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An Analysis on ​Hills Like White Elephants

Communication is a skill that has created a rise in societal change and action that caused

many marginalized groups such as the lgbtq+ community, black lives matter, and movements

such as the feminist movement to grow exponentially and change many lives for the better

through proper usage. However, many people in modern society still struggle to use proper

communication every day choosing just to talk without actually listening to a single word that

their fellow person says. This problem stems all the way back to when modern society was

starting in the nineteenth century with the creation of the North American countries. Within

Ernest Hemingway’s 1927 short story ​Hills Like White Elephants​, the themes of communicating

as opposed to talking, and feminism are elaborated on, and thus influences the society of today.

The major theme of a lack of true communication is widely spread throughout the short

story, branching off and leading to many other themes in the story. With a lack of true

communication comes many misunderstandings and a creation of arguments that should not have

been created in the first place. At first, the story introduces this theme when the characters are

introduced in the story. With the dialogue from the girl asking, “what should we drink?”.....

“Let’s drink beer.” (Hemingway 1). And the man telling the waitress, “Dos cervezas.”

(Hemingway). It can be assumed that the girl does not speak Spanish while the man does. With

that in mind, it can then be further elaborated on into the woman not understanding any dialogue

between the man and the waitress throughout the rest of the story. Secondly, the couple struggles

to communicate their beliefs and ideas with regards to the “operation.” This can be elaborated on

with the fact that they did not talk about the operation at all throughout the story, leaving it to the

reader to identify that the operation that the girl is going to have that the man wants her to have is
an abortion. Lastly, the couple’s misunderstanding comes at a tipping point in their

miscommunication on what they both truly want out of their relationship and their individual

lives. This miscommunication is best alluded to when the girl describes the line of hills in the

countryside saying, “They look like white elephants,” to which the man replies, “I’ve never seen

one,” and the girl replying back saying, “No, you wouldn’t have,” (Hemingway). This key

interaction best alludes to their miscommunication as it is abundantly clear that both the girl and

man do not see eye to eye and have even bigger underlying problems than what they originally

had in their relationship. Within this dialogue, the girl states that the hills look like white

elephants which references the idea that a white elephant is a possession that its owner cannot

dispose of and whose cost is out of proportion to its usefulness, much like a very young child.

When the man says that he has never seen a white elephant, this reinforces the concept of the

man being immature and averting himself to responsibility through the means of traveling all

over and not settling down; when the girl replies back, this indicates that she realizes that he does

not want to settle down and have their child and has never had to deal with responsibility. With

that, the miscommunication of the couple is brought up throughout the book through expertly

crafted lines of dialogue, and in between the lines of which Hemingway has written.

In regards to feminism, the topic during the time that the story was written was a very

unpopular but slowly rising idea; mainly due to the fact that the society was (and currently still

is) run by old white men who wanted to rob women and minorities of their proper human rights.

In Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants, due to the many available interpretations and the

time in which it was written, arguments have been made for both pro-feminism and

anti-feminism in the text. First, with the anti-feminist standpoint, there is the idea that the man
dominates the woman in the story. This can be identified with the idea that the woman avoids

telling the man that she does not want to go through with the abortion because she is scared of

the repercussions. However, the second pro-feminist standpoint is identified with the assertion

that the story is mostly siding with the girl and her ideas. As Stanley Renner writes in ​Moving to

the girl’s side of “Hills Like White Elephants.” ​, “As in the opening movement the couple

resume their discussion of what to do about the girl’s pregnancy… The American argues

single-mindedly… The girl’s mind, however, appears to be divided.” (Renner 6). This opens up

even more when Renner states, “So firmly does the story’s sympathy side with the girl and her

values, so strong is her repugnance toward the idea of abortion, and so critical is the story of the

male’s self-serving reluctance to shoulder the responsibility of the child that the reading I have

proposed seems the most logical resolution to its conflict.” (Renner 23). With that, the

pro-feminist standpoint brings in powerful ideas which are also reinforced with Hemingway’s

noted ability to create major plot points in the story and communicating with the viewers without

doing so explicitly.

With miscommunication and feminism being major plot points in the story, it is clear that

the effects of the story has been passed on to modern society in the form of societal change. In

regards to miscommunication of the man and girl stemming from her lack of bilingualism to

their lack of understanding each other’s values, it shows that the couple has bigger problems than

the operation that the girl is about to undergo. Within the text lies the plot of feminism, an

unpopular movement during the stories time, having clues to both anti-feminist and pro-feminist

narratives, but closing of with a mainly pro-feminist viewpoint as identified by many critics of

Hemingway. By analyzing short stories from the past, modern society can learn and grow from
the mistakes by looking at the deeper meaning that the authors wanted to communicate to the

readers within the lines of the stories they wrote.

Works Cited

Renner, Stanley (Fall 1995). ​"Moving to the Girl's Side of "Hills Like White Elephants""​. ​The

Hemingway Review​. 1–41

Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills Like White Elephants.” The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Ed. R.V.

Cassill. New York: Norton & Company, 1995.

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