Hemingway’s literary career began in the 20-ies of the twentieth century. It was a time of disappointment that followed the World War, the collapse of many hopes, time of the “lost generation”, which became the subject of novels by many writers. “Hills Like White Elephants” is a short story by Ernest Hemingway. It was first published in the 1927 collection Men Without Women.
The action of the story takes place in Spain, in the valley of the Ebro. Time of action is not named, but you can be almost sure that it is equal to the time of writing the story (1920). The day described in the story is extremely hot, and the valley doesn’t seem beautiful. Heroes of the story are a man and his girlfriend Jig, younger in age. The American and Jig drink beer and liquor, waiting for train to Madrid. Their conversation starts with a conversation about anything, but then they discuss operation and American persuades Jig to make this operation. Jig tries to argue but American doesn’t listen to her. Ultimately Jig agrees with the remark: “I do not care what will happen to me” (Hemingway 1998). She tries to turn the conversation to another subject, but the American continues to insist on this topic, because he is not sure in Jig’s decision and her state of mind. A few minutes before the train arrives, American carries bags, buys one more drink and drinks it. She smiles at him, says that she is great, and this is how the story ends. The fundamental problem of the text is the complexity of relationships between young people.
The phrase “white elephant”, which is present in the title and repeated in the text, is very capacious: it is said about something burdensome; the gift, you do not know how to get rid of; about property, which requires a wasteful care, but gives no benefit. The plot of the story develops in such a way that the word “abortion” is not pronounced; only the phrase “white elephants” appears in different situations, highlighting the different facets of its meaning. The style of the great writer, like the underwater part of the iceberg, hides not only the word “abortion”, but the fear of a young girl for her unborn child. Girl’s dream about the child is inextricably linked to her dream of happiness and family life. For the heroine, abortion is the collapse of last hope, leading only to continuing of a meaningless life. Hemingway skillfully draws whitening in the sun hills, scorched mercilessly scorching sun, the earth and the green fields and shady stream banks and moving cloud shadows.
These contrasting images are full of functional significance. These are the phases of girl’s states of mind, which is likened to scorched earth. At the beginning, a comparison of the hills with white elephant is admired by the girl. In the middle of the story, the image appears again, but this time it brings painful notes of doubt. In the final part, white elephants reappear, but the girl can only see how they go down in a parched valley. For the heroine, colors of the world and hopes for happiness die along with the dream of a child: they fade together. Decision to kill her unborn child turns into a profound psychological stress, she instinctively knows that she loses the highest value.
There appears the perception of futility, absurdity, emptiness of life, the sense of terrible spiritual poverty. She feels that life will become unstable, will lose stability, love will become heartless and she will become lonely. The place of genuine values will be occupied by fiction. How to exist in this world, how to find the real values of life, something you can not lose, what may become the main principle of life?
The writer asked himself many of these questions. He had a difficult life full of experiences and reflections. Catastrophic time of the World War I, revolutions and upheavals left the signs of fatality on life of Hemingway. Stay on the side of the Italian army, being war correspondent, boxer, bullfighter – does not it look like the banal experimentation? Of course, not. The desire to be kept at the limit, beyond which there is death, can be explained by the desire to create a real world in his works.
Many of his works, including “Hills like White Elephants” are imbued with the motive of pessimism, extremely unfavorable; the hero is in an atmosphere of suffering, inner emptiness, which is hidden under the external cynicism and indifference (Becnel 2008). Blood and suffering of World War I gave rise to people without feelings, people who saw their relatives and friends being killed, people who were looked after by the girls, sisters of mercy who perceived them not as men, but as a set of wounds, dirt and disappointment. The theme of “lost generation” has acquired the leading role in the works of Hemingway.
Consequently, the works of Hemingway are full of tragedy, which has filled the world of the writer. Atmosphere of despair and helplessness affects the mind. But I think Hemingway is not a conductor of pessimism, but a man who perfectly reflects reality, very successfully passing the atmosphere, mood and emotions. In real life you should never lose hope and faith. Probably we should see in his works behind the tragic figures and events, a hint for the future, for eternity, for happiness.
Becnel, Kim E., Bloom, Harold. Bloom’s How to Write about Ernest Hemingway. 2008. p. 159. Print.
Hemingway, Ernest. The complete short stories of Ernest Hemingway. 1998. p. 211. Print.