Much of the conversation seems to be about trivial things. What purposes does this conversation serve?"Hills Like White Elephants"

1 Answer | Add Yours

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

As is so typical of Ernest Hemingway's minimalist style, much of the meaning of "Hills Like White Elephants" comes from what is not said and what lies beneath the surface--his renowned "iceberg effect."  Often a second reading of his stories reveals more to the student since knowing the outcome assists in finding how it came about.  However, in this story, even the outcome is unresolved.

Nevertheless, it is this ambiguous conclusion that leads the reader to an understanding of the character of the man who is myopic in his relationship with Jigs, the girl.  For instance, while the couple are waiting for the train to Barcelona and sit at a table, Jig "looks off at the line of hills" and reflectively notes that they look like white elephants, but the man replies without interest without pausing in his drinking of a beer:

"I've never seen one," the man drank his beer.

"No, you wouldn't have."

"I might have," the man said.  "Just because you say I wouldn't have doesn't prove anything.

He becomes angered at the suggestion that he cannot expand his thinking, a contention made relevant in the ensuing conversation as Jigs tries to escape her thoughts by drinking absinthe, known for its psychoactive properties:

"It tastes like licorice," the girl said and put the glass down.

"That's the way with everything."

"Yes," said the girl.  Everything tastes of licorice.  Especially all the things you've waited so long for, like absinthe."

The man, "who lacks imagination" as a character from another of Hemingway's stories describes such a man, dismisses her reflections.  Likewise, he seeks to dismiss the subject of his desire for Jig to have an abortion so that they can " fine afterward.  Just like we were before."  Repeatedly, the man speaks of his concern for Jig--"if you don't want to you don't have to."  But Jig's knows that things will be different:

"...But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you'll like it?"

Another aspect that develops the meaning to the apparently trivial conversation is the few lines that Hemingway puts between this dialogue.  For example, towards the end of the story, the man tries to convince Jig by saying, "But you've got to realize---" and she abruptly responds with "I realize"; however Hemingway narrates that she looks across at the hills on the dry side of the valley and the man looks at her and at the table.  These actions of the girl and the man indicate their points of view on their serious topic.  For, Jigs sees beyond to a dry, dispassionate relationship, while again the man is myopic and selfish.  Thus, there is no resolution to their conflict since there is no change in character.

We’ve answered 317,779 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question