Hills Like White Elephants Questions and Answers
by Ernest Hemingway

Hills Like White Elephants book cover
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In "Hills Like White Elephants," what is the tone of communication between the two main characters?

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Hemingway is quite skilled at developing a tone of communication between both main characters that displays an existence in different realms.  Both speak in what is almost dual monologue.  While they are physically together, it is evident through their tone of communication that they are emotionally distant.  This is evident from the first exchange between both characters:

'They look like white elephants,' she said.

'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.'

The tone between both main characters is reflective of existing on opposing planes.  Neither one of them is able to merge with the other.  Each exists on their own level.  One says that the mountains seems to appear in a specific manner, the other brings it back to themselves, and the tonal dynamic is one necessarily one in direct conflict, but rather on different planes of existence. This is further seen when the woman says, "You started it...I was being amused. I was having a fine time" and is further enhanced when he says, "Well, let's try and have a fine time."  This is the tone that underscores the decision to have an abortion.  There is never a tonal quality that reflects full understanding of the implications on either side.  The tone of communication between the two reflects how each of them is unable to embrace the other with full immersion.  The ending shows this tone in full bloom:

'Do you feel better?' he asked.

'I feel fine,' she said. 'There's nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.' 

Hemingway has created a tone where there is communication, but its core is one of emptiness because of the dual planes in which each lives in reference to the other.  This disconnect is the foundation of their relationship, something that is illuminated in the communication tone that emerges between both of them.

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