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The Criteria Of Short Story On The Example Of Hills Like White Elephants

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Short stories are known to go straight to the point, in other words there is no room for “sub-plotting,' “slowing developing tensions,' and for any kind of “byplay.” As it is stated in the Portable Literature: Reading, Reacting, and Writing, early on in history, short stories, being brief and having a theme, included anecdotes, parables, fables, folktales, and fairy tales. Within these types of stories, novelists had to use a short amount of word count to fit their whole story, stories ranging from two to four pages long.

Majority of the time for this same reason, writers had to keep it to the minimum when developing the plot or even characters, this led them to begin the story right on the turning point of an event or of a character. For an example, “Hills Like White Elephants,” by Ernest Hemingway published in 1927 is an example of a short story. William C. Hamlin, within “In Writing for Studies in Short Fiction,” explains his criteria of a short story, it being when the writer is trying to go to point A to point B with the “shortest time consistent with purpose and reason,” with this being said Hemingway’s story does meet Hamlin’s criteria for success.

Ernest Hemingway is a novelist who began his writing career right after high school, he started off as a reporter and later went into creating short stories. As stated in the Portable Literature: Reading, Reacting, and Writing, Hemingway based and created his short fiction stories from his own life experiences (74). He is the greatest stylist in the twentieth-century and was an expert in dialogue within his stories. The short passage from Hemingway, published in 1927, titled, “Hills like White Elephants,” is a great example for such expertise, the story was actually written as if the reader is actually eavesdropping on a conversation the couple is having. “Hills” actually starts off with introducing the location where the characters “the American” and “the girl” are located, location being outside at a table near a building. As it goes on, the narrator goes straight to the conversation that seems as if it were an unfinished topic they were discussing, the girl and the American’s conversation is about a simple operation that the girl is considering making.

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At the end of the story, Hemingway ends it with a cliffhanger leaving the reader questioning about what had just occurred. Many readers would argue that Hemningway did not follow Hamlin’s criteria of a short story. Not even a few lines into the passage Hemingway jumps right into the couple’s moment of tension. As the girl tried to avoid the topic, she had mentioned the hills looking like white elephants and the guy responded back by saying that he had already seen such an image. After having a small discussion on whether or not he had seen the white elephants he later responds with “‘Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything,’” within this line it is clearly stated that the man of the relationship is already feeling stressed out in regards to their current conversation and about the unfinished topic (line 12-13). The American then starts to act upon his feelings. The story continues with the dialogue between both characters leading it with more tension feelings between them. As it goes on, their problem was mentioned but in a sugar coated form for the reader. “‘It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,’ the man said,” here the reason for the tension was mentioned (line 42). They were not just having a regular conversation, but instead they were having a serious conversation about an operation the girl is planning to have, the operation being an abortion. However, the narrator, as noticed, does not state what the operation really meant. The word operation to the reader could simply refer to any type of surgery done. Therefore, readers are confused throughout the story. For this same reason, many readers do not consider this as a short story. To them the conflict is not clear enough. Going back, as mentioned before, a short story is going from point A to point B in the most quickly matter.

Grace Fleming an academic advisor and writer for ThoughtCo, states that short stories have to consist of the setting, conflict (being the most important one), and climax. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, conflict is defined as, “ to be different, opposed, or contradictory : to fail to be in agreement or accord” (2019). Meaning conflict could mean anything, such as, in this case the tension between both characters causing the couple to not agree on whether or not to follow up with such an operation. Fleming also mentions that tension within a story is very important due to it being created by the problem, not to mention it maintains the reader engaged throughout the story (2019). Within “Hills” it is quiet of a challenge to identify the conflict, the reasoning being that it is unclear. The narrator never specifies what he means by “operation.” But at the very end the reader is able to acknowledge the so called “conflict” being resolved. “‘Do you feel better?’ he asked. ‘I feel fine,’ she said.” this phrase being interpreted that after all the girl did consider the operation and had it done, meaning there was a climax to this short passage (line 109-110). With this being said, for many readers the conflict within “Hills” is unnoticed and the climax may leave them more confused than what they already are, making them believe that it does not qualify as a short story.

Overall, there are writers who make the conflict a mystery throughout the story to the reader, but it is all on them and how they interpret the text. With this being said “Hills Like White Elephants” by Hemningway is considered a short story. This passage contains what a short story consist of which includes the conflict and the resolution in the fastest way possible. Even though the context is complex it keeps the reader wondering and asking what the narrator’s point is which is what maintains a reader engaged.

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The Criteria Of Short Story On The Example Of Hills Like White Elephants. (2021, August 20). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 27, 2024, from
“The Criteria Of Short Story On The Example Of Hills Like White Elephants.” Edubirdie, 20 Aug. 2021,
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