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Free Hills Like White Elephants Essay Sample

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“Hills like white elephants” is one of Ernest Hemingway’s most eminent literary works. The integration of dialogue, settings and symbolism brings is used to depict the character’s innate feelings, attitudes and expectations towards one another. These reflect on the emerging themes that critically express the writers intended message. Hemingway’s writing style strips the text of allure, humor or ambiguous sentiments. The use of dialogue is downright, casual and characterized by short sentences.

Given the characters solemn moods it would be difficult for an ordinary bystander to perceive the dialogue in the context. Hemingway’s writing style hides the actual, intended message being put across (Anonym 2). The sensitivity of the subject matter provokes the dialogues temperament given the social considerations and attitudes at the time. The narration is set in the 1920’s a period in which the idea of public debate and education on sex and its related issues where forbidden and abhorred. Therefore, it is evident that Hemingway considered these aspects of the society’s response to the subject matter.

The story hills like white elephants’ depicts Hemingway’s prowess in storytelling. His writing style impresses upon the subtext in the story to convey the story’s intended subject than writing the exact words and feelings of the characters (Zunshine 158). The characters in the narrative speak in short, precise sentences. These have no colorful phrases or words intended to humor or amuse the reader. Hemingway rather chooses to avoid using internal monologues and dialogue tags like “he said,” or “she said”. This writing style leaves the reader to discover and interpret the characters moods, feelings and intended messages through their dialogue. The simplicity of his writing makes the narrative stimulating and clear in defining and illustrating the intended subject. Hemingway’s writing clearly requires a perceptive and inquisitive mind to understand the underlying meaning and message of his narratives casual camouflage.

The story, 'hills like white elephants' has significantly utilized setting to the development of themes and character. The topographical setting of illustrates two distinct geographical features; long white hills on one side and barren terrain on the other where there were neither shades nor trees in sight (Zunshine 157). This setting depicts the disposition of the two characters. The man’s lack of interest in bringing another life into the world or taking responsibility towards the unborn child is indicative of his unproductive mind. The girl, on the other hand, desires to have the child which signifies life and happy fortune in the future. The use of the terrain in the story is used to illustrate the differing inner feelings of the subject matter by the characters.

The trains stations position in the middle of nowhere with the characters standing by the rail lines is critical in identifying with the characters predicament. The train station signifies the stalemate of the characters relationship. Their relationship’s future is dependent on the decision that will be made in the train station. The railway line going in either direction is indicative of the fact that the decisions made in the train station will likely take them to opposite directions. This aspect of the narrative illustrates the emotional differences on the subject matter (Ressequie 93). The man is not passionate about the girl’s pregnancy while the girl hopes that the man will conform to societal norms, and adopt his responsibilities as a man and a father to be.

Hemingway uses props in the story to bring about the central conflict in the story. The use of beads is characteristic to the catholic religion which is predominant in Spain (Resseguie 88). While considering the religious implications of pregnancy and the idea of abortion; the girl wishes to fulfill her religious obligations. This can only be achieved if she manages to convince the man to perceive the situation in her own perspective. The Catholic Church prohibits abortion and births out of wed lock. The curtain is symbolic of the barrier that exists between them while the luggage illustrates the burden that weighs on the girls shoulders (Tibit 1).

The dialogue in the story complements setting while giving the reader an intimate perspective of the revolving issues in the story. The characters dilemma is elaborated by the use of architectural spacing and props (Resseguie 88). However, the dilemma is abatement is subjective on whether the “operation” will be performed or not. Though, the operation is not clearly mentioned it is evident that it concerns abortion. The curtain made of bamboo beads depicts the nature of their relationship. Naturally bamboos are hollow, characterized by emptiness inside. Their relationship does not offer them any meaningful satisfaction or any value in their lives. Their unencumbered lives signify their misconstrued the meaning of a productive relationship.

Hemingway’s illustration of the characters perception on their dilemma ebbs towards the reasonableness of either’s idea of the right course of action. The American observes people waiting for the train outside ‘reasonably’ (O’Brien 20). His conclusion is that the reasonable course of action is to get the pregnancy out of the way. Hemingway uses the curtain by the doorway to illustrate the American’s perception of the boundaries between reasonable and unreasonable people. The man’s idea of reasonable action, however, does not agree with the girl. Her opinion differs from that of the man in principle and moral standing. The man insinuates that the ‘operation’ is the right thing do to while the girl retorts’ wondering on whose benefit is the operation (Resseguie 90).

The differing landscapes and the opposing directionality of the railway lines are used by the writer, to illustrate the different possible outcomes of any decisions made by the characters. The time frame given before the train arrives reflects on the urgency of the decision to be made. However, the characters must make decisions which do not impair their personal goals and desires. Hemingway uses time to elaborate the expediency in which the matter should have a solution. Failure to reach an agreeable consensus will lead to one party disappointed. The girl, however, is aware of the repercussions of hurried decisions. Therefore, she must consider all possible outcomes of complying with the man’s wishes or not. Though, the man indicates things will be back to normal once the operation is done she is skeptic of this fact. She contemplates on the eventuality of his selfish desires and her own well being (Renner 36).

Hemingway’s creation of dialogue between the characters brings out their innate character traits and their perceptions of the right discourse of life. He uses dialogue to characterize the fundamental differences of opinions, position, social and cultural background between the American and the girl. The American has care free attitude towards life. His character is aligned to the artificial aspects of life and fails to conform to the natural norms expected of a man. His title, ‘the American’ is associated with carefree, leisure oriented personality. He is not interested in taking any responsibility for any other human being but himself.

