Though they were close friends and influential upon each other, Hemingway and Fitzgerald can be considered, in some ways, opposites in terms of literary style. Fitzgerald writes poetically, with language that is often luxurious in its imaginative qualities, as in the opening of "Babylon Revisited" after Charlie Wales has just left the bar:
Outside, the fire-red, gas-blue, ghost-green signs shone smokily through the tranquil rain. It was late afternoon and the streets were in movement; the bistros gleamed. At the corner of the Boulevard des Capucines he took a taxi. The Place de la Concorde moved by in pink majesty; they crossed the logical Seine, and Charlie felt the sudden provincial quality of the Left Bank.
Yet the description of this aspect of the beauty of Paris also paradoxically conveys a forlorn, washed-out quality. For Charlie and his circle, who celebrated in the hard-partying, high-flying Jazz Age, Paris has now become a kind of ghost town. Fitzgerald conveys a tension between what was and what is by presenting images that are redolent of Charlie's past but now do not have the same meaning for him:
He was curious to see Paris by night with clearer and more judicious eyes than those of other days. He bought a strapontin for the Casino and watched Josephine Baker go through her chocolate arabesques.
In some passages, Fitzgerald directly juxtaposes these past luxuries with the fear and regret Charlie currently feels:
Zelli's was closed, the bleak and sinister cheap hotels surrounding it were dark; up in the Rue Blanche there was more light and a local, colloquial French crowd. The Poet's Cave had disappeared, but the two great mouths of the Café of Heaven and the Café of Hell still yawned—even devoured, as he watched, the meager contents of a tourist bus—a German, a Japanese, and an American couple who glanced at him with frightened eyes.
In other words, heaven and hell—as in the glorious past—are still beckoning the American expatriate, but they do not have the same allure for him any longer:
"You have to be damn drunk," Charlie thought.
On the other hand, Hemingway's style is stark and unadorned, unlike that of Fitzgerald. In Hemingway's prose there is little commentary: little elaboration beyond the simplest means of conveying a story-line. But this sparseness in itself creates tension. While reading Hemingway, one expects, or almost wishes, the characters or the narration to burst out with some revelation that never comes. In "Hills Like White Elephants," the man and the girl sit at the bar and drink, waiting for a train, while the prospect of an "operation" on her is almost casually mentioned by the man. Because this is mentioned so tersely, there is an inevitable tension that's palpable to the reader—a tension between the gravity of the situation and the bleak, sparse language used to describe it. Understatement is the hallmark of Hemingway's narrative technique. The title of the story—the almost bizarre idea of hills appearing as elephants—is symbolic of the presence of something in an apparently quiet and passive setting that has a quite different and deeper meaning than the stripped-down prose of Hemingway explicitly conveys to the reader.