Why people would not consider a man as a woman or vice versa? Men and women are distinct by many ways: different mind-set, different physiological functions as well as characteristics, and so on. Those differences become obstacles between sexes, bonding them together but also separating them apart. One of the obstacles is derived from their different mind-set, which ultimately turns out to numerous difficult conversations between men and women. “Hills like White Elephant,” written by Ernest Hemingway, is a short story mainly composed by a dialogue between a man and a girl. The conversation, which is an argumentative talk, between them is hard and futile because neither of them achieves their goals. Indeed, a bisexual conversation sometimes can be hard, not because there is a language barrier, but because both the man and the woman don’t understand what each other want from the talk. In her article “Sex, Lies and Conversation; Why Is It So Hard for Men and Women to Talk to Each Other,” Deborah Tannen explores the conversation issue between men and women. Tannen discussed how different the purpose of the conversation men and women have.
According to Tanne, for women, “What is important is not the individual subjects that are discussed but the sense of closeness, of a life shared, that emerges when people tell their thoughts, feelings, and impressions; (Tannen Deborah)” however, unfortunately, “men don’t know what kind of talk women want. (Tannen Deborah)” In “Hill Like White Elephants,” no closeness is showed by the man during the conversation because the man keeps persuading the girl to do the abortion by repeating it is a “simple operation. (Hemingway, Ernest)” When he says “I’m perfectly willing to go through with it if it means anything to you,” the girl’s response: “doesn’t mean anything to you?” shows how much she desires the sense of closeness and care from the conversation (Hemingway, Ernest). However, the man has no clue what the girl wants from the conversation or the fact that the girl wants to avoid the conversation by keep asking something to drink.
Another reason that makes their conversation futile and argumentative is the different ways they response. Through her study, Tannen finds out how different girls and boys usually response when they are told a problem from their friends: “when a girl told a friend about a problem, the friend responded by asking probing questions and expressing agreement and understanding. But the boys dismissed each other’s problems. (Tannen Deborah)” Tannen explains that women perceive the men’s style response as “belittling and unsupportive. (Tannen Deborah)” In the story “Hill Like White Elephants,” the man dismisses the girl’s problem, which is the baby, by telling her it is not a big problem because he emphasizes the operation is “perfectly simple” three times (Hemingway, Ernest).
Tannen further explains the different ways of response between men’s and women’s by pointing out how differently men and women perceive the conversational duty. According to her article, “When most women talk to each other, they assume a conversationalist’s job is to express agreement and support. But many men see their conversational duty as pointing out the other side of an argument. (Tannen Deborah)” The different perceptions worsen the misinterpretation.
Due to the misinterpretation of the response, the girl considers the man does not understand her feeling and does not care her at all. When she keeps saying “No, we can’t,” she indicates the relationship is almost ends because she feels the man does not care her and they would not be happy after the operation (Hemingway, Ernest). Other than that, getting neither care nor closeness from the conversation, the girl, thus, tries to stop the conversation by asking “could we have another beer?” and “can’t we maybe stop talking (Hemingway, Ernest)?” When women and men perceive the response differently, they would misunderstand the intention of the response from each other and, as a result, make the conversation even harder.
At the end of the story, the conversation ends without making a decision of whether to do the abortion or not. Both of them drink alone to avoid the conversation. The story ends with the girl’s response when the man asks her if she feels better. She answers his question by saying “I feel fine” twice (Hemingway, Ernest). Only answering his question but not mentioning anything else, the girl indicates she does not want to continue the conversation. It is hard for men and women to communicate because the conversation resemble to a “cross-cultural” conversation, due to the numerous differences between them (Tannen Deborah).
Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills Like White Elephants.” House of Desmond. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2012. < http://thedesmonds.com/Hemingway/elephant.html>
Tannen, Deborah. “Sex, Lies and Conversation; Why Is It So Hard for Men and Women to Talk to Each Other?.” Georgetown University: Web hosting. Washington Post, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2012. <http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/tannend/sexlies.htm>