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Hills like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway: Short Story Analysis

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The short story, “Hills like White Elephants”, is unlike any normal story. This story lacked the typical foundation that a normal story might have: a beginning, middle, and end. This short story describes a discussion between a man and a woman, which leads to no real ending. Ernest Heminway, the author, included enough information into this story so that the reader could form their own conclusions. Hemingway’s life was not a walk in the park. He had many unfortunate experiences and misfortunes throughout his life, which had an influence on his writings. Hemingway’s experiences in war and relationships throughout his life had a tremendous impact on the story of one of his famous writings, “Hills like White Elephants”.

Ernest Heminway began his writing career at a young age. He started out as a newspaper writer for his high school and eventually accepted a job for a highly respected newspaper company after graduation. During this time period, World War 1 was taking place. Hemingway took a huge entrist in this war and attempted to enlist in the army. After being declined the opportunity to fight in the front lines, he accepted the duty of being an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. Hemingway was shipped to Italy, where he began his service. During his service to the Red Cross in WW1, Hemingway fell in love with a nurse who ultimately left him for another man. This unfortunate experience influenced the storyline for one of his first major stories, “A Farewell to Arms”. Hemingway’s unlucky turn of events with the nurse, began a journey of failing marriages, cheating, and divorces.

After returning from the war in 1919, Hemingway met a woman named Elizabeth Hadley Richardson. They eventually got married and moved to Paris. During Hemingway’s time in Paris, he joined a community of famous writers, such as Pablo Picasso. In this community, Hemingway learned and unique style of writing that involved communicating factually while limiting the amount of adjectives used. This style of writing is known as “minimalist” writing and became very popular in literature. Hemingway used this style of writing in almost all of his stories throughout his life, including “Hills like White Elephants”.

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In 1926, a tragedy occurred that changed Hemingway’s life forever. His father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway, was reported dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Hemingway blamed his mother for his cause of death, however it was later discovered that his father suffered from depression. His father’s death created a level of hatred towards his mother that remained for the rest of his life. This misfortune haunted Hemingway for the rest of his life, and influenced his future writings in a more depressing manner. He even admitted to considering in following his father’s foot-steps at some point in his life.

During Hemingway’s first marriage, he met another woman by the name of Pauline Pfeiffer. They were originally just friends at first and Pauline had no interest in Hemingway. Later they both fell in love, which created an issue. Hadley soon found out about Hemingway’s affair and made a deal with him to have a divorce. This divorce would only happen under one condition, which was that if Hemingway still loved Pauline after being separated for 100 days then they can have the divorce. This agreement affected Hemingway’s life and his works. After the separation was over, Hemingway and Pauline still loved each other and ended up getting married. During the early stages of their marriage was when Hemingway wrote “Hill like White Elephants”.

These experiences that Hemingway faced in his relationships throughout his life negatively influenced one his famous short stories, “Hills like White Elephants”. This story is about a man and a woman who argue about having an abortion. The man continues to persuade the woman to have the operation, however the woman remains passive about the decision. This storyline acts as an allegory for the problems that Hemingway was facing during his first marriage. Hemingway’s first wife, Elizabeth Hadley, was pregnant with his child and he believed he wasn’t ready to have the child. Hemingway attempted to follow through the same actions as the man in the story was doing. He believed that if he had this child, he would miss out on the traveling and hobbies that he was currently enjoying.

The setting of this short story is very important in the sense that it presents the reader the severity of the problem the couple is facing by the actions that are taking place. The story begins with the couple engaging in a conversation at a train station cafe. The man suggests in the first paragraph that they request for some beer. The couple could have requested for any beverage, however they asked for alcohol. Then they clarified on the size of the beer they wanted as “big ones” (1032). This acts as an indicator that the couple is dealing with a serious situation. They even ask for more later on in the story. When people drink beer, especially multiple servings, they usually do so because they are trying to cope with their problems. In relation to the author, he was known for being an alcoholic.

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Hills like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway: Short Story Analysis. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from
“Hills like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway: Short Story Analysis.” Edubirdie, 18 Mar. 2022,
Hills like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway: Short Story Analysis. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 6 Jun. 2023].
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