Essay, Research Paper: Hills Like White Elephants

Literature: Ernest Hemingway

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Hills Like White Elephants, written by Ernest Hemingway, is a story that takes
place in Spain while a man and woman wait for a train. The story is set up as a
dialogue between the two, in which the man is trying to convince the woman to do
something she is hesitant in doing. Through out the story, Hemingway uses
metaphors to express the characters’ opinions and feelings. Hills Like White
Elephants displays the differences in the way a man and a woman view pregnancy
and abortion. The woman looks at pregnancy as a beautiful aspect of life. In the
story the woman’s pregnancy is implied through their conversation. She refers
to the near by hills as elephants; “They look like white elephants” (464).
She is comparing the hills to her own situation, pregnancy. “They’re lovely
hills. They really don’t look like white elephants. I just meant the coloring
of their skin through the trees” (465). Just as the hills have their distinct
beauty to her, she views pregnancy in the same fashion making the reference to
the hills having skin—an enlarged mound forming off of what was once flat. The
man views pregnancy just the opposite. When the girl is talking about the white
elephants and agrees that the man has never seen one, his response is, “I
might have, just because you say I haven’t doesn’t prove anything” (464).
This shows the defensive nature of the man, and when the woman implies the he is
unable to differentiate between what is beautiful and what is not. Another issue
that is discussed in this story is abortion and two opposing views. When the
conversation turns from the hills to the operation one is able to comprehend the
mentality of the woman. “Then what will we do afterwards?” (465) shows the
woman is concerned about what will occur after the operation. “And if I do it
you will be happy and things will be like they were and you will love me”
(465). Here, the woman implies she wants the reassurance that he will still be
there after the operation, because an abortion places an emotional strain on the
on the woman. Throughout the story it is evident that the woman is not sure if
she wants to have the abortion—shown in her hesitation to agree. The woman
feels that people gain freedom through experiences. “And we could have all of
this, and every day we make it more impossible” (466). Here, she is implying
the experiences we encounter daily—pregnancy on her part—give us the freedom
we hold so dear. “I said we could have everything…(w)e could have the whole
world” (466), and with this freedom the possibilities are endless. The man’s
speech shows the he believes abortion is not a big deal: “I know you
wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air
in” (465). Letting the ‘air in’ is referring to the way abortions are
preformed, and his confidence in predicting the girl’s reaction—“I know
you wouldn’t mind it” (465)—implies that abortion is just another
operation to him. The man feels that if the girl does not have the abortion his
freedom will be taken from him. He feels the additional responsibility would
limit his opportunities and thus his freedom. When the girl says, “It’s
ours,” referring to everything the world has to offer, the man replies, “No,
it isn’t. And once they take it away, you can never get it back” (466). He
is telling her that once they take ‘it’—their freedom—away they will not
be able to reclaim it. At the end of the story, the main points are reinforced.
The man returns from taking the bags to the tracks and asks if the woman is ok.
Her reply is, “I feel fine. There is nothing wrong with me. I feel fine”
(467). Here she reiterates that she sees the pregnancy as an experience that is
not necessarily bad (as the gentleman is implying). The man, on the other hand,
feels nothing has been accomplished. He picked up the two heavy bags and carried
them around the station to the other tracks. He looked up the tracks but could
not see the train. Coming back, he walked through the barroom, where people
waiting for the train were drinking. He drank an Anis at the bar and looked at
the people. They were all waiting reasonably for the train. He went back through
the bead curtain. She was sitting there and smiled at him. ‘Do you feel
better?’ (467) This is a major metaphor in the story explaining the man’s
situation at the end. He took the bags (questions) to the tracks looking for the
train (an answer), but saw nothing coming. The answers to the questions he is
looking for are not going to come to him; instead he has to wait and see what
happens. In the bar, he was the only one not waiting patiently for the train,
implying that the others are at ease with the situation they are in, not anxious
to overcome it. When he returns to the woman, the man asks if she feels better,
hoping that the situation would have fixed itself in the time he was gone so he
could move on in his life. Abortion and pregnancy are two issues that people
view differently, and the main characters in Hills Like White Elephants are
examples of this. The woman sees pregnancy as a beautiful fact of life and a
wonderful experience. She feels that losing that experience would take away from
her freedom. The man, on the other hand, looks at pregnancy as an inconvenience
that happens, and getting an abortion is an easy way to overcome the
inconvenience and continue on with life without complications.

1) Hemingway, Ernest. Hills Like White Elephants. Goshgarian 463-467
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