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What is the story "Hills Like White Elephants" about?Why was it so hard to figure out...
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High School Teacher
"Hills like White Elephants" is about one complex thing primarily - a relationship that has become tense, complicated and distressed by pregnancy. However, as much as "Hills like White Elephants" is about pregnancy, it is also about how two people deal with the prospect of pregnancy.
The man suggests an abortion and the woman worries that this will ruin their relationship. The disagreement between the two characters as to what the best path of action might be is dramatized by the position of the characters at the end of the story with the man standing alone on the far side of the train tracks with the couple's baggage.
The division and disagreement over what to do about the pregnancy is the primary conflict and subject of the story, but alongside this conflict is a sentimental agreement. Both characters would like things to go back to being the way they once were, before the pregnancy. Something has been taken from both of the characters which each treasured and enjoyed. Sitting in the station, waiting for the train (and the scheduled/inevitable future), the couple share a significant regret.
Posted by e-martin on January 6, 2012 at 12:22 AM (Answer #1)
Your question is "Why is it so hard to figure out what this story is about?" It is hard to figure out because Hemingway wrote at least some of his stories in what is often described as a minimalistic fashion. He wanted to leave out as much detail and exposition as possible. He places the reader in the position of an onlooker and eavesdropper. The reader is forced to guess what is going on between the two main characters. Their conversation is not providing a whole lot of clues because, for one thing, they are discussing something that is secret, personal, and illegal. What is obvious is that the man wants the girl to have an abortion and that the girl wants to keep her baby. They are in a desolate setting, and this setting seems to symbolize the state of their relationship. This is an old, old story. It resembles the story of Adam and Eve at the point in which they are being evicted from the Garden of Eden. Unless we feel the emotions that are going on within these two characters, we cannot understand what the story "means." We should pity the poor girl who doesn't want to have her baby torn out of her body but who can't go ahead and have the baby unless the man agrees. We can understand that her having the baby means that the man will have to give up his freedom, his dreams, and become a wage slave. ("Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life." Genesis 17) They have evidently been making passionate love all over Europe, but nature evolved that passionate love for the purpose of procreation. They are torn by many different emotions, and one of them is a terrible fear of the unknown. Life has suddenly stopped being a pleasure tour and has become very serious, like the junction in that godforsaken landscape with the bleached hills in the background. But this is what happens to millions of young men and women when they are carried away by love and passion before they are ready to accept the responsibilities of parenthood. Hemingway was not about to offer an easy answer. There is no easy answer.
Posted by billdelaney on July 10, 2012 at 11:45 AM (Answer #2)
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