What are the implications of the prominent dialogue in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"?  

Expert Answers

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

Hemingway's short story "Hills Like White Elephants" focuses on the dialogue between a man and a woman while they are waiting for a train. The dialogue at first appears to be innocuous small talk while the couple passes time waiting. However, their discussion soon turns to a more troublesome topic, revealing tension between the man and the woman that centers around a condition about which they clearly do not want to speak directly -- the woman's pregnancy.  

The initial dialogue between the man and the woman merely involves what they want to drink. While their conversation appears to be light and amiable, the woman makes an offhand remark about the hills they can see from their table looking like white elephants. His reaction to this remark reveals an underlying tension between them. This tension is further revealed when they discuss trying a type of drink the woman has never before tried. Although both the man and the woman claim they are trying to have a "fine time," the growing tension between them belies that stated goal. 

About halfway through the story, the man broaches the source of the tension between them:

"It's really an awfully simple operation, Jig," the man said. "It's not really an operation at all." 

The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.

"I know you wouldn't mind, Jig. It's really not anything. It's just to let the air in."

The girl did not say anything. 

"I'll go with you and I'll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it's perfectly natural."

After this exchange, the woman seeks assurance from the man that they will be happy after she has the procedure. She is not sure of this, so the man attempts to convince her. However, as the conversation continues, it becomes clear that the man is looking forward to a time when he and the woman can again be as they were before; he has no wish to share her with anyone, even their child. The woman, conversely, seems to be looking toward a future in which they have the child, and she is dismayed that it seems as if the child does not mean anything to the man. 

The story ends with the woman clearly telling the man that there is nothing wrong with her. From this, the reader may conclude that the woman has come to realize that her pregnancy is not a condition to be rectified, as the man seems to believe, but something more. We do not know how the man and the woman will resolve the differences between them, or even if resolution is possible, but we know that each seems to have come to a conclusion about how they wish to proceed. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial