The short story Hills like White Elephants was written by Ernest Hemmingway in 1927. Although the story is short, it is full of characteristics, which are peculiar to Hemingway’s personal style of writing. Hills like White Elephants was, is, and will be studied by literary critics and other researchers because it is a unique story where literary devices are chosen in a specific way in order to cover serious problem, which the writer wanted to draw attention of readers to. Symbolism, which is peculiar to personal style of the writer and well-thought dialogues of the main heroes, helped Ernest Hemmingway to cover gender issue of the story representing it through relationships between the man and the woman. The main emphasis of the story is made on the woman who is regarded as an independent person and who can make her own decisions concerning her life.
Great number of researchers devoted their works to the study of Hills like White Elephants. Each of them analyzed the short story from his/her point of view, and represented the most important aspects, which help readers to gain insight into the main idea of the story. Lewis Weeks regarded Hills like White Elephants as an example of Hemmingway’s symbolism. The phenomenon of symbolism, which was studied by Weeks, is regarded in relation to contrast between the man and the woman. First of all, the author of the article considers manifestation of symbolism in the name of the short story. Weeks believes that the image of white elephants is used symbolically because all that can be similar between hills and white elephants is white color and rounded lines of hills and elephant’s backs. Symbolism is also represented through the depiction of hills and the valley on the other side. Contrast of these landscapes is evident – mountains are white and beautiful while the valley where railway station is situated is dry and hot. This very contrast is transmitted to the main heroes of the short story. Difference in landscapes shows the difference between the man and woman symbolizing them. Although the man uses the word “natural” while speaking about operation he wants the woman to undergo, it is evident that he is opposition to nature because it is understandable that any operation cannot be natural a priori. In contrast, the woman is a reflection of nature. It is evident from her admiration of hills, and landscapes on the other side of the valley. Lewis Weeks confirmed that image of hills symbolized her natural state: “The image is of the fully pregnant woman, nude and probably lying on her back with her distended belly virtually bursting with life” (Weeks 76). One more aspect, which is symbolized by the image of the valley, and its natural conditions is tense relationships of the couple. These very relationships determine the conflict of the story.
The symbolic aspect of the story was also studied by Nilofer Hashmi. In contrast to Weeks’s understanding of the image of white elephants, which symbolized nature of the woman, Hashmi confirms: “Because of the pregnancy, and Jig’s attitude towards it, the man now finds her boring and demanding, in short, a nuisance – one is tempted to say, a white elephant” (Hashmi 76). As for my understanding of the symbol, I am inclined to think that the image of white elephants represents the woman’s naturalness. Although white elephants are very rare kind of elephants and they are even not white, I believe that they were used by Hemmingway in order to emphasize the woman’s connection to nature and her innocence (with the help of white color).
An interesting thought is reflected in the article of Nilofer Hashmi. The researcher tries to analyze possible endings of the short story. It is evident that Ernest Hemmingway left the story open-ended in order to give readers a possibility to think of what will happen with the main heroes. Nilofer Hashmi offers to consider four possible endings. The first one is that the woman will make an abortion and stay with the man. The second ending is that the girl will have an abortion and leave the man. The idea that the woman will convince the man to leave a child is the third possible ending. The last version of an ending is the following: “the girl will indeed have the abortion, expecting in this way to stay on with the man, but after the operation has been performed, he will abandon her” (Hashmi 72). In my opinion, the fifth version of the ending can be considered. Having read the short story, it seemed to me that the girl will not have an abortion and will leave the man. Some evidence from the text made me suggest this outcome of the story. First of all, it is evident that the girl is reluctant to make the decision about abortion. On the one hand, she wants to stay with the man and thinks that if she agrees to abortion, everything will be fine. In his turn, the man uses a well-thought tactic in order to convince the girl to do as he wants. He says: “That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy” (Hemingway 253).
