Formalistic Analysis of Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemmingway

In an analysis of the story “Hills like white elephants” by Ernest Hemmingway, one is forced to take a deep look at the hidden meanings embedded in the story. Considering the point of view, the significance of the location and its relevance to the story, the structure of the text, the symbolic meaning of the two landscapes and the title of the story, the entrails of the story are exposed. Hemmingway’s story is written in an objective or dramatic point of view.

The story is told primarily through dialogue.

The narrator has emotionally distanced himself from the characters, and the true feelings and opinions of the characters are revealed in little clues as the story progresses. The narrator acts solely as a reporter of the chain of events as they occur. No personal inflection is implied. This allows the reader to formulate their own conclusions. Also I believe at the time, the topic of abortion may still have been taboo and sensitive, and this was Hemmingway’s clever device of dealing with a societal issue in a nontraditional way.

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The structure of the text primarily takes the form of a dialogue.

This is in stark contrast with the characters inability to communicate effectively. The man has his own agenda planned and tries forcefully to convince Jig of accepting his way of dealing with the conflict. Jig is trying to access the situation by asking the man if they will be alright as a couple after the abortion, “everything will be fine,” and end up answering her own question, “I’ll do it and everything will be fine.

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” Due to his lack of desire to go through with any other plan than his own, he forces her to deny her own desires and she find her present situation to be unsure at best.

The man however has made up his mind and is determined to make up her mind for her as well, but he uses subtlety, “I don’t want you to do it if you don’t really want to. ” He then contradicts himself and betrays his true feelings when he says, “But you’ve got to realize… ” they are both speaking but not really communication their true desires. Jig is really against the whole situation and denies it within herself. She says, “Everything tastes of licorice. (Sweet)…all the things you’ve waited so long for, like absinthe (bitter), the combination is bittersweet.

A deeper reading leads to a new understanding of the symbolic meaning of the two landscape descriptions. They were in stark contrast to each other. One side was barren and arid, the other green and fertile. “The valley of the Ebro was long and white… there was no shade and no trees… On the other side, “were fields of grain and trees. ” These opposing landscapes symbolize the contrasting options available to the couple. The dry side of the valley represented the choice to abort the unborn child and continue with an empty life filled shallow experiences, “(looking) at things and (trying) new drinks. The fertile side of the valley represents the life the woman desires, one filled with family and meaningful moments. The story then shifts to the station which was between two lines of rails” this represented the two opposite directions in which they could have traveled, and the choice that lay in each direction, Madrid being the place of abortion, and the continuity of the ‘empty’ life they were used to together, or toward Barcelona, a new start, a new beginning, with a new life. So railroad station represented a crossroads or junction at which they had to cross. The title of the story was simile.

The title “hills like white elephants” also represented the choice that the couple had to make. A white elephant is symbolic of an unwanted item that may be costly or burdensome to maintain. This would have aptly described the view of the man concerning the unborn child. To him it would have been unwanted and a burden considering their flighty lifestyle. It would cramp the constant traveling as indicated by the multiplicity of stickers on the luggage. Some believe that in other cultures, a white elephant can also be viewed as something rare and something to be cherished.

This interpretation would be more representative of Jig’s perspective, as she longed and desired to become a mother and start a family. After reviewing the point of view, the significance of the location and its relevance to the story, the structure of the text, the symbolic meaning of the two landscapes and the title of the story, the true and deeper meaning of the store has been made plain, and what was once a simple narrative story has now become an in-depth revelation of human conflicts and the often difficult decisions that lay before us.

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Formalistic Analysis of Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemmingway. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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