Analysis on Hills Like White Elephants

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Updated: Mar 14, 2023
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Ernest Hemingway uses setting, dialogue, theme and symbolism in ‘Hills like White Elephants” to emphasize the tense situation between a man and woman’s decision on getting an abortion. Although his words are very brief, the author is able to get his point across to the readers, the couple is undecided on whether or not to keep their unborn child. Critics like Timothy D. O’Brien, David Wyche, and Lewis E Weeks Jr. have analyzed the story and documented their findings.

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O’Brien mainly focuses on the setting and dialogue while Wyche highlights the importance of how the theme plays out in the story. The critic Weeks main focus is all on how the author uses symbolism in his story. Hemingway’s story is much more than a brief conversation between two people but rather the importance of communication.

The setting and dialogue is “its two most striking features” (19) according to O’Brien, because it carries the whole story. O’Brien states” the contrast these readers perceive in the natural setting between fertility and sterility mirrors the tension between the girl’s desire to have the baby and the mans “sterile” wish to continue their relationship without it. (19). I think he uses the words fertile and sterile because he is comparing them to the train station that they are waiting at. One side of the train station is nice and bright while the other one is very dull looking, according to Hemingway as he states in the story that the train station was “between two lines of rails in the sun.”

By dividing the setting in half, Hemingway uses the setting to illustrate the division between the couple, they can become “sterile” by having the abortion or be “fertile” by keeping the baby and go through with the pregnancy. In the story, there is lots of proof stating that the American does not wish to keep the baby. For instance, in “Hills like White Elephants” the man says “That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only that’s made us unhappy” (77) or when he says “It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air in” (76), referring to the abortion.

Another key thing that O’Brien mentions is the repetition of the word “fine” and “natural” in the dialogue, which Jig uses a lot throughout the story. The words are used in a sarcastic tone because Jig does not feel “fine” and doesn’t think that getting the operation done is “natural’. Through dialogue, Hemingway is able to illustrate the miscommunication between Jig and the American. Since the story is almost entirely made up of dialogue, the reader must engage in the story if they want to understand what’s going to happen with Jig and the American.

The main theme in “Hills like White Elephant” is the lack of communication between Jig and the American. David Wyche states “Critics who foresee abortion, and those who do not, tend to agree that Jig and the American will not long remain a couple” (59) They both struggle to communicate their thoughts on what to do with both the baby and their relationship. Jig’s comment about the hills being like white elephants, is the theme of lost innocence of their relationship. She feels this way because the American is making it seem like having an abortion is easy and will solve all their problems.

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Analysis on Hills Like White Elephants. (2020, Mar 23). Retrieved from