The Literary Technique of Minimalism in Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway and Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville

In Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway and “Bartleby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville, both pieces of literature contain a technique called minimalism, an extreme simplicity used to iterate a deeper meaning in the text. Both authors use this writing style to their advantage. Each piece centers on two characters, (so as to focus on the message the author wishes to convey). Hills Like White Elephants introduces, Jig, a childish woman who have been impregnated by her controlling lover, The American’s child, unfortunately the couple is unmarried and this child will be born out of wedlock, unless there is someway to make sure the pregnancy remains covert.

“Bartleby the Scrivener” contains the static self-destructive main character Bartleby and his curious boss who resumes the position of narrator throughout the short story.

Melville and Hemingway each employ minimalist techniques in their short stories; however, Hemingway uses minimalism in his description while Melville uses minimalism as a theme. “Bartleby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville depicts Bartleby, a hardworking man who one day decides to give up.

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His downhill spiral is eminent,“Bartleby was one of those beings of whom nothing is ascertainable …” (Melville 26). The short story, written and set in 1853 follows the life and duties of this not-so-average scrivener, who would once copy the words onto the paper perfectly but now rarely accomplishes anything at all. During his slump Bartleby isolates himself from the rest of society,“[he] sat in his hermitage, oblivious to everything but his own particular business” (Melville 32).

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A normal person would get fired if they told their boss that they would “prefer not to” when asked to complete a task, but not Bartleby. His boss, often called The Master of Chancery, is so shocked by this response that Bartleby gains the sympathy of his employer and is offered help to get himself out of a dark situation, that he does not fundamentally take, his success or failure will be on his own terms and it is this stubborn attitude that leads him down this path of deterioration. This simplistic response, leaving room for little explanation, is so shocking, breaking down the social contract that society has set in place.

The author keeps this singular phrase so brief, as a reflection of his minimalistic stylings. The story, as a whole, utilizes the setting, dialogue, and characterization to depict minimalism as a theme. In Hills Like White Elephants, a conversation between an arguing couple with a big decision to make is narrated through a third-person point of view. Two young people with thirsting wanderlust traveling along a spanish railroad are deciding on whether or not they should choose to have this unexpected child or not. It is revealed through the narrator’s statements that the couple has had problems prior to this and likely would not have made so far without the baby, but the American, the male lead, seems to think otherwise, “That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy.” (Hemingway 50) he says, meaning that their problems are only circumstantial, surely not any of their own doing is responsible for the bickering. As the reader progresses through the story two settings are revealed on each side of the tracks, one side representing fertility, “the fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro”(Hemingway 37) and the other representing death and baronity, “The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white.” (Hemingway 1).

After ages of bickering, they come to a compromise and choose to keep their own version of a white elephant, something that nobody wants but in this case turns out to be a precious accident. Hemingway never uses the word abortion, though that is the main argumentative topic covered in the story, he instead uses and details of the setting to communicate the weight of this decision the lack of options for the characters reflect the fact that Hemingway’s use of minimalism is in the description itself. Hemingway’s literary techniques entail the fate of the main characters by foreshadowing the differences of each outcome using the description of the setting. While Melville has one direct path followed throughout the story until Bartleby, an unfixable lost cause, meets his ultimate demise. Melville’s minimalism, embedded within the theme of the story, is from the few simplistic words spoken by the main character himself, Bartleby. Almost everything Bartleby says is so concise that there are many different forms of interpretation, but it is ultimately what drives the curiosity for the narrator to continue on with the story. Both works contain minimalism but each author uses it in a different way to provide a structural anomaly within the text.

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The Literary Technique of Minimalism in Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway and Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville. (2022, Feb 04). Retrieved from

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