Hills Like White Elephants By Ernest Hemingwya

Essay, Research Paper

In "Hills Like White Elephants" Ernest Hemingway relies on symbolism to convey the theme of abortion. The symbolic material objects, as well as the strong symbolic characters, aid the reader?s understanding of the underlying theme.

The material objects that Hemingway uses to convey the theme are beer, the good and bad hillsides, and a railroad station between two tracks. The beer represents the couple?s, "the American" and "the girl?s", usual routine activity they do together. This bothers the girl because "that?s all [they] do ? look at things and try new drinks." This shows that the girl is tired of doing the same thing and wants to do something different, like having a baby and a family, instead of fooling around all the time. She wants to stop being a girl and become a woman. Hemingway then presents the reader with two contrasting hills. One hill on one side of the station is dull, desolate, and barren; "it had no shade and no trees", very desert like. However, the other hill on the other side of the station is beautiful, plentiful in nature, and had "fields of grain and tress along the banks of the Ebro River." Also on each side of the station where each hill is, there is a train track. These objects are symbolic devices prepare the reader in realizing that the characters are in a place of decision. The railroad station is a place of decision where one must decide to go one way or the other. The tracks symbolize either decision that the girl must make. By the looks of the environment around each track, it is clear what kind of destination each track leads to. This proves that the girl must decide whether she wants her body and life to become barren and desolate or plentiful and beautiful. If she chooses abortion, then, of course, she will choose the track with the desolate hills because her body will become a barren desert where no life will abide. On the other hand if she wants to have the baby, she will choose the track which is surrounded by the plentiful and beautiful hills, because her body will be a genisis. Either way, this clearly conveys the theme of abortion by showing that the girl must make a life or death decision.

Along with symbolic objects, three symbolic characters further develop the theme of abortion. The three characters are "the girl", "the American", and "the woman." The girl symbolizes youth, innocence, and naïvety. She is ignorant to her final decision of having an abortion, because she is so young and is still in the prime of her life, experiencing new things everyday. Hemingway uses her to show a young pregnant girl trying to decide if having the baby will ruin her youthfulness, ruin her relationship, or in contrast make her a woman. She is getting tired of the same old routine, mentioned before, so her choice is to do something different, to have the baby, to become a woman, and leave her childish ways for good. The only thing that stands in her way of her decision is "the American." The American symbolizes an individualist who wants to do things his way. Usually Americans have a laid back attitude and don?t want to mess with anything complicated, as does the American in this story. The American supports the theme by opposing the girl and saying that the baby "is the only thing that bothers" them. He talks of a certain simple "Operation" in which the doctors will simply "let the air in." "The American[?s]" talk of the "Operation" further justifies abortion as the theme because the doctors putting the air inside of her, referrs to taking a fetus out of her womb. The man is more concerned with the effects of the baby ruining his life more than hers due to the fact that the man says the baby is the only thing that "bothers [them], when in actuality the woman approves of the baby. This also proves the "Operation" is an abortion because the usual case of abortions is: a woman gets pregnant, then the man gets scared, and tells the woman to get an abortion because the baby will ruin both of their lives. Next is the character of the woman who shows contrast, and supports the qualities of "the girl". She is called "the woman" because she is older, and the reader is to assume, wiser, and experienced. The "girl" talks about "having a fine time" and "trying new drinks" which shows that she is still young, living a life of ease, experiencing a lot of things, where as the woman brings these "new drinks" to the girl. This displays the woman as mature, older, and experienced because she is working instead of "trying new drinks", and "having a fine time." She is no longer yound leisurely trying new drinks, she is working trying to earn a living. She is an indirect supportive device of the theme in that she the opposite image of what the girl is. The woman further defines the symbolic qualities of the girl, in other words.

In conclusion, the theme of abortion is conveyed accurately by Hemingway and is done very well. This reader believes that because of the strong symbolism in the characters, as well as the material objects, the theme was conveyed to the audience with entertainment, ease, understanding, and brilliance.


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