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Questions On “Hills Like White Elephants” By Ernest Hemingway Essay, Research Paper

Reading: Hills Like White Elephants/Ernest Hemingway

1. What are they talking about? (Evidence…)

The man and the girl are talking about getting an abortion.


the “white elephants”

~ White elephants are sacred in some countries, but usually a white elephant is not considered to be something good…the idea is that it would be really nice to own a white elephant, but once you get one it becomes clear that it has no real value and costs a lot to maintain…also, rulers of India often sent white elephants to those who they hated b/c then the person would be financially destroyed trying to maintain such a pricey (and sacred!) animal…

~ When the girl in the story is looking off at the hills, she sort of realizes that her relationship with the man is like a white elephant. On the surface, it’s fun and exciting, but when they hit this crisis, she finds that it has no really serious value. Or maybe it has more to do with the baby itself being a burden, I’m not sure.

~ But then again, could the white elephant could be something good? I think that the white elephants represent an ideal that is unreachable to the couple, a mythical perfection. Maybe seeing “elephants” in Spain represents an ideal that is impossible – and the fact that they are white represents a purity (virginity) that cannot be attained (gotten back).


~ It seems that although there is a lot of sugar in the drink, the flavor is surprisingly rather bitter…so it seems that what we expect is not always what we receive. The girl in the story seems to express the same sentiment…after waiting so long, the taste of absinthe is rather disappointing. As she tells this to her lover, I think she is also indirectly referring to life after an abortion. While an abortion is supposed to be simple and many people are happy after it, (like in the case with the absinthe) expectations are not always fully realized…just as we expect the taste of absinthe to be something incredible, it ends up tasting only like licorice. Likewise, just as the man assumes everything will be fine and normal after the operation, the girl hints that the outcome is not always as pleasant as we expect it to be.

2. What are their emotions?

I guess the man could be a bit more na?ve than the girl…but then again, maybe not…because he already knows it’s over and makes no pretenses about it. The reason that he doesn’t seem like he is too involved is because he has no illusions…kind of like the lost generation.

The girl seemed incredibly eager to please. Every question she asked was related to whether the consequence of what she did or was going to do would please her lover…it seemed that she longed for things to be like they were before-however they were before-although she knew that things would never be the same. He talks of the world being theirs; she claims that the world isn’t theirs anymore. I honestly believe that she was going to have the abortion for his sake.

Both of them are lonely and tired, though.

3. How does Hemingway convey these feelings? (Evidence…)

I kind of feel alienated from the characters…like, I can’t really “get into” them and relax…even when you have conversation, which usually relaxes you, you can’t relax b/c it’s so fast paced, back-and-forth, back-and-forth…

And then whenever there is going to be a confrontation between the two characters, it doesn’t occur, and you’re left feeling kinda unfulfilled. At the beginning you learn that these two are somewhat at odds. The girl points out that the hills look like white elephants, which is already a lonely thought, but the guy coldly responds that he wouldn’t know. Her response “no, you wouldn’t have” is returned with the snap, “just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything”. The words show that there is tension but it is the staccato style truly formulates the lonely emotion. These two are not only angry at each other, they are lonely and tired. Later on she tries to ease things by explaining why she said the hills looked like white elephants – and it seems like -a forced attempt – -but his response is only “Should we have another drink?”. The two characters are actually drifting apart while they are attempting to reconcile…to show this more thoroughly, Hemingway begins to shorten their speech near the end to the man replying to the desperate woman’s dreams with only a weak “no, we cant” several times. Again it is not so much what she is requesting but what the pace of the reading is that alienates the reader. In the end the girl wises up to the fact that the talking is getting them nowhere and she asks him to stop…Also, several simple words are constantly repeated…for example, the words happy and unhappy are repeated several times as well as the phrase “perfectly natural” or “simple.” The man says, “…It’s all perfectly natural” and later repeats, “And I know it’s perfectly simple”. The man’s failed attempt at reassurance through repetition clues you in that the operation may not be “perfectly simple” and that the couple may never be happy again…

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