The Americans attitude towards the girl is subjective to his selfish interests. He views her as an object to be used only for her desires (O’Brien 21). He views the girls pregnancy as an inconvenience which be taken out the way at the earliest opportune time. In his perspective, the girl is an object to use for his pleasure but not an equal partner whose personal opinions and beliefs should be considered. The girl’s name ‘Jig’ can be associated with a musical performance or dance, hence an object of entertainment. The American is never settled in one place. His constant movement from one place to another is descriptive of a man who wonders aimlessly around the world seeking only pleasure.

Jig, however, see’s through the artificial illusions and observes the natural order surrounding her life. This is illustrated by her constant observation of the natural surroundings and making inferences to her current situation. Though, she appreciates the gravity of her situation, her affections towards the man, persuades her to consider his ideas. The concept of the operation’s ability to reinstate her previous relationship status with the man appears to be appealing. However, her personal principals and objectivity enable her to see through the man’s feigned concern for their relationship. Her ability to separate the illusion of a perfect relationship with the American and the reality of his self centered pursuits; prevents her from making a drastic decision that would affect her life (O’Brien 23).

Hemingway describes the challenges faced by a girl in contemporary societies as represented in the 1920’s. The nature of the characters relationship brings about significant themes. Essentially the inability to communicate is evident through the story. Though the writer has used dialogue extensively to illustrate the characters observations and thoughts, neither is effectively communicating with the other. The inability to articulate their underlying feelings to each other brings failure to their relationship. Their conversations are characterized by euphemisms. They imply and hint at each other leading to frustration and miscommunication (Renner 33).


The train station acts as cross roads in which the underlying issues in the relationship are to be confronted (Renner 35). Significantly, the possibility of a future together is in question. The girl feels that she can no longer subscribe to a life on the move. The movement from one place to another, looking at things and tasting drinks does not appeal to her current dispensation. However, though she verbally expresses this fact, the man does not listen to her, and he reiterates his desire for things to be as they used to be. Her wishes are settling into marriage and have children. However, their difference in the ideal lifestyle breaks their relationship with each heading in different directions to lead a different life.

The fact neither the American nor the girl looks forward to the inevitable discussion on their dilemma requires alcohol consumption to ease their mood. Though their relationship involves tasting new drinks at every juncture, at this moment, a drink becomes a necessity rather than an indulging in leisure. Their drinking masks their underlying problems and defines the nature of their relationship (Hills Like White Elephants). The girl’s reiteration of drinking as their relationship’s main activity gives insight to their situation. However, drinking seems to be the only thing that they agree upon at this point. The sensitivity of the topic under discussion is critical to their future, with both hoping the outcome is favorable to their wishes. Eventually they end up drinking separately an indication of the impending termination of their relationship.

Hemingway uses the story to illustrate the unreliability of generic relationships. Though, the girl may at some point have had romantic feelings towards the American he never did. The American's interest, in their relationship ebbed towards physical satisfaction rather than emotional nourishment. The disparity of the two is clear; the girl’s intentions were to be romantically engaged to the man resulting to marital cohabitation while raising an ideal family. The American’s persistence on the operation clearly defines his lack of interest in participating in any marital eventuality with the girl (Tibit 2).


Significantly, Hemingway has used symbolism to illustrate the conflicting ideologies between the characters and highlight the central conflict. The white elephants are symbolic to the girl’s pregnancy. Given the attributes of a white elephant, it may signify a marvelous thing that will be highly beneficial or burdensome responsibility, which no one, would wish on himself. In Jig’s perspective, the white elephant representing her pregnancy is a promise of the novel life she could have with the American. However, in the Americans perspective the white elephants are symbolic of a burden he is not willing to carry and a barrier to his lifestyle.


The rail road is symbolic to the possibility of their relationship’s future. The outcome of their discussion may take them in different directions. On the other hand, Zaragoza, the city’s name derived from the last alphabet Z, is indicative of the end of their relationship. Hemingway uses the green, fertile landscape to illustrate the girl’s pregnancy and potential of a family. The girl observes the greener side of the station as metaphorical to the relationship existing between her and the American. Her perspective is characterized by the desire for marriage and to raise a family together with the American.

Despite Jig's wishes, the American's perspective, which is symbolized, by the arid region and barren region of the rail station, is opposed to her ideas. His wish to bear no responsibility, while spending his time moving from one place to the other aimlessly defines a barren lifestyle, which the girl is beginning to abhor (Renner 33). The Ebo River, on the other hand, represents the girl’s vitality, and readiness to reproduce. The river is symbolic to the flow of life and the perpetuation of time. The girl is aware that time is not on her side, and she wishes to fulfill her natural obligations before time catches up with her. The American is not inclined to this observation and perceives time as insignificant to his aimless life. Anis Del Toro is symbolic to the excitement that is conditional to being part of the Americans way of life. However, jig does not find it to her taste and compares it to licorice a bitter taste she has developed for the Americans way of life (Resseguie 90). While the baggage, they carry is symbolic of their past life which is to be discarded and assume a new life.


The story, hills like white elephants, highlights issues arising in random generic relationships, in given contemporary societies. Hemingway’s illustration of the underlying issues has been artfully woven into the story with precision and literal genius. Though, some critics may differ, Hemingway's writing style appeals to the imagination leaving the reader marveling at his literal representation of underlying issues.

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