In his story “Hills Like White Elephants”, Ernest Hemingway is careful to refrain from making any judgments with the narrator. There are virtually no adverbs in the story and most of the adjectives are either in direct quotes from the main characters or are neutral adjectives such as the descriptors of the beer as cold and big. By employing a neutral third person point of view, Hemingway effectively forces the reader to concentrate on the dialogue rather than descriptions of the scene or what the individuals in question might be thinking.
Instead of telling the reader how to react to the scene, Hemingway through his narrator acts as a casual observer with no vested interest in the topic. This is especially effective given the controversial nature of the conversation the two main characters are having. Hemingway’s narrator, as an observer of the scene, defuses the emotion of the impending abortion discussion by sticking completely to the facts. There is never a point in the story when the observer attempts to tell the reader how to feel about the couple or the discussion they are having.
In fact, it is only through the repetitive nature of the dialogue and the observer’s notes regarding the actions of each character that the reader is given any insight at all into the emotions of the characters and how they feel about the discussion. For example, rather than telling the reader that the girl is uncomfortable or upset by the discussion, the narrator tells us that after the man brings up the operation, “The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.
” This visual description of her reaction is much more effective and haunting than telling the reader that she is upset. The same is true earlier in the story when the girl and the man are first discussing their drink selection. Though later it will become clear that they are lovers and have traveled extensively together, the conversation is stilted and awkward, much like a conversation between strangers. Again, the narrator does not make these observations; he simply reports what he sees and allows the reader to make the distinctions.
From their discussion regarding the weather and the assertion from both the man and the girl that they should have “a fine time”, it is clear that neither is in fact having a fine time. It is equally clear later in the conversation that the girl is uncomfortable with the idea, but is willing to go through with it so that “then we’ll be all right and be happy. ” The point of view of the narrator does not require him to say that the girl is lying; it is evident in her repeated questions regarding their future happiness. The narrator maintains his neutrality throughout the story, never judging the topic or the people involved.
In fact, the reader knows very little about the characters as they are described only as the American and the girl, refraining from even a judgment on body type or hair color. By the continued use of neutral words, such as said and asked, the narrator makes no implications regarding what they reader should believe about the persons involved. There is no denotation that the woman is sad or fearful about the procedure made by the words of the observer. Instead, the entire connotation of the story is left to the mind of the reader.
By employing an almost journalistic style in writing the story, Hemingway forces the readers to become more deeply involved in the story, determining for themselves the meaning of every line. The reader alone is responsible for choosing to interpret what is said and what is unsaid in the conversation. This intentional distance created between the narrator and the characters draws the reader into the story more than if the narrator had known all and told the reader what to think. Instead, Hemingway has forced the readers to think for themselves.