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The story “Hills like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway
The story “Hills like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway depicts a meaningful narrative based on the relationship between a young woman and a man who clearly does not feel any true love to her. The author does not give precise explanations regarding their life, but it is quite understandable that a man’s ego controls his thoughts and actions.
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The narrative makes a reader immediately immersed into the plot due to its unusual title which is a simile indeed. It creates some mystery and even tension as one may imagine a boundless amount of the details. Even though the story is full of ambiguity and symbolism, its hidden implication is related to the revelation of human vices including the man’s hypocrisy and indifference to his future child. In such a way, the author illustrates a dramatic relationship through the portrayal of a meaningful dialog, which reflects a spoilt soul of the American and his hypocrisy towards Jig and their unborn child.
The relationship between a man and a woman shows that they have no future due to the lack of love. In the story “Hills like White Elephants”, Hemingway portrays two characters who long for nothingness while traveling around the world. The title of the narrative symbolizes the nature that surrounds the protagonists and invisibly follows them everywhere. It may be a part of the wildlife as both Jig and the American man refer to its existence in relation to that of the mountains. Nevertheless, it is evident that the mountains exist instability in contrast to the protagonists who wander in search of a better life. In this case, the author shows that the man does not want to resemble nature as he has no desire to marry the woman. He does not strive for a settled life, and therefore, even an unborn child cannot connect him with Jig forever. In fact, the reader is not given any particular information about travelers, but one may deduct that the way the American man treats Jig is a hint to his complete indifference. Thus, his obvious egoism leads the woman in the wrong direction, because he gives her hope for positive changes in their life after making an abortion.
Nature plays a significant role in the story as it is associated with the existent separation and boundaries between the protagonists. The point is that such images as the hills, elephants, bamboo curtains, and even licorice symbolize the so-called segregation based on certain misunderstandings between the two characters. From the very beginning of the narrative, there can be seen several accurate curtains that invisibly divide the main characters. “Close against the side of the station, there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies” (Hemingway 475). These boundaries seem to be social as the primary conflict concerns the birth control despite the fact that the two characters are still not married. However, the reader understands that Jig wants to bear a child in contrast to the American man who softly insists on abortion. He indicates, “It is really an awfully simple operation” (Hemingway 476). These words prove that he does not accept any possibility to create a family with Jig, who loves him. It means that her pregnancy creates a curtain, which does not allow them to be happy according to his words. Additionally, when the American man makes considerable efforts to persuade Jig to get rid of the child, he chooses a treacherous approach.
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Even though the plot represents a dramatic dialog between Jig and the American man, it may be characterized as a male monolog. The irony of life covers the events that occurred in the storyline as there is nothing left to Jig than to regret about the past. Observing the conversation between the main characters, one may notice that the woman is far away from the bar where the scene is set as she dreams of another life. She needs more air to live, and therefore, she starts exploring the environment that would comfort her chaotic thoughts. In fact, the surroundings are full of harmony due to the hills and their similarity with white elephants. The words “they were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry” illustrate the woman’s past and present, which makes her make a vital decision (Hemingway 475). These colors also symbolize her doubts mixed with sadness and despair. The comparison of white with brown shows that Jig experiences inner sufferings that bother her like torture. On the other hand, the author mentions the train called Barcelona to demonstrate that her hopes may be ruined by a single wrong action. One of the most interesting issues is that their dialog and alcohol interact with each other. It seems that Jig needs to drink to forget the most important problem which has stuck in her mind. The words “Everything tastes of licorice. Especially all the things you’ve waited so long for, like absinthe” explain that the tone of the conversation is quite sad and has a bitter taste (Hemingway 476). Eventually, the dialog does not bring any moral satisfaction to both characters as the main question is still not resolved.
The whole conversation is introduced through the prism of the curtain, which helps the American man to hide his dishonest intentions. A curtain is a tool that defines the meaning of the conversation between Jig and her lover who tries to guide her according to his personal desires. The reader might pay attention to the lettering “Dos cervezas”, which also refers to the curtain symbolizing their separation (Hemingway 475). Moreover, when Jig wishes to drink something new, the woman reveals that she is on the edge due to emptiness and despair that overwhelm her miserable soul. However, she knows for sure that neither alcohol nor anything else has the ability to console her. As a result, the talk becomes more serious, and it seems to last for eternity as the American man convinces her to kill their unborn child. The man has neither moral nor spiritual values, and therefore, he merely pretends that he values Jig. He attempts to reach his goal, and all methods to achieve it are appropriate even if it is necessary to kill his own child. In fact, his deception is evident to the reader but not to Jig. Lastly, the barrier between them grows more and more intensely and gradually turns into the wall made of stones.
