One of Hemingway's most notable and analyzed short stories, "Hills Like White Elephants," depicts an American couple going over a serious debate over some drinks in Spain. The man and woman do not bear names, an element very common in many of Hemingway's literature. They are essentially vagabonds, packing their lives up in a suitcase and traveling the world trying new things. During my freshman year of college, I had to analyze this piece for my professor in a very short essay. Here is what I believed occurred behind the scenes.
Emotionally speaking, “Hills Like White Elephants” at first seems calm, relaxed. A man and a woman, who seem to be together, were buying two drinks called Anis.
The first thing the girl notices is that the coloration of the hills made them appear to be “white elephants." The man obviously has not seen one before, since the coloration of that animal has never been recorded in history. As we get later in the story, we realize that the conversation and trip are more serious than previously thought.
The man talks about an “Awfully simple operation”. Upon hearing this, the girl becomes stressed, as if this was already mentioned before the story. They then go back and forth and the man doesn’t seem to appreciate that the girl is afraid to make the choice.
He believes the girl doesn’t have to oblige to the operation “if she doesn’t really want to” when really, the man wants the operation done. He wants to explore more, and he sees that not doing the operation would only hinder that. The man thinks they both can "have everything." Near the end of the story, suitcases with multiple hotel tags are noticed. The “White Elephant” now comes to play. The “White Elephant” term refers to an object that seems troublesome, however, very expensive and difficult to maintain or even get rid of.
All of a sudden, the operation makes sense. The operation is most likely that of an abortion.
Many interpretations of this short story can be made, but I hope mine can shed a little bit of light as to the overall concept of this sort story.
Feel free to read the full short story here.