Psychoanalysis/ Analysis Of "Hills Like White Elephants" term paper 16900

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“Hills Like White Elephants”, by Ernest Hemingway, is a short story published in 1927 that takes place in a train station in Spain with a man and a woman discussing an operation. Most of the story is simply dialogue between the two characters, the American and Jig. This couple is at a critical point in their lives when they must decide whether or not to have an abortion. Certain themes arise from this story such as choices and consequences, doubt and ambiguity, and how men and women relate. Hemingway also uses many examples of symbolism in “Hills Like White Elephants”, including descriptions of the surrounding scenery, the hills themselves, and the station where the action takes place. Clearly, this short story crosses timelines to become relevant to both the early twentieth century and modern times.

The most obvious theme recognized early in this short story is that of choices and consequences. The couple is unmarried and the girl has become pregnant, but the man wants her to have an abortion. The American obviously believes that the abortion will free the couple from any responsibilities, which is what they have been experiencing before this turn of events (Short Stories for Students 158). The man also feels that the pregnancy is the only thing that has caused them to have arguments and become unhappy with each other in the relationship (Hamid 77). Clearly, the girl is reluctant in her decision to have the abortion. She feels that either choice she makes will not have much of an effect on their long-term relationship and hopes of finding true love and happiness (Short Stories for Students 158).

Another theme found in “Hills Like White Elephants” is that of doubt and ambiguity. Although the man tries to convince Jig that he knows the operation is safe, he may not know much about the operation (Short Stories for Students 158). Certainly the fact that abortions are not legal at this time in Spain is also playing on the girl’s mind (Short Stories for Students 159). The reader is also left with great doubt, as there is no resolution or decision given by Hemingway at the end of the story.

The final theme derived from this story is how men and women relate to each other. Most of Hemingway’s stories are masculine in nature, but “Hills Like White Elephants” shows the woman’s point of view as the more rational of the two (Short Stories for Students 158). The man is shown as being selfish and irresponsible by starting this relationship and then lacking the support Jig needs (Hamid 78). The American sees life as being very straightforward and rational, while Jig is considered to be romantic and living in an emotional world (Beacham 8). Clearly, these themes are still applicable in modern societies concerning this issue of abortion.

Hemingway uses many instances of symbolism in this short story to coincide with the themes and feelings of the characters, such as the description of the scenery surrounding the train station. On one side of the station there is vegetation and fields of grain, while the other side is dry and barren (Short Stories for Students 159). The fact that the station divides these contrasts of environments is a symbol for the couple’s decision. The choice to have the abortion symbolizes sterility, which coincides with the barren and desolate scenery, while the fertility of having the baby is seen in the lush forests and river on the other side of the valley (Short Stories for Students 159).

The hills themselves also offer some hints of symbolism in the story. According to Johnston, the white elephant is very sacred to the Burmese and Siamese in Asia. Just as the opinions of the white elephant are ambiguous, so are their thoughts on this unplanned child. The girl views having the child as a blessing and a great gift, while the American sees it as an expensive and burdensome obligation (167). Another use of imagery associated with these hills concerns the shape of a pregnant woman. Jig could be seeing the hills as a child bearing woman lying on her back with her belly and breasts swollen because of the pregnancy (Weeks 170). Clearly, the man and the woman view the hills very differently, coinciding with their opposing thoughts about the abortion.

The final example of symbolism used by Hemingway is in the different parts of the station. For example, the station divides sets of parallel tracks, and the river divides the sterile from the fertile land. Both of these instances describe the couple as being at a crucial juncture in their lives (Beacham 6). The beads are also very symbolic in the short story. One interpretation is that Jig is Catholic and the curtain is like the beads of a rosary, which she holds on to for some moral and religious support (Johnston 167). Also, the beads could just simply represent a dividing structure, such as the pregnancy is dividing the couple (Beacham 6). All of these uses of symbolism reinforce the thoughts and feelings of the American and Jig in the story.

This short story by Hemingway is a very powerful one that confronts a controversial issue without ever actually naming it. This proves that recognizing his use of symbolism and theme in simple dialogue is crucial to the reader understanding the underlying issues of the two characters. Clearly, Hemingway allowed this story to be open for discussion for many years to follow, allowing it to not only reflect the ideas of pre-World War II Europe, but to be adapted to the thoughts of modern societies.


Works Cited

Akers, Tim (Ed.). Short Stories for Students (Vol. 6). Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 1999. 158-170.

Beacham, Walton. Critical Survey of Short Fiction. Ed. Frank N. Magill. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, 1981. 6-8

Hamid, Syed Ali. “Men with Women: Hemingway ‘Love Stories’”. The Short Fiction of Ernest Hemingway. New Delhi: Ashish Publishing House, 1985. 77-78.

Johnston, Kenneth G. Short Stories for Students (Vol. 6). Ed. Tim Akers. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 1999. 167-168.

Weeks, Lewis E. Jr. Short Stories for Students (Vol. 6). Ed. Tim Akers. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 1999. 169-170.

Word Count: 937


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