This essay pertains to the observations and findings of the readers of the short story “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway. The author has portrayed the concept of “conflict” in the process of communication with the help of contrasting visual imagery and crisp dialogues. This essay discusses the subtle forms of expressions which the author has used to convey his message.
In the short story, “Hills Like White Elephants”, the author has depicted the conflicts that may arise when two people, nurturing different ideologies, try to communicate their differences. (Pritchett) At the onset of the story, the contradictory aspect of their beliefs is depicted with the help of a grim imagery comprising of the hills on the valley of Ebro on one side and the barrenness and lack of shade on the other. When it comes to conveying a sense of discord, such imagery is instrumental in enhancing the intensity of the lapse that is pretty evident in the protagonists. This conflict is further heightened by the fact that the girl, Jig, opines that the hills on the other sides look like white elephants, an opinion which is immediately thwarted with a noncommittal “I’ve never seen one,” from her man. This shows that the two people, seemingly engaged in a conversation, are trying hard to be heard and defend their own thoughts at the same time.
Communication and Conflict:
As the story progresses, the reader is made aware of the topic that is apparently bothering both Jig and her man, and it turns out to be abortion. The sensitivity of the main issue cannot be heightened owing to its characteristic dreary nature. However, the author delves upon the conflict of interest and opinions which the protagonists harbor. We can see the man using words like “It’s really not anything” and “perfectly simple” for the process of abortion in order to convince his partner about the simplicity of the act. His partner, Jig, on the other hand, poses like she knows the simplicity of the process but still feels differently about it. The conservation in this part of the story mostly comprises of a man trying to convince Jig with his opinions about the abortion. Jig, however, contradicts his opinions with either a careless remark or a moody outlook. The conflict in the communication between these two people are heightened when Jig pleads him to stop talking altogether, and upon his refusal to do so, threatens to scream, despite being aware of the fact that they are at a bar, and there are people around.
As a reader, one may find these conflicts to be a natural symbol of individual differences, like gender or culture which the protagonists belong to. And these differences are highlighted by the characters with not only their choice of words but also with their own predicaments. For instance, Jig posits as the common “woman” for whom all that matters is that her partner should be happy, and she should be loved. She is least bothered about the physical discomfort she will have to endure in the process of abortion. Her partner, on the other hand, depicts his “protective” attitude towards her by continually asking her not to take a decision unwillingly. It is evident that both of them are trying to make the other person happy and to according to their wishes. However, considering the extent to which readers can take their imagination to, it cannot be agreed that both the people in the story have a sense of conviction in their statements. No matter how hard they try to please the “other”, it is clearly visible that, as individuals, they are not pleased with the circumstances. For instance, Jig opines “I don’t feel any way, I just know things”. This clearly shows how the dilemma of whether or not to have an abortion has taken a toll on her and left her emotionally starved. Her man, on the other hand, lacks the required degree of empathy that she expects from him. All he can offer are the promises of a better tomorrow and the perfectness of their future together, which Jig finds somewhat vague and irrelevant. Her constant movements signify that she is visibly uncomfortable with the way things are turning out for her. All these physical gestures, monosyllabic answers, crisp statements and sharp retorts point out to the fact that they are having anything but a healthy conversation. Their way of communication is too underlined with their personal feelings and notions to be called a general one (Smiley, 1988). This is the primary reason “Hills Like White Elephants” is considered to be one of the most coveted works pertaining to the complexities of human relationships and conflicts in the process of communication.
Based on our reading of the story, it would not be incorrect to conclude that the author has chosen a sensitive topic of abortion, which in itself is a conflict in people’s minds, in order to portray the gaps that lie unseen between two individuals. Ernest Hemingway leaves a lot to the imagination by giving an abrupt end to the story and leaving the readers in the dark about what happened after the characters had their conversation. At the end of the story, Jig confirms that she is feeling fine now, but that is not enough for the reader to predict the actions that she intends to take in the future. Her feeling fine does not confirm her assent to the process of abortion; it is just another way of concluding a conversation. Therefore, this story is not only instrumental in understanding the possible differences that may arise between couples, but is also indicative of the repercussions that may arise as a result of such mutual discord.
- Pritchett, V. S. The Oxford book of short stories. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981. Print.
- Smiley, P. "Gender-linked Miscommunication in 'Hills Like White Elephants.'" Hemingway Review, Fall 1988. Vol. 8 No. 1. p. 2