In the short story "The Hills like White Elephants", Ernest Hemingway examines the relationship of the couple that is
waiting for their train in the dusty hills of the Spanish countryside. Hemingway refers to them as a man and a girl, which
are the roles they take in the relationship. The nameless man is in charge of the situation, choosing what they drink and
where they wait for the train. The girl, deferring to his choices by assuming ignorance, shows that she is willing to let
The story is set in a nightmarish landscape: hot, dusty, remote, impersonal. The train tracks and hot wooden porch on which
the couple sits do not allow for excesses of emotion. They are removed from society and, for the brief undefined time, are
left to face each other across the table. Even the woman who brings them their beers is not personalized or individualized.
She is simply a pair of hands bringing drinks and can shed no insight on the relationship of the couple.
Although it is never explicitly stated, the couple is discussing the girl's impending abortion. She is hesitant to proceed
with it but the man impersonalizes the operation, describing it as merely letting in a puff of air. The girl is too
innocent to question him; she simply wants their relationship to return to the way it was before her pregnancy. She used to
amuse him by providing simple, even inane, conversation about their lives together. The reader gets the sense that she was
deluded by his promises of love, which for him are only a passing fancy. While they drink their beers, she refers to the
dusty hills as white elephants. This seems to be the type of thing that amused him in the past but now she has to repeat
herself, petulantly, before he acknowledges that she spoke. She can only attribute this change to the news of her pregnancy
rather than to a seismic shift in their relationship. With heartbreaking naivete, she believes that the man will again pay
attention to her once she has undergone the abortion.
Throughout the short, poignant story, the prominence of objects shows the man's true feeling toward the girl. Hemingway
focuses on the glasses of beer, the felt pads on the table, the painted bead curtain to explain the relationship of the
couple, rather than on the characters' faces or postures. His emphasis on objects shows the man's way of looking at the
world, impersonally and removed from it, including his emotional removal from the girl who desperately wants his love. In
that subtle shift, Hemingway conveys the ending to the reader before the ending arrives.
Hemingway makes the reader an equal character in the story because he explains so little. The reader must enter into the
story with an equal share as the characters - which is fairly little. The man's distance from the girl is quite obvious
although she refuses to acknowledge it. Her own naive hope that the relationship will work out is another sign that it will
not. The reader must contribute some of his or her own emotion into the story to be able to understand the shallowness of
the couple's relationship and, in the end, its utter failure.