Sunday, March 16, 2008
Ernest Hemingway’s very short story “Hills Like White Elephants” features a couple who are arguing whether or not the girl should go for abortion or not. While abortion was not mentioned in the story, Hemingway proved his point through the literary elements of setting and symbolism.
The first paragraph introduces the tension that is felt throughout the story. The place and time setting is Spain in the late 1920’s. In the very hot atmosphere of a rail station overlooking long, white hills, the couple is in the midst of a decision-making wherein two choices are left, just like the two directions on which the rail is headed. The open atmosphere of the station suggests that the problem must be addressed now, for there is no way to run and back out. The hotness boils and screams under the pressure taking place.
The girl looks at the hills like white elephants, and in here the girl anticipates the birth of her child, rare like the unique white elephant which some cultures consider sacred. White refers to the purity and innocence of the unborn baby. When she sees the fields, she sees fertility, which represents her pregnancy. The river, meanwhile, gives life by irrigating the field. While appreciating the fields, the shadow of the cloud appears, which represents the abortion of the fetus and that causes her unhappiness. When she looks again at the fields after an exchange of words with the man, she sees the dry side of the valley, which symbolizes the preference of the man to abort the child, which he says to the girl in order to convince her to commit abortion. The dry valley also represents the girl’s body after abortion: barren.
The man wants the abortion because he wishes to keep his present lifestyle. The bags he looks at after the argument are labeled from all the hotels they had slept in. These bags symbolize the man’s lively spirit. If the girl proceeds with the pregnancy, he will have to settle down and raise his own family, sacrificing his young desires to see what the universe can offer. For him, the baby is indeed a white elephant that is holy for some but actually a burden to carry since it has to be fed without getting anything in return.
The story ends with the couple transferring from the barren side of the station toward the rail on which the fertile valley’s side is located. This means the couple chose to go on and drop the plan of the little operation.