Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills Like White Elephants.” 40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology,
Third Edition. Ed. Beverly Lawn. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009.
Summary of Work
A man and woman are waiting for a train in Barcelona and sitting in a bar. They order beers and then more drinks, and the woman comments that the mountains, white against the brown countryside, look like white elephants. The man is annoyed and they start talking about an unnamed procedure he would like her to have. From the context, readers assume this woman is pregnant and he is asking her to get an abortion. He keeps saying that he doesn’t want her to do it if she doesn’t want to, but it would fix all their problems and they would be happy again. She starts making comments about how maybe it would make him love her again. He insists he still loves her, but he just wants her. But if she wants to go through with it, he’ll let her. She makes a comment about how if she does it then they will be able to go everywhere and have the world, and he says that’s not true, but she doesn’t really listen. The bartender lets them know the train is five minutes out, and he moves their luggage and they move into the bar area where everyone is waiting for the train to Madrid.
Brief Note on Themes
This short story seems to highlight the rich, carefree expat life that this couple is having. It would seem they are American, and the idea of relationship identity and individual identity come to the forefront as they discuss what it means to be a couple versus single or being a family. Relationships, particularly sexual relationships, are key here because it shows what happens when unexpected pregnancy or similar factors are brought into a primarily sexual relationship. There is a communication breakdown or whole relationship breakdown because of the selfishness that comes with their identity. Male-Female relations are also part of it: it’s unclear of the entire dynamic, but it feels like he is forcing his will upon her even as he says he doesn’t care, particularly evident in her reaction. It is also unclear if she decides to have the abortion or to keep the child, but based on how much she is drinking and that they are still traveling, it seems likely that she’s just going to do what she’s told. Much as many of Hemingway’s female characters, they are poorly written or drawn as either stupid and easily swayed and careless or as mostly manly and vixens, she is the careless and stupid type. The short story itself functions on mostly dialogue and a minimalist sense of language. Most of the story goes on though implied context rather than explicitly stated.