By Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
A Study Guide
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2008
Type of Work
......."Hills Like White Elephants" is a short story that observes the classical unities--that is, the action follows a single storyline (without subplots) that takes place in one place on a single day.
......."Hills Like White Elephants" was first published in Paris in transition magazine (spelled with a lower-case t) in August 1927. In October of the same year, Scribner's published it in New York as part of a Hemingway short-story collection, Men Without Women.
.......The action takes place in the mid-1920s at a train station in Zaragoza, a major city in northeastern Spain on the Ebro River. Zaragoza is approximately 170 miles northeast of Madrid. The region around Zaragoza receives scant rainfall. The greenery observed by Jig may have flourished through irrigation.
Jig: Woman traveling
in Europe with a male companion. The author does not disclose whether they
are single, engaged, or married; however, it appears likely that they are
girlfriend and boyfriend.
Narration, Style, Unanswered Questions
.......Hemingway wrote “Hills Like White Elephants" in third-person point of view that limits the narration to what the characters say and do; it does not reveal their thoughts. Hemingway's style—developed in part when he worked as a newspaper reporter and correspondent early in his career—is simple and compact, with short sentences and paragraphs devoid of verbosity. Adjectives and adverbs are few. However, this straightforward style, which he used in all his major novels and short stories, often conveys complex themes and suggests—but does not explicitly state—motives, mind-sets, attitudes, and so on. In this respect, Hemingway is imitating life, for seldom do two interacting human beings—for example, you and your teacher, you and your spouse, or you and your boss—know each other’s intimate thoughts. You usually must guess at what he or she is thinking; you must interpret. Among the questions the narration does not answer are the following:
Confronting the Future
and the American have been traveling in Europe from hotel to hotel in pursuit
of pleasure. However, at Zaragoza, Jig expresses dissatisfaction with their
nomadic existence, especially now that she is pregnant. For her, Zaragoza
represents a moment of truth, a crossroads at which they must confront
their future. She apparently wants to have the baby and settle down to
a normal life, symbolized from her perspective by the greenery and thriving
grain fields on one side of the station. He wants her to abort their baby
so that they can continue their adventures. Carpe diem!—seize the day!—that
is his rule for living.
Inability to Communicate Effectively
.......Jig and the American have difficulty articulating their feelings. Rather than bluntly stating their views, they imply, hint, euphemize. In the end, their conversation frustrates Jig, who tells the American, "Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?"
.......The man appears to be manipulating Jig in order to perpetuate a lifestyle in which she is a convenient outlet for his libido. He is even willing to sacrifice a human life, Jill’s unborn child, so that he can continue their joyride.
Too Much of a Good Thing
.......The ancient Greeks had a saying: "All things in moderation; nothing in excess." But Jig and the American have apparently been living a life of excess. Consequently, life is no longer fun for Jig. When she samples a strong and dangerous liqueur to try to revive her interest in their great adventure, she says disappointedly that “everything tastes like licorice. Especially all the things you’ve waited for so long, like absinthe." Clearly, she is ready to abandon their dissipated way of life to settle down.
Evasion of Responsibility
.......The American seems unable to accept responsibility, for whatever reason. Rather than facing the challenges of normal life, he continually puts them off.
climax occurs when Jig ends the conversation, saying, "Would you please
please please please please please please stop talking?"
White Elephants: From
the perspective of the American, one of the hills resembling white elephants
is the enlargement of the uterus that is becoming, or will soon become,
evident as Jig's baby grows. A white elephant is a largely useless object
that may be expensive to own and maintain, according to one of its definitions
in standard dictionaries. From the perspective of Jig, one of the hills
may represent the lifestyle of her and the American.
.......Ernest Miller Hemingway (1899-1961) was an American writer of novels and short stories. Before turning to fiction, he worked as a reporter for the Kansas City Star and served as a First World War ambulance driver before enlisting with the Italian infantry and suffering a wound. After the war, he worked for the Toronto Star and lived for a time in Paris and Key West, Fla. During the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War, he served as a newspaper correspondent, then lived in Cuba until 1958 and Idaho until 1961, the year of his death by suicide. His narratives frequently contain masculine motifs, such as bull-fighting (Death in the Afternoon), hunting (The Green Hills of Africa), war (A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls), and fishing (The Old Man and the Sea). All of these motifs derive from Hemingway’s own experiences as a traveler and an adventurer. Arguably, he was a better short-story writer than a novelist, although it was his longer works that built his reputation.
Study Questions and Essay Topics
1. Does Jig love the American?
Does he love her?