Jun 24, 2020 in Literature

Story Review: Hills Like White Elephants

Hills Like White Elephants written by Ernest Hemingway provides much insight into the relationships between men and women touching on serious problems and challenges arising in couples and affecting people’s future relations greatly. Even though it is a short story based mostly on the conversation between an unnamed American man and his girlfriend further named Jig at the railway station, the author has succeeded in incorporation of many significant topics and ideas into the writing. Personally, I liked the story because it is linked to the problems of the real world showing them symbolically and allowing readers to form their own views and attitudes while revealing the symbols and hidden meanings. In fact, the thorough analysis of the work and a detailed evaluation of the concealed elements uncover many issues and challenges experienced by millions of people worldwide. In particular, the attention is drawn to the fact that many couples continue living together being unsatisfied with each other following either their habits or being afraid of changes. 

However, what I have disliked about this writing is the presence of too many hidden facts so that the readers cannot understand the nature of the ‘operation’ discussed by the characters or the decision they made at the end of the story. In fact, the ending has left a negative impression on me as I have understood that the girl agreed to follow her boyfriend’s request concerning the operation, and they would probably continue their useless relationships based on hypocrisy and empty feelings because people could not change easily even having the great desire to start the new life.

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In his short story, Ernest Hemingway has presented one of the views on people’s relations showing how different people might come along together. In fact, while reading the work, the readers could easily observe the vivid dissimilarities between characters as the unnamed American man was quite phlegmatic, passive, self-confident and earthly, while the girl was the opposite being imaginative, active and happy with life and everything around her. These features were observed when Jig compared hills to white animals while enjoying the views and nature when they were waiting for their train at the railway station, and her man did not even support her ideas simply stating that he had never seen anything like that. Such words and reactions did not only show tension between them but also great differences as persons simply shared opposite personalities. Moreover, although the couple did not quarrel or scream at each other, they had a crucial struggle behind the words they said. In fact, the man did not allow his girlfriend to make important decisions in their life convincing her to follow him and support his views on everything. Thus, Ernest Hemingway has shown how individuals might stay together not having common views and interests, goals and desires, though this is the basis of the healthy and happy relationships. Obviously, if people want to be together for long, they should simply listen to each other trying to understand their partner. 

There are several other important themes, symbols and motifs in the short story helping to understand the author’s ideas and thoughts and the meaning implicitly presented in the writing. The first motif covered in the work is associated with language and communication as people are social beings by nature, and thus, social interaction plays an important role in their life and aiding to resolve various problems, understand each other or clarify certain issues. Speaking about the story under consideration, both characters were involved into a short conversation, but they simply talked without involvement. Even though they really talked while having a few drinks in the bar at the station, nobody listened and cared for each other’s points of view and ideas showing no connection and mutual trust. The man tried using different words to convince his girlfriend to undergo the operation, which turned out to be an abortion after a thorough analysis, and the girl was afraid of this procedure and was not sure she really wanted it. The man told that he loved the girl, and that after the operation, everything might be the same for them and they would be happy. However, the girl did not believe those words showing hesitation concerning the procedure and the future life with the man as well. Actually, the man was surely a better communicator compared to Jig as he knew what results he wanted to obtain and which path to follow. Due to the fact that the girl demonstrated a weaker position, it was difficult for her to figure out which decision to make or how to act. She could not choose whether to please her man or pursue her own dreams and desires. 

Choice is another important theme revealed by the author because the characters had to decide what to do with an unplanned pregnancy, and if the man’s intentions were clear since he did not want the baby, the girl still hesitated on this decision. In fact, a white elephant symbolizes the unborn child, and since only Jig saw this image and compared hills with white elephants, Hemingway makes the suggestion that she might have wanted to leave the baby. However, the man even did not think it over being strict and decisive in his choice not wanting to recognize white elephants in those hills and thinking about having a child.