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The setting is also vital as it contributes to the creation of different interpretations of the story. The primary events start at the train station and continue developing in the bar. Each train station usually symbolizes a journey to another life, and nobody knows exactly whether it will be a good or a bad one. It is hard to imagine what is ahead, but, unfortunately, the past based on one irretrievable mistake will haunt Jig. Perhaps, she understands that nothing will be the same, and there is no need to accept the American man’s offer. However, it is possible to assume that the author uses the Ebro to show that each personality always has the right option, and everything depends on the protagonist’s decision. Undoubtedly, the river is an everlasting symbol of life as it is related to nature, which is alive. In this case, water may clear Jig’s mind and show her that there is no need to remain with the Americans who can commit a crime. Additionally, the words “On this side, there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two rails in the sun” give more than just a detailed description of the place (Hemingway 475) reveals that there is always hope even if life has lost its sense. Lastly, there is life behind the Ebro, and it is just necessary to take one step towards a new future. In this way, the set includes two different landscapes that represent two options, which may affect the further destiny of the protagonist and her child.
The entire narrative is filled with ambiguity to compel the reader to explore the hidden implications of the storyline. Observing the representation of the events, one may focus on the narrator and the way he presents information. It is evident that the third-person-narrator narrates the story in a particular manner while applying the literary techniques of the storyteller and the journalist at the same time. He seems to be aware of each detail the reader attempts to define and learn by a thorough examination of the narrative. The point is that too many questions still remain unanswered even at the end of the story. It is evident that one may suggest that Jig will leave the American man being unable to take away her child’s life. From the journalist’s perspective, nothing additional is said about the main characters. The reader knows little about their life before they appear at the station one day being ready to depart. In fact, this minimalism might draw the reader’s attention to the truth related to the hidden implication. Additionally, the story is illustrated in the past tense, which means that the narrator tries to reconstruct it from his memories. It is difficult to claim whether he feels sympathy for Jig or not, but he definitely does not judge the American man. Perhaps, the narrator merely does not want to impose his point of view upon the reader, and therefore, he tries to give freedom to form an opinion about the man and his attitude towards a pregnant woman. Certainly, much information is foreshadowed, and it causes the creation of suspense to the end of the narrative.
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To understand the hidden implication of the narrative, it is necessary to focus on the theory of Formalism and New Criticism (Rankin 235). It will allow the reader to understand the narrator’s thoughts and even the main idea of the presented events. The followers of this theory prefer exploring the sense of each literary work step by step. In this case, they define the development stage of the relationship between the protagonists according to their actions and deeds, which may have a negative impact on their lives (Kirszner and Mandell 48). For example, in the narrative, one of the most essential features of the man is his hypocrisy as nothing can stop him to force his woman to abort their child. This fact proves that the American man lacks human values, and all of his actions and attempts including his silly conversation prove that he does not love Jig. On the other hand, his dishonest behavior may be explained through the concept of masculinity (Rankin 234). It is too obvious that Psychoanalytic Criticism by Freud and the relevant psychological terms including ego and superego guide the man’s intentions and desires. Additionally, this theory helps to explain that nothing is more vital for the American man than his masculine ego as he pays attention only to his personal needs. Consequently, he indicates, “It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy”; these words only prove his egoism (Hemingway 477). Thus, both theories discover the sense of the narrative and show the reader the essence of life.
In conclusion, “Hills like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway is an interesting story that portrays the relationship of an unmarried couple without love. The narrative depicts the social conflict through the man’s ego by showing that the man is trying to follow his own interests based on hypocrisy, which the reader may notice while reading the dialog. Additionally, the use of symbolism helps the reader to understand the author’s ideas based on the meaning of several theories referring to the concept of masculinity. Undoubtedly, the setting also helps the reader to interpret the story.
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