Hills Like White Elephants Analysis by Ernest Hemingway

This is an analysis of Ernest Hemingway's short story Hills Like White Elephants.

The Iceberg Theory and Hemingway style:

Ernest Hemingway short story Hills Like White Elephants was published in 1927 but did not become widely anthologized and popular until the 1990s. One reason for this might be that the public was not used to what is known as the Hemingway style.

Hemingway's Hemingway said of his writing style in an interview in 1926. I always try to write on the principle of an iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows. In other words, his writing style strips down all the details. So that he only includes what is absolutely necessary to let the reader figure out on his or her own what is really going on or the significance of the story that is hidden below the surface or not directly included by the author.

For example in Hills Like White Elephants he gives almost no detail about the two characters lives and gives none of their thoughts. The reader doesn't even know their names ages where they're from other than the man is an American. Whether or not they are married how long they have known each other etc.

Hemingway also does not give any editorial information revealing how the author feels such as saying that she said something sadly or angrily etc. It was not popular to leave much of the interpretation of the story up to the reader in this fashion until much more recently.

As Hemingway was ahead of his time with his simple efficient style that does not tell the reader what to think. But simply recreates the event as realistically as possible allowing the reader to interpret the significance of the story.

Hills Like White Elephants Analysis

The story implies that the man wants the girl he is with to have an abortion which he refers to as a simple operation. Which though he says he doesn't want her to do if she doesn't really want to he insists it's the best thing to do. It's really not anything and they just let the air in and that's all perfectly natural. She, in turn, appears more skeptical about the procedure and tells him. And I'll do it because I don't care about me. Although little happens in the story other than the couple's conversation at the train station. The reader can see that their brief discussion reveals a deep conflict between the two and .it suggests the end of their relationship.

The setting Hills Like White Elephants does not even really have a plot. In fact when it was first published there were many who were reluctant to even call it a short story but little more than a dialogue between two people.

However, the details included at hidden meanings that the reader can use to better understand the couple's relationship. Even though the writer does not directly spell out their feelings for the reader.

The setting is in the 1920s in a desolate Valley at a train station in Spain which is a stopping point between Barcelona and Madrid. The foreign country shows the isolation of the two main characters. The American who apparently can speak Spanish and the girl he is with who must not be Spanish since she cannot speak the native language.

The location of a crossroads in the train station in which the travelers must choose which direction to continue on their journey is symbolic of the crossroad the couple is in their relationship. Although we know little about the couple. We know that they have been traveling and staying in various hotels as their bags had labels on them from all the hotels where they had spent nights. We also know that the girl asks about their relationship that's all we do isn't it. Look at things and try new drinks as if they don't have a deep meaningful relationship.

The story suggests that if they terminate the girl's pregnancy. There will be a change in their relationship as the girl repeat repeats twice no we can't when the man says we can have the whole world. Towards the end of their tents discussion she pleads with the man would you please please please please please please please stop talking. As if she is tired of his attempt to convince her that having an abortion is the best decision for her and them. And then the couple ends the story drinking and no longer really communicating without a clear resolution of whether or not she will go through with the abortion. Which suggests that the couple will go separate ways and break up after the revelation that the man wants her to have an abortion and she does not want it to have one.

The Hills Like White Elephants that the girl describes our barren mountains that symbolize the baby growing within the girl that no one really wants. A white elephant is a term for a possession which its owner cannot dispose of and which has a cost to maintain which is out of proportion with its usefulness. Thus the baby is unwanted by the man and thus costs the woman great pain and leads to the end of their relationship. From the station, the landscape is divided into a barren landscape that is brown and dry and a fertile one of fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro in the distance.

The juxtaposition of the barren landscape with the fertile one is symbolic of the two choices the girl has at this point to choose to have her baby or to terminate her pregnancy.

Irony the story is full of verbal irony where the characters say one thing but clearly means something opposite of what they are saying. For example, after the man tells the girl he has known lots of people who have had abortions. She sarcastically responds with so have I and afterward they were all so happy. Clearly, she is pointing out that she does not agree that they will be happy after they abort their child.

Likewise at the end of the story when the man asked the girl do you feel better she answers I feel fine there's nothing wrong with me I feel fine however the reader realizes she does not feel fine at all.

The Lost Generation writer Gertrude Stein corn coined the term Lost Generation to refer to the post-world War one generation which is said to be void of morality and were a hard-drinking value valueless young people who became disillusioned by the senseless violence and meaningless sacrifice. The first example of modern warfare left them with Ernest Hemingway also uses this term in his epigraph to his 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises.


Hemingway's short story Hills Like White Elephants embodies the term lost a generation. In the casual way in which the American man and his younger girlfriend given a mere nickname of jig casually discussed having an abortion. A procedure that was illegal and not considered morally acceptable during this time period. Also excessive drinking, they engage in during a time in which America in America. The consumption of liquor was also illegal helps contribute to their portrayal as members of the Lost Generation.


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