illustration of train tracks with low hills in the background and one of the hills has the outline of an elephant within it

Hills Like White Elephants

by Ernest Hemingway

Start Free Trial

In "Hills Like White Elephants," why do you think Hemingway chose to tell this story as a dialogue between two opposing characters?

The narrator is telling the story as someone who is just observing and listening to the conversation. The man and woman are having a very heated argument. The man wants the woman to have an abortion and she does not want to. The man tries to convince her that it is best but she will not have it. The man then goes on about how he wishes things were different and that he did not love her and that he regrets having gotten her pregnant in the first place. She has no idea what to do because she does not want to have an abortion but she does not know if she can bring herself to have a baby. Which brings them back around to why they are there, overseas drinking at a bar.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Earnest Hemingway was well known for his “iceberg” writing style, where most of the meaning is “below the surface.” A modernist writer, Hemingway wanted to depict things as they really were without providing much interpretation for the reader; instead, the reader is to make meaning for himself. For this reason, “Hills Like White Elephants” is told from a narrator who seems to simply be observing a conversation between two people. Their conversation is much like a real conversation between two people who are struggling to communicate and understand each other. Much of what the characters really mean and feel is unspoken. Their conversation seems simple and mundane at the surface, but in reality they are discussing something that could potentially change their lives. The woman, Jig, and her boyfriend are discussing whether to have an abortion. When Jig says, “that’s all we do, isn’t it-- look at things and try new drinks?” she seems to be implying that she wants something more out of life, that their current way of living has become dull and meaningless to her. Throughout the conversation, it seems that she does not want to go through with the abortion,  but she never comes right out and says it. On the other hand, the unnamed man seems to want her to go through with the operation, but he never comes right out and says this, either. The narrator observes this conversation and this difficulty in communication without commenting on it, allowing the reader to take meaning for himself.



See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team