The Iceberg Theory: ‘Hills Like White Elephants’

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Updated: Apr 30, 2024
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At one point or another, everybody has ever been in a situation that seemed complicated and had no possible solution at hand. At such a time, you try talking to your friends or those that you are close to. After all the efforts, you still lack the exact answers to your questions. Our minds are made to think broadly, but while talking, we cannot let out all that we are thinking about (Piglia and Ricardo 66). This is the feeling that drove Ernest Hemingway into applying the Iceberg theory in his writings.

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The approach is based considering a scenario of a woman who is pregnant and does not know what to do with the unborn child. She is in a dilemma because she does not want to terminate pregnancy yet her husband seems not ready to welcome another individual in his life (Yi 108). This is what Hemingway discusses in a more profound way using the Iceberg theory.

‘Hills like white elephants,’ is used symbolically to signify to something considering a situation that a woman is in. The woman is pregnant, and the misunderstanding between her and the husband seems to be like a burden. The burden is likened to the white elephants which a Thailand king used to offer as a gift to those who pleased him. However, this did not seem as easy to take and sustain because it meant that one had to be extra careful. Being careless meant that the gift would be bestowed. As a result, it seemed that instead of the award is a sign of honor and appreciation, it was considered a burden. Hemingway likens the situation the pregnant woman is into those white elephants because of the burden she has. Her being expectant brought sorrow instead of happiness. The husband is in the opinion of her aborting. The two are in disagreement that they do not seem to come to an end. The final decision is still undetermined.

Fewer words can be used to explain what one has in mind. The mind has a lot of thoughts which by writing or speaking them out would be inadequate. Instead of struggling to write everything, then it would be better than omission is applied. The omission is also known as the Iceberg theory. By omission, it means that the message will be driven home but in a more straightforward manner. This is what Hemingway applies as he is talking about the theme of abortion (Yi 108). He does not direct his words into stating abortion directly. It would be difficult for one to understand what he is talking about unless keen attention is taken (Piglia and Ricardo 65). This shows that it is possible for one to address an issue indirectly. By so doing, fewer words are used, and the points are got (Herman and David 30).

One should know the whole story behind what is to be talked about. Hemingway insists that in as much as one needs to address an issue indirectly, it is essential that the story behind it is well understood. This is because, when the omission is to be done, there is a need to summarize rather than omit significant issues (Herman and David 36). The writer should be able to identify the details behind the story to be written. This is justifiable as many people sometimes are not ready to defend their stories. This is because; they fail to fathom the details thoroughly. In as much as Iceberg is seen as small ice, the truth is, it is complicated because it is compressed to form what we see. However, if it were to be broken, the complexity would be simplified. The same way, one should have the whole story as simple as possible although the complexity lies within one’s mind. One cannot come up with an idea without an inspiration behind it. As Hemingway applies the theory of the iceberg, it is clear that he had a theme. This is why he was able to relate what he was talking about using a conversation that existed between a man and his wife. It is terrifying to realize that a man can want his wife to have an abortion even if she is opposing. The woman cannot understand the reason as to why the husband is determined that the baby should be terminated. He claims that he does not want anybody else, but his wife. This statement makes it clear that indeed the woman is pregnant. The issue of abortion theme is entailed in a hidden way (Piglia and Ricardo 64). Hence, Hemingway had a theme and had applied the omission theory (iceberg).

To sum it up, the iceberg theory is fictional. Hemingway has managed to apply it in his writing in that he has based the theme of abortion by a woman in a way that is not directly stating so. This shows that omission is significant especially when dealing with a complex and sensitive topic (Herman and David 41). Omission does not mean that one has to be unfamiliar with the subject of interest, but rather, have the entire story behind the mind to avoid missing out essential statements. This thus defends the fact that Hemingway has appropriately applied the iceberg theory.

Works Cited

  1. Herman, David. Basic elements of narrative. John Wiley & Sons, 2011. Piglia, Ricardo. “Theses on the short story.” New Left Review70 (2011): 63-66. Yi, J. I. A. N. G. “On
  2. Piglia, Ricardo. “Theses on the short story.” New Left Review70 (2011): 63-66. Yi, J. I. A. N. G. “On the Three-dimensional Discourse Analysis of Hemingway’s Novel “Hills Like White Elephants”.” Overseas English 2012.20 (2012): 108.
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The Iceberg Theory: ‘Hills like White Elephants'. (2021, Mar 20). Retrieved from