Actually, the author did not accidentally chose public conversation in the bar on such issues opposite to having private discussions as he wanted to point at the serious social problem existing during that period of time. In fact, Hills Like White Elephants was written in 1927 when sex education and birth control issues were not properly discussed and explained in schools and community. Thus, the writer wanted to show how the lack of information and discussions in the field might lead to unplanned pregnancies, ruined hopes and fates in some cases. If the girl had decided to leave a child, the man might have probably left her as he did not even plan to discuss other possible variants considering only the operation as the only option in their situation. Thus, Jig was to decide what to do and this choice and decision might have impacted her future life and relationships.

Additionally, speaking about the man’s behavior and communication style, one should say that the author tried to show the male dominance over females not only in relationships but in the community in general. In fact, at the time, people lived in a patriarchal society mostly controlled and managed by men, and women were always subordinate to them following their desires, interests and accepting their points of view on everything. The short story has contributed to the mentioned common perception of men and women in the society as the unnamed American man wanted to decide and control everything in their relations not giving chances to the girlfriend to make her own choices in life. This kind of behavior was characterized by the greater authority, power and control on the part of the male.

What I have also liked about the story is the fact that the author did not judge the characters allowing readers to make their own assumptions and form their opinions with regard to the plot and each character. Since the ending of the story was not clear and well explained, one could only assume what happened to the couple and whether they stayed together or the girl decided to separate leaving the child and breaking up with the authoritative man. The readers are free to interpret the plot, and they might either accept people’s behavior or disapprove of their actions. 

I have also loved how the author has presented the new identity and role, such as being a parent. Generally speaking, even people wanting to have a child and expecting one might not be ready for this, and the writer has illustrated how individuals facing an unplanned pregnancy considered this role. In particular, the unnamed American man rejected it not wanting to become a parent, while the girl wished to accept it. In such a way, Ernest Hemingway touched upon another social problem that is having children outside of marriage. Actually, there was a strong social stigma concerning this issue during that period of time, and women having children without husbands or staying alone with the child were criticized and disrespected. Thus, Jig might have not only thought about her future relationships with the man but also her own life with the child in the community not approving of such decisions and choices on the part of women.

While initiating the conversation of the characters at public rather than in private settings, Hemingway wanted to change the public perception of such issues promoting the freedom of choice made by females. Every person living at different periods of time and communities should have the right to decide himself/herself not being judged or criticized for his/her opinion. Social stigmas and prejudicial treatment might affect one’s life, emotional and psychological health as well as their future relationships with the surrounding negatively. Besides, people should value their individuality and identity helping them to make a difference in the world following different paths and taking different steps in life. Ernest Hemingway has succeeded to criticize the community implicitly in the short story casting light on the importance and power of social stigmas worldwide. 

Finally, the author has touched upon the theme of alcohol and drinking being inevitable elements of people’s daily life, especially when they face some problems and challenges. Even though the readers could not clearly understand what impact alcohol had on characters’ relationships, it is obvious that it somehow helped them to communicate. The writer has presented numerous references to alcohol in this short story specifying its important role in individuals’ life as, probably, it helped them to resolve certain issues and understand each other better. On the other hand, maybe they used alcohol to forget about their problems and about each other not wanting to resolve the challenges appearing in their life. 

In fact, human relationships have always been associated with certain problems and challenges, misunderstanding and mistrust, but if people love each other and really want to stay together, they are able to overcome everything relying on each other and true feelings. Even though the short story is mostly connected with the problem of unplanned pregnancy and people’s attitudes and choices on how to deal with it, the author mostly focuses on the problematic relationships between individuals sharing different values and interests in life, dissimilar personalities and characters. I surely expected a clear ending helping to understand the future life of both characters, but since the writer has not made hints concerning their decisions simply stating that the girl was fine with everything, I might assume that she agreed to make an abortion and again chose following her man rather than taking control over her life. Since I liked Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway, I would surely recommend it to other people as it presents numerous problems still experienced at present. 

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