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Ishan Sharma

Maria Ionita
The Short Story
September 26, 2014

Hills Like White Elephants A Close Reading


Ernest Hemingways narrative Hills Like White Elephants provides an
insightful commentary on the nature of human communication. The use of narrative
minimalism can be observed from the very beginning since the majority of the story
is told through the exchange of dialogue between a man and a woman. The reader
is kept in the dark, knowing very little about the nameless protagonists thus leaving
many details to be filled in by their imagination. The American and the girl with
him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building is the most detailed
description of their physical appearance given by Hemmingway (164). Minimal
details regarding the setting and events taking place in the story are provided; this
style is also reflected in the dialogue between the man and woman. The narrative
revolves around what they resolutely refuse to say (Gaunce et al. 164) thus
implying that the meaning of a conversation doesnt always depend on what is
being said.
Non-verbal cues can often hint at the meaning of a conversation, bringing
significance to the subtle actions of the speakers. It is obvious that the man and
woman are more than just friends; looking a little deeper, one can see their
relationship is under strain. This can be seen by their constant desire to drink
alcohol; Thats all we do isnt it-Look at things and try new drinks? the girl says
(Hemmingway 165). The exact cause of their problems is never revealed by

Hemingway, leaving more for the reader to discern. In my opinion, there is


dissatisfaction in the womans tone and they are using alcohol to avoid discussing
their issues. Following a brief, awkward conversation (mixed with drinks), their
problems start surfacing. Before the reader can realize the cause of their problems,
the conversation is interrupted Would you please please please please please
please please stop talking? the woman pleads (Hemmingway 167). Hemmingway is
trying to show humans inherent tendency to avoid confronting deeper issues during
times of vulnerability.
It is not just the woman who chooses to avoid the conflict, but the man as
well. The preface notes that Hills Like White Elephants was written after
Hemmingways first divorce (Gaunce et al. 164). I believe that towards the end of
the story the author is interjecting his own personal experiences; the American
man is actually a fictionalized version of Hemmingway himself. The narrative voice
that was missing for a majority of the story, now returns and takes the mans point
of view. Briefly abandoning the woman the man stands alone; here, the narrator
says They were all waiting reasonably for the train (Hemmingway 168). The word
reasonably implies that the man believes the woman was acting unreasonably. No
matter which perspective one takes, both parties are clearly frustrated. Even a third
party (such as the reader) can observe signs of distress within their relationship.
This is why Hemmingway chooses to omit the details of their relationship problems;
the cause of the problems is irrelevant. This story is not about what causes
problems, or why relationships end, rather he is painting the picture of a failing
relationship and showing how one looks. Through a great use of minimalism and
dialogue, Hemmingway depicts the importance of communication in a relationship,
or rather the lack of it.

Works Cited
Hemmingway, Ernest. "Men Without Women." The Broadview Anthology of Short
Fiction. 2nd ed.
Ed. Gaunce, Julia et al. Toronto: Broadview, 1990. 161-68. Print.