What is the relationship of the couple in Hemingway's story "The Hills like White Elephants"?

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Answered by: Eva, An Expert in the Studying Category
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

him lead.

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.

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