The Short Story “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway

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They look like white elephants,” she said. “I’ve never seen one,” the man drank his beer. “No, you wouldn’t have.” “I might have,” the man said (Hemingway).

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It was challenging to isolate a passage that would help explain the classicism of this literary work. After all, Hemingway uses symbols rather than words as the primary tool in conveying ideas and images. This seemingly ordinary dialogue between a man and a girl hides the symbolism of elephants as an instrument to demonstrate the essence of the main topic of the characters’ conversation. The white elephant was once considered sacred, so at first glance, this gift was an honor. However, keeping an elephant would be so costly as to spoil the recipient. So, the white elephant is a burden. When the girl notices that the hills are like white elephants, and the man says he has never seen them, she replies: “No, you would not” (Hemingway). The girl had hardly herself seen a white elephant, but still, she knows how they look. If the hills represent female fertility, bloated belly, and breasts, she might suggest that he is not one of those people who ever deliberately had a child. However, if we view the white elephant as an unwanted item, she could also indicate that he never takes on a burden that he does not need. Thus, the two possible meanings of white elephants – female fertility and abandoned objects – converge here because, as a man, he never gets pregnant on his own and can throw off responsibility for her pregnancy. Overall, the masterfully written dialogue, while very simple at first glance, simultaneously reveals topics such as abortion and the difference in gender roles.

Works Cited

Hemingway, Ernest. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Edited by Finca Vigia. Scribner, 1987.

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