essay

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Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants” presents its main subject not in a blatant manner but through the sum of what is implied and what is said. The title itself alludes to the negativity in which the situation is being accepted by the two main characters, though at varied levels. While the American man perceives their situation as the “white elephant”, the girl does not think so, at least not as much. This may be because she can think of another white elephant in her life.

Meanwhile, the real action happens in the interaction between the American man and the girl, named Jig.

Therefore, the text requires careful observation of human relationship in action. Furthermore, perusal of dialogue and even some symbolism reveal the couple’s reaction to that pregnancy and their contemplation of ending the “problem” or “white elephant” through abortion. A “white elephant” is after all “a metaphor for an expensive and burdensome property” (Link 67). In this short story, through the aid of dialogue the reader can perceive that the white elephant can represent something more subtle than Jig’s pregnancy; it can represent the man’s weakness and inability to take responsibility for his actions.

The differences between the American man and the “generic” girl are emphasized subtly, but these differences affect the way in which the relationship can be interpreted, especially through these differences’ effects on the quiet but steady unraveling of the relationship. For example, the very appointment of a nationality to the man signifies that the girl is foreign, and therefore different from him. “In an impressive dialogue-driven narrative prose, Hemingway’s unnamed American male protagonist dominates the meeker, weaker-sexed Jig…” (Rankin 234).

They are separated by culture, nationality, gender and even by age. The American man has not impregnated a woman who may be nearer his supposed level of maturity and responsibility, but a young girl who he may have seduced. The fact that he is the one who cannot take responsibility for the pregnancy is ironic. It is also difficult for a girl who may naturally have expected to lean on an older man during crisis. In contrast to the idea that Jig is a young innocent who has been seduced and can be easily manipulated is Jig’s display of wit as compared to the more reactionary older man (Rankin 236).

Jig sometimes denies degree of knowledge such as her familiarity with Anis de Toro: “I don’t know…is it good with water? (Hemingway)”. However, her conversation reveals that she is not as ignorant nor naive as she seems. She may be young but she is not to be swayed into making a decision just because it will please her lover. She says “Everything tastes like liquorice, especially all the things that you’ve waited for so long, like absinthe” (Hemingway). Jig is exerting some will, declaring what she wants but not directly.

The point comes across anyway. While the man thinks of her pregnancy as the white elephant in their relationship, she does not believe it to be so: “They are lovely hills. They don’t really look like white elephants. I just meant the coloring of their skin through the trees” (Hemingway). Jig believes that although the pregnancy may be difficult on both of them, it promises something beautiful. She has her own opinion on the situation and is not afraid to say what is in her mind.

Because there is an emphasis on the meaning of conversation in “Hills like White Elephants”, in this “barely 1500 words long [short story], repeated items are notable” (Link 67). It is through repetition that ideas and the story itself are instilled into the readers’ minds despite the ambiguous dialogue and seemingly mundane setting. “The couple’s power relationship also emerges in the prominence of questions in the text. Much of the dialogue…is a trading of questions and answers in which Jig asks a total of seventeen questions, thirteen of which are yes-no questions.

The man only asks four questions, three of which he does not ask until the text is nearly finished” (Link 68). The couple is therefore engaged in a verbal tug of war in which each tries to achieve the agreement of the other. Jig is more curious and assertive, despite the fact that the man is expected to have more power over her, because of his gender and more mature age. She asks more questions about their situation, is almost pulled towards the man’s argument but continues to wonder openly about their situation.

This questioning mind prevents her from fully regarding her pregnancy as a white elephant. “Hills like White Elephants” is a testament to the power of dialogue; though the wordings are not direct, the repetition makes up for any diminishing of clarity. The subject of whether or not to have an abortion performed on Jig has been handled in a subtle manner which separates it from other short stories, and even novels that deal with pregnancy out of wedlock and the question of what solution to take.

Even what the metaphor will represent can be contested: if indeed the white elephant or burden is the pregnancy or the American man himself.

Works Cited:

Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills like White Elephants. ” 12 April 2008 <http://www. moonstar. com/~acpjr/Blackboard/Common/Stories/WhiteElephants. html>. Link, Alex. “Staking Everything On It: A Stylistic Analysis of Linguistic Patterns in Hills like White Elephants. ” The Hemingway Review (n. d. ): 66-74. Rankin, Paul. “Hemingway’s Hills like White Elephants. ” Explicator (n. d. ): 234-237.

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