Hills Like White Elephants Analyze Literary Works Essay

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Hills Like White Elephants

analyze literary works week's readings, completing: Explain literary work captured interest, terms concepts text support explanation. Describe analytical approaches outlined Chapter 16, details text support interpretations.

"Hills Like White Elephants:" Using dialogue to advance a story

Ernest Hemingway's short story "Hills Like White Elephants" is a spare, poetical tale told almost entirely in dialogue. The plot of the story is simple -- a man and a girl are traveling through Spain. They are both lovers. The girl is pregnant and the man is pressuring her to have an abortion. By the end of the story, the reader is certain that the girl will get the abortion but the relationship is permanently soured. This is revealed gradually, over the course of the couple's rather elliptical dialogue. By stressing the dialogue between the two characters and keeping description at a minimum, Hemingway is able to bring the lack of communication between the two characters to the forefront of the reader's consciousness.

"Effective dialogue works by implication. The tone of a comment or the choice of words or the hesitation with which something is said can indicate that beneath the spoken words there is a feeling very different from what the words seem to express" (L'Heureux 2011). The reader is immediately struck by the unusual subject matter of the man and the girl, after they order their drinks. "They're lovely hills," the girl says. "They don't really look like white elephants. I just meant the coloring of their skin through the trees." The term 'white elephant' is often a synonym for something false, and the girl's words seems to temporarily suggest that she is confused between the simile she is using to describe the elephants and the reality of the hills in the distance. Hills cannot have 'skin.

This confusion implies that the relationship between the girl and the man lacks substance and reality. What the girl believed was a 'real' relationship has been revealed to be a lie and a performance. "That's all we do, isn't it -- look at things and try new drinks?" says the girl. The emptiness of their lives is communicated by the symbolic heaviness of their bags and the "labels on them from all the hotels where they had spent nights." The man and the girl have evidently been traveling a great deal and spent nights together but they do not seem to know one another. The confusion about the comparison the 'girl' makes about the nearby hills looking like white elephants become symbolic of the confusion of their relationship and the miscommunication that is characteristic of it.

The fact that the couple's first actions revolve around drinking suggests a need to forget rather than remember the reality they inhabit. The two of them engage in pointless debates, such as about the 'white elephants' of the hills and alcohol. From their first exchange onward, the dynamic inherent in the relationship becomes apparent: she lacks a sense of autonomy, is possessed of precious little will, and looks to her partner to make the decisions. He wants a drink, and coaxes her into ordering the beers he wants. "Although she is perfectly willing to have him make the decisions, whether about drinks or abortions, he needs to believe that she is actually taking part in the decision-making process at the same time as he prevents her from doing so" (Lamb 1996: 469).

Over the course of the tale, "he tries to make peace and, for the moment, succeeds. They repeat this sequence -- make nice, make quarrel -- as the dialogue gradually.....

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