Drama and Ambivalence in Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants”
Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants” has qualities in common with a play. It’s short, concise language reminds one of the brevity found in stage directions and dramatic dialogue. Essentially, Hemingway achieves, through language and narrative construction, the tone of a drama, playing on a sense of dramatic irony to reveal the essence of the white elephant between his lead characters. As to creating his tone one suited to the grand revelations and cathartic moments founding a drama, Hemingway pursues an inventive style.
His first and longest paragraph introduces the setting of the short story much as a narrator’s voice-over sets up the world of a play. The dialogue which follows is often not attributed to a particular speaker, engendering in readers a need for clarification. When the story lacks directions like “the man said” one whishes for dialogue lead-ins like [man] or [woman], preceding their dialogue. Moreover, as with reading a play, the dialogue drives the action towards revelation and catharsis.
One must read between the lines to discover that the couple, Hemingway’s principal characters, are discussing the merits of an abortion, which the male favors and the female feels a sense of ambivalence towards. Concurringly, Hemingway’s diction encourages the feelings of ambivalence as he juxtaposes images of barrenness almost in contradiction to those of fecundity. On one side of the couple are rolling, barren hills with no shade trees, or vegetation, importantly the side to which they are closest.
To the other side “[are] fields of grain and trees along the barks of the Ebro” (Hemingway, Ernest, 1927, page 1496). The female, whom the male calls Jig, keeps looking to the area of fecundity, suggesting she wishes to remain pregnant. The barren hills also suggest pregnancy but shorn of its obvious, visual fruits. Still, shoring up the feeling that one has just read a dramatic play is the dramatic resolution which one is driven to expect and misses altogether.
Arguably, there is a cathartic moment when the woman says she will scream an after which the man moves their luggage to the side of the train station where symbols of fecundity abound. He walks back through the beaded curtain to the female an readers may assume the abortion is now a non-issue. However, Hemingway is ultimately ambivalent in this supposed moment of revelation. After all the short story concludes with the couple still sitting at the bar in the train station, leaving readers to guess which train was ultimately taken, or choice made.
And with the issue of abortion, never directly mentioned, the white elephants continues to hover, unacknowledged between the author and readers as it does between the principal characters. In essence, Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “Hills Like White Elephants” uses language and tone to engender feelings of puzzlement, curiosity and ambivalence. Short concise statements, peculiarly shallow for a short story, hints that the author is experimenting with the dramatic form.
Observing the preponderance of questions, the dominant sentence form in the play, readers enter an atmosphere of inquiry that reflects the tone of Hemingway’s work and title, one of vacillation. The diction and dialogue of the character’s coupled with the setting depict a scene of irresolution, one where the impetus of the plot demands decisiveness, a confrontation with the ‘white elephant’ which paradoxically, never happens. Works Cited Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills like White Elephants”. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 4th edition. Houghton Mifflin:Sample Essay of AssignmentExpert.com