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'hills like White Elephants' Ernest Hemmingway

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Hills Like White Elephants Ernest Hemingway

1. What are the two main characters actually talking about, and how do you know this?

The plot of Hemingway's 'Hills Like White Elephants' centres on a conversation held between a man 'The American' and a woman 'The Girl', whilst at a train station between two major cities in Spain. They are discussing an unplanned pregnancy. Although the words 'baby' and 'abortion' are purposely omitted from the discussion (to emphasise miscommunication) the author effectively conveys the subject through the use of symbolism and articulate dialogue. The dialogue suggests the man is pressuring the woman to have some sort of operation: 'It's really an awfully simple operation, Jig', he goes on to say: 'It's just to let the air in'. Powerful imagery, in particular the title, alludes to the nature of the operation. Hills are symbolic of a woman's body when pregnant, 'white elephants' personify the child. The American means for Jig, as he calls her, to have an abortion as he does not want to give up his freedom: 'I only want you [Jig]'. In his opinion, 'it's the one thing that's made us [them] unhappy.' The woman however remains ambivalent.

2. Comment on the significance of the title.

The title 'Hills Like White Elephants' is effectively a simile within a Symbol. In the story, Jig comments on the hills in the background: 'they look like white elephants'. On a literal level the hills probably do look like white elephants, contrasted against the barren land. Symbolically she is associating 'white elephants', a term used to describe a precious burden, with the hills, symbolic of a pregnant woman's stomach and swollen breasts.

Jig strengthens this association when she articulates: 'They don't really look like white elephants. I just meant the colouring of their skin through the trees'. The use of the word 'skin' in favour of 'hide' is significant, drawing a parallel between white elephants and the unborn baby. Thus, the distant hills become a symbol of her pregnancy - a precious gift to herself, an expensive burden to the man. The hills may also present as a physical barrier which the couple must face - the abortion.

3. How does Ernest Hemingway use writing techniques to communicate ideas and influence the reader's response?

Hemingway uses a variety of techniques, primarily dialogue, figurative language, characterisation and contrast, to affect the reader's response. The story is written in third person, the reader is, effectively, a 'fly-on-the-wall', observing a tense conversation held between a man and a woman. It is clearly implied that the conversation concerns abortion, however this is not the central theme of the text. 'Hills Like White Elephants' is a study of human communication (or lack thereof).

The author effectively uses characterisation to reveal the views of the couple, also establishing direct contrast. The man is appropriately named 'The American'. He is depicted as a domineering, rational, selfish character. The text refers to Jig as 'the girl', emphasizing her immaturity. Jig

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