Though Hemingway’s celebrated story “Hills Like White Elephants” may appear, on the surface, to be a very slight short-story, composed mostly of dialogue, with little overt action or final resolution, the story, far from being slight on thematic impact or technical innovation, actually represents a “watershed” of narrative techniques and also a radical shifting of Hemingway’s thematic perspective, as it is usually considered by readers and critics. As Alan Cheuse remarks in his essay “”Reflections on Dialogue: “How D’yuh Get t’Eighteent’ Avenoo and Sixty-Sevent’ Street?
” one of native narrative accomplishments of early-to-mid 20th century American writers was an idiom which admitted and actually invited the rhythms and form of natural speech prevail in narrative proximity. American writers, according to Cheuse “possess an acute ability to create skeins of seemingly natural language that make up a world out of human speech” and also represent a special gift for create entire worlds through dialogue, as is readily manifest in “Hills Like White Elephants, (Cheuse).
Hemingway’s penchant for natural language and a “naturalistic” idiom comprises one elementary pillar of his narrative technique in “Hills Like White Elephants;” another key narrative strategy is the stripping away of expository writing, or the releasing of direct information to the reader which will help the reader to place the action of the story in context. Rather than weigh down the narrative with expository writing, Hemingway chooses to leave this story lean and bare, consisting primarily of conflict-charged dialogue between the story’s two main characters.
By refusing to included background information or even internal monologue on behalf of the two characters, Hemingway “leaves virtually everything, even what is at issue between the girl and the American, for the reader to “figure” out,” and this strategy includes the story’s final resolution: whether or not the girl in story opts to have the couple’s child or whether she chooses as is the man’s desire, to have an abortion. The lack of final resolution is notable enough that even critics are left to their own devices to decide what happens to finish the story and conclude the conflict between the two characters.
As one scholar commented, “the ending has seemed stubbornly indeterminate”; however, the same critic, Renner, has forwarded a compelling theory as to how the resolution of “Hills Like White Elephants” can be deduced from a careful study of its narrative form, imagery, and symbolism, (Renner) To begin an examination of the symbolism and other elements of the story, an explication of the title seems somehow perfunctory, and yet nevertheless, necessary.
Alex link points out that “In a North American cultural context, a “white elephant” is not only a rare and sacred creature, but also a metaphor for an expensive and burdensome property” and in the case of Hemingway’s story, the “white elephant” applies to the unborn child which has caused the conflict between the two characters, but in context with the word “hills” the title’s burdensome connotations are balanced by a gesture toward nature and organic wholeness, (Link).
The conflict implied by the title: the burdensomeness of something unwanted “white elephant” combined with the nature-symbol of hills suggesting rich and fecund fertility extends throughout the entire story, forms its basic thematic premise, and functions as a sort of “axis” by which the changing attitudes and evolving conflict between the characters spins.
In order to fully integrate the various levels of narrative along Renner’s theoretical line sin order to find the story’s true resolution, the piece must be examined from a formal perspective with due note given to its imagery and symbolism a well as the nuances contained in the story’s plentiful dialogue, (Renner) According to Renner, the story takes place in four distinct “movements” and these movements are the key components to understanding the resolution of the story.
Renner’s distinction of the four movements follows an ascending structure of character development and character conflict: “In the first movement we are shown the stereotypical passive female, not even knowing her own mind, accustomed to following a masterful male for her direction in life,” the next movement illustrates the girl’s character development toward “a dramatic realization of her own mind-her own welfare, dreams, and values;” by the third movement, the girl begins to assert herself, and by the fourth and final movement, “we see the result of her development toward self-realization” which Renner insists reveals, also, the actual conclusion of the story, (Renner). Throughout the four movements, Hemingway’s “naturalistic” dialogue propels the story’s conflict and also functions as an ironic demonstration of the banality which infuses everyday lives with a touch of the sinister; this sinister touch evolving from a power-struggle over mundane events and situations.
Hemingway’s “infantile repetitions of dialogue” actually reveals the more “sordid” side of human relationships, how the ordinary couches within it, a fierce struggle for domination and control, (Meyers 272). By paying attention to the “dialogue’s shuttling of advantage between the opponents” it becomes possible to trace the probable outcome of the conflict and also, the thematic undertones which Hemingway intends to forward by way of the story’s action and resolution. The struggle in the story becomes not merely the struggle to direct or control a relationship, but a struggle to define one’s self and defend (or impose) one’s subjective desires and ambitions over the world at large.
While abortion may stand as the overt cause of the conflict between the characters, “the man’s struggle to win Jig’s capitulation” is truly the center of the conflict. (Link) To extrapolate a probable resolution for the conflict in “Hills Like White Elephants” it becomes necessary to examine the conflict which lies under the overt abortion-question of the story. If the story is, indeed, about the “capitualtion” of the girl, then her refusal to capitulate is evident form the action of the story “As the more “grounded” of the two, she knows that the mechanical dilation of the cervix, causing the uterus to spontaneously void itself, followed by curettage, a scraping procedure, is far from “perfectly natural.
” Perhaps she is beginning to realize, at this point, that whether or not she terminates her pregnancy, they can never again be “like we were before,” and this realization is that what will be lost is already lost. The girl in the story, then, decides not to capitulate, to not have the abortion, (Wyche). To fully understand that the girl has not capitulated to the man in the story, is is necessary to embrace Hemingway’s use of narrative “silence” as a method for transmitting crucial information in his narrative fiction: “Silence–perhaps the ultimate nonverbal signal–often speaks loudly in Hemingway’s fiction and what is never uttered in the story is more important, in many ways, than what is said.
Because the girl never voices her capitulation, it can be concluded that she does not capitulate; rather the man in the story gives in to her desires, (Portch 91) When the girl says “Would you please, please, please, please, please, please, please stop talking,”‘ her victory is indicated. The abortion will not be performed and the realization of her independence form the man has been attained. In this way, Hemingway’s story reveals a feminine point of view and a feminine dominance which is usually not associated with his fiction, (Renner). Works Cited Cheuse, Alan. “Reflections on Dialogue: “How D’yuh Get t’Eighteent’ Avenoo and Sixty-Sevent’ Street? “. ” The Antioch Review Spring 2005: 222+. Link, Alex.
“Staking Everything on It: A Stylistic Analysis of Linguistic Patterns in “Hills like White Elephants”. ” The Hemingway Review 23. 2 (2004): 66+. Meyers, Jeffrey, ed. Ernest Hemingway: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge, 1997. Portch, Stephen R. Literature’s Silent Language: Nonverbal Communication. New York: Peter Lang, 1985. Renner, Stanley. “Moving to the Girl’s Side of “Hills like White Elephants. “. ” The Hemingway Review 15. 1 (1995): 27+. Wagner-Martin, Linda, ed. Seven Decades of Criticism. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 1998. Wyche, David. “Letting the Air into a Relationship: Metaphorical Abortion in ‘Hills like White Elephants’. ” The Hemingway Review 22. 1 (2002): 56+.