Essay on Setting in Hills Like White Elephants, by Ernest Hemingway

Essay on Setting in Hills Like White Elephants, by Ernest Hemingway

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In the short story by Ernest Hemingway, "Hills Like White Elephants," a couple is delayed at a train station en route to Madrid and is observed in conflict over the girl's impending abortion. In his writing, Hemingway does not offer any commentary through a specific character's point of view, nor, in the storytelling, does he offer his explicit opinions on how to feel or think about the issues that emerge. The narrative seems to be purely objective, somewhat like a newspaper or journal article, and in true Hemingway form the story ends abruptly, without the couple's conflict clearly being resolved. The ambiguity of the ending has been a subject of much debate; however, the impact of what is not said in words can be gleaned through the symbolism of their surroundings. Upon examination of the setting, the couple's final choice becomes instantly apparent.

As the couple waits between two destinations, Barcelona and Madrid, they are trapped in limbo "between two lines of rail in the sun"(142). The station, placed between the two lines of rails, suggest the two directions the couple may go - toward Madrid and the abortion or away from Madrid and to a family scenario. The landscape describes the conflict, both barren and fruitful. Alongside of one rail line long, white hills stretch across the horizon, the country before them "brown and dry" (143). In stark contrast to the desolate landscape of the hills, the other flank is lush and green, with "fields of grain and trees [running] along the banks of the Ebro" (145). This scenic dichotomy comes to embody the girl's sentiments regarding the abortion: the hills are barren, representing her life if she submits to her partners expressed desires and goes through with the abortion; while th...


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...ings from a metaphorical perspective. They are advised that the train will arrive in five minutes; meaning while they are at the height of their clash their decision must be made almost immediately. After a moment the American picks up "the two heavy bags and carried them around the station to the other tracks"(146) from their initial position on the side with the stark, ominous hills, thus signifying his affirmation of her wishes. He takes, what is to him the emblem of their past life together, his "baggage", and brings them to her side of the tracks, the side of life. They've both chosen the same direction in life. Though the text itself does not implicitly reveal their final decision, Hemingway's use of symbolism within the setting make their choice crystal clear: she decides not to have an abortion, and he, though not without staunch reservations, acquiesces.

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