Critical Analysis on Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants

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The thing that makes, Hills Like White Elephants, by Ernest Hemingway such a powerful story is the subtlety with which it is told. Hemingway is commenting on subject matter which for the time would have been considered taboo, but does so without actually spelling it out for the reader. As the characters sit together drinking beer and talking, it becomes immediately apparent that there is something weighty between them and as the conversation continues, the reader can feel pressure building between the two of them. At this point, the source of the tension could be anything and the reader follows along expecting not only some kind of outburst between the man and the American girl, but also to find out what has caused the rift. At first glance the couple seems like any other, patiently waiting for their train. It is only when the American girl makes the comment, "No, you wouldn't have" (487) in response to the man's statement that he had never seen a white elephant, that we get the first implication of conflict. Her comment is laden with contempt, which the man's response seems to confirm; "Just because you say I wouldn't have doesn't prove anything" (487). As the conversation continues and we learn that the girl is going to undergo some kind of surgical procedure, it is the man's shocking indifference to her well being that affronts the reader. He continually tells her that the procedure is nothing to be scared of and that he knows plenty of people who have gone through it. Though he eventually tells her that he doesn't want her to do anything she doesn't want, it is hard to believe him. One gets the sense that she has only agreed at his instigation and now he is only telling her what he thinks he should and possibly what he th... ... middle of paper ... ...undertaking. If Hemingway had let the reader know what was happening from the very beginning, the story would have lost its punch and it would have been impossible to evoke the emotional response to the dialogue. As Readers we relate to the American girl precisely because the words are unspoken and because the way she responds to the man's comments clues us in on how difficult the situation is for her. Even if one didn't know what was going on, which is certainly possible on a first reading, Hemingway ensured that the reader would feel for the girl and know that whatever it was she was going to undertake, it would be against her will. Works Cited Hemingway, Ernest. "Hills Like White Elephants." Exploring Literature: Writing and Thinking About Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and the Essay. Second Edition. Frank Madden. New York: Pearson Education, 2004. 486-489.
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