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However, he told the girl several times that if she does not want to do it, she can refuse from the operation because he did not want to force her to do things, which she did not want to do. On the one hand, the tactic of the man was great, and it even made the girl doubt. However, as it was confirmed by Stanley Renner (1995), some changes happened to the woman, which made readers think that she would not have an abortion. The critic suggests considering four stages of the girl’s development, as he called them, four movements. The first movement represents the main heroine of the short story as “stereotypical passive female, not even knowing her own mind” (Renner 28). It is somehow represented through heroine’s speech. As it was confirmed by Pamela Smiley, Jig’s speech at the first stage of her development proves the fact that she “may be totally sincere not caring about herself and having only the American’s interests at heart” (Smiley 7). The second movement is the time when Jig realizes what she wants. In the third movement, she asserts herself. The last movement shows that the girl won the debate about abortion, and it is evident from the actions of her man: “He picked up two heavy bags and carried them around the station to the other tracks” (Hemingway 255). This development of the main heroine, who becomes a strong woman, knows what she wants, and is able to make her own decisions, as well as make other people agree with her, proves the fact that Hills like White Elephants covers gender issues. The points of view represented in the article of Stanley Renner coincide with my thesis and understanding of the short story not only because the author is on the girl’s side, but also because he expresses the same thought concerning the outcome of the situation. One more researcher who hinted at the ending where the girl will leave a child is Davis Wyche who confirmed that the situation with abortion was ironical because the couple was going to Madrid, and the name of this town was similar “to madre, the Spanish word for mother” (Wyche 58). Thus, the decision concerning abortion is likely to be the following – the girl will give birth to the child.
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As for relationships of the main heroes, I believe that they will end after they get home. In my opinion, the fragment of the short story where the girl admires nature and the following dialogue between the man and the woman shows that she lost faith in their common future:
‘And we could have everything and every day we make it more impossible.’
‘What did you say?’
‘I said we could have everything.’
‘We can have everything.’
‘No, we can’t.’
‘We can have the whole world.’
‘No, we can’t.’
‘We can go everywhere.’
‘No, we can’t. It isn’t ours any more.’
‘No, it isn’t. And once they take it away, you never get it back’
” (Hemingway 254).
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It is evident that the mood of the girl is sad, but she speaks in a confident way, standing against beliefs of her man. This is also one of the most important ways, which represent the main idea of Hemmingway’s short story. According to Pamela Smiley (1988), communication of the main heroes of Hills like White Elephants is of gender character. Speech of the main heroes represents their gender roles in the context of their relationships. American is considered being a leader as he knows Spanish language, he can communicate with the woman who serves drinks, thus, Jig turns to be dependent on what he says. Speech of the man is also reasonable – he claims that he had not seen white elephants; he explains why he thinks that abortion is the best solution for them. As for Jig’s speech, it is full of generalizations and, as well as female discourse in general, it is “indirect, repetitious, meandering, unclear, exaggerated” (Smiley 5). These characteristics of speech patterns of the main heroes determine opposition between them and become a reason for their conflict and misunderstanding.
Great meaning of language is also noticed by Timothy O’Brien. However, he regards this aspect of the short story from a different point of view as it did Pamela Smiley. O’Brien pays attention to the words used by Hemmingway in dialogues in order to emphasize the main idea of Hills like White Elephants. The researcher confirms that the word “fine”, which is often used in the short story, has a great meaning. This word, as well as the name of destination of the main heroes, has ironical meaning because “fine” from Spanish means “end”. This interpretation of language in the short story proves my point of view concerning the fate of relationships between the man and the woman.
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The creative work of Ernest Hemingway is considered being one of the brightest representations of literature of all times. Each of his works is unique, filled with numerous peculiarities of writer’s personal style, and covers problems, which cannot leave anybody indifferent. The short story Hills like White Elephants is a story, which represents relationships between the man and the woman covering gender issue and transmitting the main idea with the help of two features of Hemingway’s style – symbolism and dialogues. These aspects of the writer’s style and their influence on representation of the main thought of the story were studied by numerous researchers. After the analysis of several articles of literary critics and researchers, the following conclusion can be made. The importance of speech patterns of the main heroes and means of language used by the author lies in reflection of characters of the man and the woman and help to understand the essence of their conflict. Symbolism of the short story is regarded from different perspectives. The most frequently analyzed image is an image of white elephants. Although the researchers have different points of view on this image, I believe that it represents naturalness and innocence as the main characteristics of the girl. The last aspect, which is studied by literary critics, is a possible outcome of the short story. The researchers regard four possible endings. Having read and analyzed the story, I suggested the fifth possible ending where the main heroine will not have abortion, and will leave her man. Although Hills like White Elephants is a short story, it is interesting from the point of view of literary devices, which were used by the author, and complicated from the point of view of its interpretation. However, unique Hemingway’s personal style and numerous literary devices used in the story help to interpret it and understand its main idea.