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About How Hemmingway Used Three Literary Devices: Dialogue, Gestures and Symbolism

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Inside every man and woman, lies an internal struggle of what is right and wrong. Every person that has ever lived has had to decide who they are and how they will respond to tough times in their lives. A man named Eric, had to choose whether or not to steal in order for his little girl to live. This went against everything Eric had been raised to believe. His moral code was put to the test. He had to make a tough decision. Eric struggled with doing what was right in the eyes of the law versus saving the life of his child. In “Hills Like White Elephants”, Earnest Hemingway illuminates the internal struggles of making hard decisions alone by using dialogue, gestures and symbolism.

The first literary device Hemmingway uses to illuminate the difficulty of making hard a decision is dialogue. A dialogue is a literary technique in two or people are engaged in conversation with one another. Our dialogue starts with the American and the girl sitting in the warm shade next to the train station. From the very beginning the girl, is unsure of herself. ‘“What should we drink?” The girl asked’ (Hemmingway 1). ‘“Could we try it?”’ (Hemmingway 1). “”I don’t know”, the girl said. ‘“Is it good with water?”’ (Hemmingway 1). In these three dialogues all said by the girl, we see a girl completely unsure of herself and totally reliant on the American. The girl doesn’t make a decision.

She leaves everything to the American. There is a struggle here. The struggle is the girl is dealing with what we later find out to be an impending operation. The girl constantly refers back to the American. Jig, the girl, is dealing with a man who is indifferent and doesn’t seem all that concerned with her feelings. The American comes off almost selfish. For example, Hemmingway writes “”They look like white elephants,” she said. “I’ve never seen one,” the man drank his beer. “No you wouldn’t have.” “I might have, “the man said. “Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything”” (1). The dialogue suggest the girl is starting to change.

It’s almost as if she is realizing the American is not the all-knowing god she has made him out to be in her mind. “”Oh cut it out”. “You started it,” the girl said. “I was being amused. I was having a fine time”” (Hemmingway 2). The American and the girl argue. The girl is getting annoyed with the American. The struggle taking place within the girl starts to radiate out of her where now, instead of letting the American make her decisions for her, she has started to push back a little. An evolution has begun to take place. The girl is remembering she is her own person and must make her own decisions.

The second literary device the author uses is gesture. A gesture is defined as a motion made by the body to emphasize how one is feeling. Throughout this story we have watched the girl change and almost become independent. One of the gestures we read in Hemmingway’s work is “The girl looked across at the hills” (2). In looking across the scenery her mind is elsewhere. She is no longer all consumed by the American. She is finding independence in her thoughts. Hemmingway illustrates this again. “The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on” (Hemmingway 2). Again the American is talking to the girl and she is avoiding eye contact with him. She is no longer waiting on his every word. “The girl looked at the bead curtain,” (Hemmingway 2). The girl has begun to look to something else for her answers. The bead curtain has been there all through her story. She reached out and touched the bead curtain for the first time. Whereas her other gestures have all involved looking off in the distance or at the floor, this time she reached out.

The last literary device that is brought to our attention as Hemingway walks his readers through the internal struggle taking place is the symbolism in the first paragraph of the story. Symbolism is defined as taking a word to represent a thought, feeling or emotion. Hemingway writes “It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes” (1). The author makes reference to the number forty. Forty in this paragraph is symbolic of a struggle or a trial taking place. When forty is mentioned in reference to biblical times, we think of the rain that lasted forty days and forty nights during the great flood, Moses wandering in the desert with the children of Israel for forty years, Jesus’s forty days and nights spent in the desert being tempted by Satan, and among many others, the forty days and nights the Israelite spies spent checking out the promised land. In the forty minutes spent at the train station, we see a conversation and struggle develop between the American and the girl, known as Jig.

This is symbolic of Jig going through the struggle of trying to decide whether or not she wants to go through with the operation before her. Hemmingway writes, “The girl looked at the bead curtain, put her hand out and took hold of two of the string beads” (2). In some religious circles, beads are used for prayer. Each bead will represent a prayer to pray. People pray for many reasons. Most of the time however, people pray when they are going through something hard or they’re trying to make a difficult decision. Jig holding the beads is symbolic of her praying and asking for help to make a decision that she finds hard to make. With the symbolism of the forty minutes and Jig holding the beads, one could say that Jig is making one of the toughest decisions of her life. Her forty minutes are spent prayerfully thinking about the decision she will be making as soon as this “trial” is over, as symbolized by the forty minutes spent at the train station.

By using these three literary devices, dialogue, gestures and symbolism, Hemmingway shows us the journey of a young girl growing and changing while make hard decisions that should never be made alone. The thing about tough decisions is they should never be made alone. Jig goes through her “trial”. What is interesting to note is that closer to the end of her journey she reaches out and touches the beads. The bead curtain was there all through the story. Hemmingway mentions the bead curtain six times in this short work. One powerful line “The warm wind blew the bead curtain against the table” Hemmingway (2), really speaks volumes. The symbolism of the curtain is incredible. It represents God doing his best to get our attention. We just have to reach out and he will meet us half way. Jig’s answer was always present. She saw the curtain but couldn’t see it for what it was. Her answer.

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