An analysis of the relation between the narrative elements and theme in the short story “Hills like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemmingway
“Hills like White Elephants” is one of Ernest Hemingway's most popular short stories. It deals with one of the most debated social issue in the society. The writer presents the social issue of abortion through the characters Jig and the American. The writer uses the characters, the setting, and the symbolic references to bring out the theme in the story. Hemmingway skillfully weaves an ambiguous web that leaves the readers to draw their personal conclusions about the theme in the story. Maisonnat (par. 2) notes that the “text of the short story functions as a sort of screen, of projection space, on which readers are too openly invited to represent their own fantasies or allowed to voice their ideological biases”. However, the themes help to add clarity to the accurate meaning of the story’s apparently empty plot. Hemmingway narrative style incorporates the use of a few short lines to manipulate the story in order to explore the theme of choices, doubts, and consequences of the significant decisions that people make in life.
The writer deviates from the traditional styles of writing as the themes the reader has to rely on the white elephants as a symbol, to conclude that the operation that the characters discuss is an abortion. In Hemmingway’s "Hills like White Elephants," the characters are symbolic as they help the reader to understand the two difficult decisions that girl faces. The decision is as opposite as the two hills and suggests that the decision carries different conclusions. The two hills represent the choice that the girl has to make. One hill is dreary, barren, and unappealing and "it had no shade and no trees" (“Hills like White Elephants, par. 1, line 1-2). One could say that the Hemmingway wants the reader to understand that one decision can end the relationship between the American and the girl. In contrast, the hill is beautiful and rich in nature, and suggests that if the girl agrees with the man, then their lives would be better. The use of the train track that runs between the hills gives the reader a sense of that the decision is still not final as the girl is undecided about the difficult choice she has to make. The symbolic use of the drinking in the story represents the couple's casual relationship, and one can conclude that this is the way that the American wants it to stay.
Hemmingway explores the issue of growth and maturity through Jig. He shows that the maturity is a deciding factor in the choices that people make. The casual drinking bothers the girl, and she points out that it is all they seem to do. The readers can conclude that the girl is tired of travelling across the world and doing meaningless activities, and wants to do things differently. The characters in the story are realist as they show the dilemma that humans face when they make decisions. The woman is the protagonist and appears to be in control of the situation on more than one occasion. However, it can be argued that the control is short lived as the American quietly asserts his persuasion on her, and she eventually agrees to his idea of having the abortion instead. Both characters are different in how they look at the seriousness of having an abortion. The man wants to continue to enjoy his relationship with her as he indicates that he only wants her to himself. One can conclude that he is selfish as he does not want to share her with a baby.
Hemmingway emphasizes this with the constant reference to two in the story, and this indicates that the addition of another being into their lives will add complication. The man sees that this will hinder his worldwide travels, and quietly asserts his position as he tells her that if she does the operation things will go back to the way they were before. In addition, some analysts have interpreted this to mean he loves her in his own way. Her refusal allows him to show that he will stand by her in her decision. There are many interpretations to the dialogue between the two characters. Maisonnat (par. 1) postulates that some critics argue that the man has way at the end of the story as he manages to convince Jig to do the operation, while other critics believe that Jig stands firm in her belief and will have the baby regardless of the consequences when she tells him that she is fine.
The setting in the story is also important to the development of the theme. The story happens during a short period as they wait at the train station. This moment is significant as the characters only pause for a moment to decide on an issue that would alter their lives forever. The reader to wonder at the how easily the man discards the problems in his life. While the story takes place during a short period, the events are much bigger than the simplicity with which the man discusses the problem of having a child. Hemmingway way refers to the “hills across the valley of the Ebro [as] long and white” (“Hills like White Elephants,” par. 1, line 1), to show that the decision was not simple, but one that impacts the future. The change in the man’s tone as he responds to the girl’s perception of the beauty of the hills show that her decision would change the relationship, even though he tells her that it would not change how he feels. The writer describes the scene objectively and does not include any emotional thoughts on the beauty of the hills. It is “the girl” who does this while the man, on the hand shows that life is not always beautiful as it seems. In addition, Hemingway makes use of complicate the description of the setting with the use of symbolism. However, the description of the hills gives thought to the white elephant being an unwanted object in the Indian culture. The setting of distance of the mountain and the river that separate them, suggests that the girl is far from coming to a simple decision. She appears to be more perceptive than the man, in that she is the character whose eyes and thoughts reflect the seriousness of the decision that they both have to make. The heat and the barren mountain suggest the season is probably the start of summer, but Hemmingway makes no other specific reference to the time in which the story happens.
In concluding, the writer looks presents the theme of the dilemma of making the right choice in life. The characters are faced with the problem of an unwanted pregnancy by one and the need to settle down with the other. He uses the symbol of the white elephant to reinforce that the man would prefer if the woman aborts the baby, and the girls clear fascination with the mountain white, pure picturesque to show that the innocence of her thoughts makes her want a life that is stable. The conversation becomes tense as the girl is frustrated and asks the man to stop talking, and this adds to the fact that while she is young she shows maturity in the serious choices she makes. In the end, her love for the American allows him to have his way. She agrees to the operation even though she does not want to do so.
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