“Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway

HemingwayAlthough I’ve read Hills Like White Elephants several times, I decided to read it again, just because it’s short and it is such a great story. As I’m sure you know, the story is about a man and a woman discussing the possibility of getting an abortion, which is never overtly stated in the text, but only referred to as a “simple operation.”

The most fascinating aspect of this story for me is how the story unfolds through the dialog, which is extremely difficult to do. When I took Creative Writing in school, I struggled with dialog. Hemingway, though, really captures the feelings of the characters through what is said, and what is not said.

What caught my attention on this reading is the way that each character tries to figure out what the other wants and tries to demonstrate the willingness to go along with the others wishes. It creates a powerful back-and-forth tension, but in the end, nothing is resolved. They are left with the proverbial elephant in the room, which like the hills, obscures what lays ahead beyond the horizon.

There is a great passage where the couple discusses what might happen afterwards:

‘I’ll go with you and I’ll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural.’
‘Then what will we do afterwards?’
‘We’ll be fine afterwards. Just like we were before.’
‘What makes you think so?’
‘That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy.’

I get the impression here that the two are both desperately trying to lie to themselves, to make each other believe that if they go through with the abortion that things will be the same as they were before. Yet they both know that would not be the case. Whatever decision they make, whether to have the child or to get the “simple operation,” they both know that their lives and their relationship will never be the same.

This is a perfect “slice of life” short story and one I never tire of reading. If it’s been a while since you read it, or if you’ve never read it before, I encourage you to take 5 or 10 minutes to do so.

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