Little Known Works of Famous Authors

John R Taylor

English 102


     The theme of Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants," can be misunderstood upon a casual reading.  It is not difficult to tell, even from the most superficial reading, that this is a story about lovers, and that there is a conflict between the lovers.  It at first seems that the major issue of conflict is over an abortion.  The man encourages the girl to have the operation, which he says is "really an awfully simple operation... it's not really an operation at all," (172), and it is apparent that the girl has agreed to go through with the abortion, but is having second thoughts.  But the conflict over the termination of the girl's pregnancy is not the theme of the story, but is rather the device Hemingway uses to reach the deeper conflict between the charters, and the true theme of the work.  Through his masterful characterization of the man and the girl the reader can see that the truth of the story is that all people change over time, and if relationships are to survive then they must also change.

     Although "Hills Like White Elephants" is a very short story in its actual length and in the time it covers in the charters lives, Hemingway develops the two main charters well.  The reader may not know how tall the man is or what color the girl's hair is, but he does know a great deal about their personalities.  The author used symbols as clues to give the reader an understanding of how the charters feel.  At almost the very beginning the girl says that the hills, "look like white elephants." (171)  The reader can not know at that point that the man will see the unborn baby as a "white elephant," but the subtle clue is planted.  Early on it is established that the man can speak Spanish and the girl cannot.  From this, and the fact that he knows what the drinks are, and she does not, it is inferred that the man is older and more experienced.  The girl is young, perhaps very young. 

     As the story progresses, the man's attention is focussed on the "simple operation," while the girl's is on "...what will we do afterward."  The man wants things to be the way they were, and at first she thinks she does too.  But during the 40 minute wait at the train station she begins to see the man in a new light.  She realizes that she has changed, and he has not.  She knows that even if she has the operation things can never be the way they were, and she would not want them to be even if they could be. 

     She would no longer be happy to "...look at things and try new drinks." (172)  She sees having the baby as having everything.  He sees the care free life they have hitherto lead as having everything.  He sees the abortion of their baby as, "...really not anything."  (172)  She sees that abortion as having it all taken away. (173)

     She knows, though he does not, that their relationship has come to an end.  Even without the pregnancy, they have grow apart. He has not changed, but what she must have in a lover has changed.

              Works Cited

Hills Like White Elephants

          Literature Structure, Sound, and Sense.  sixth edition

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