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“Hills Like White Elephant” by Hemingway

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In order for a writer to make his readers understand the hidden meanings of events, literary techniques such as characterization, point of view, symbolism, setting and them must be present. “The serious writer’s goal is not to tell us a story, to entertain or to move us, but to make us think and to make us understand the deep and hidden meaning of events.” This quote by Maupassant reveals why Hemingway, the author of the short story “Hills Like White Elephants,” and Russell Banks the author of “Blackman and White woman in a dark green Rowboat” use literary techniques.

Ann Charters says in appendix III of “The Story and Its Writer, in all successful fiction characters come alive as individuals. They must materialize on the page through the accumulation of details about their appearance, actions, and responses, as seen, heard, and felt physical realities.” Hemingway in “Hills Like White Elephants.” tells us little about the physical appearance of the characters, Jig and her boyfriend. We do not even know the first name of the man. The lack of physical details about the characters makes them less than flesh and blood to most readers. However Hemingway is able to reveal the figure of his characters through their thinking. For instance, Jig boyfriend says “But I don’t want anybody but you. I don’t want any one else” This shows how Jig’s boyfriend like most young guys is not ready to keep up with the responsibilities of pregnancy. Unlike Hemmingway, Banks gives the physical details about his characters. He describes the Black man as tall, slender and muscular. He also describes the white woman as a girl, “actually, twenty or maybe twenty-one”. Like Hemmingway, Banks’s characters remain anonymous. This allows the reader to understand the meaning of the story through the character’s thinking.

We often discover we are familiar with certain ideas expressed in novels or short stories. However the way in which different writers express these ideas makes a great difference. Sherwood Anderson says, “Perhaps one wanted to throw an altogether new light on a tale the audience already knew”(1453). Point of view refers to the author’s choice of narrator for the story. Hemingway uses an objective point of view in “Hills Like White Elephants.” Hemingway’s use of this kind of point of view in depicting the conversation between these two couples helps the reader to connect more to the incident narrated. In this view, the characters are concealed.

The text contains no commentary or interpretation from the author. This point of view gives a real life feeling to the fiction. Furthermore, this technique forces the reader to read between the lines and participate more fully in the story in order to make sense of what the fictional character cannot allow themselves to feel or say about their situation. Since this point of view tends to leave the reader with very little in the way of background information, or context, they are not able to make inferences about the story and its’ characters. The reader must then make his or her own conclusions.

Similarly, Banks uses an objective point of view in “Blackman and White Woman in a Dark Green Rowboat.” The setting action and dialogues are laid out on the page without the narrator’s comments or the character’s reflection. Like Hemmingway, Banks leaves his readers to make their own conclusions. For instance, at the end of the short story, “[the] man’s back was to the trailer park, and the girl was facing it, looking grimly past the man toward the shore.” The reader can then deduce that the man had moved on with his life whilst the girl is stuck in poverty living in the trailer park.

According to the “Elements of Fiction,” a literary symbol can be anything in a story’s setting, plot, or characterization that suggests an abstract meaning to the reader in addition to its literal significance. The train station and its surroundings are very symbolic in Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.” The station represents the choice on whether or not to have the abortion. There is also a set of tracks on either side of the station, each representing one of the choices. Russell Banks uses the technique of symbolism to show what the couples have to go through if they keep the pregnancy. However In “Blackman and White Woman in a Dark Green Rowboat” Banks use the dark green rowboat to stand for the journey that lies ahead of the couple if they are to have the baby.

Green is usually interpreted to mean good pastures or fertility but it is contradicted by the word “Dark” therefore giving the reader, the impression that, the couples would not succeed in their search for greener pastures if they are to have the baby. Despite the keen similarity between the two short stories, Banks’s story adopts more allegorical techniques than Hemmingway since the characters: place, things and events in Banks short story represent symbolic qualities and have fixed meaning.

Setting is the place and time of the story. Guy De Maupassant in “The Writers Goal” states that “He will show how minds are modified under the influence of environmental circumstances, and how sentiments and passions are developed.” To set the scene, the writer attempts to create in the reader’s visual imagination the illusion of a solid world in which the story takes place. Hemingway’s uses a train station as a setting. On one side of the station, there is a green landscape full of grain fields and trees. A river runs in the foreground of some tall mountains. This side of the stations suggests the choice of going through with the abortion. Presently, the couples are able to travel around the world, partying, drinking, staying in hotels, and seeing all the beautiful places in the world.

They are not burdened with any responsibilities in their lives. With an abortion they could continue their fun-filled, although meaningless, existence. The dry and bareness of the other side of the station suggests to the reader the kind of life the couples have to lead if they keep the baby. There are hills in the distance that have a whitish color as the sun radiates on them. The woman said, “They look like White Elephants” (653). White Elephants are known to symbolize unexpected gifts, which is exactly what the baby would be should they choose not to have the

The setting is important since fertile and barren have two distinct meanings; fertile meaning the ability to reproduce or abundance of vegetation and bareness being the opposite. The setting represents each choice and its consequence. Like Hemingway, Banks also uses the setting of “Blackman and White Woman in a Dark Green Rowboat” to furnish the location for the world of feeling. A beach shore with August heat wave, trailer parks, people sitting on the shady side of their trailers to read, thick still air with people smoking joints. This gives the reader the impression that this society is a poverty stricken place, under intense pressure.

Theme is a generalization about the meaning of a story. O’Connor says, “When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell them to read the story.”

One can suggest different themes for “Hills Like White Elephant” The theme in Hemingway’s short story could be abortion and its consequences. Even though Hemingway never explicitly uses the word abortion, but instead relies on the description and details of the setting to convey an idea of this weighty decision. It is his use of setting, symbols, and dialogue that makes his minimalist technique most effective in expressing the real moral and importance of this story. The theme of abortion also arises in Banks’s short story.

The characters in both short stories are aware of the consequences of having sex while unmarried or unprepared for responsibilities but they go ahead anyway to have sex. “I don’t like fishing anyhow But I guess it’s relaxing. Even if you don’t catch anything.” This quote by the white woman in Banks short story shows how people are not prepared to deal with the responsibilities of parenthood but goes ahead to have sexual intercourse just for the excitement and relaxation they would get. Russell Banks states in his authors commentary:

“Most of the stories that I left out-and there were many more excluded than included-were failed experiments which were necessary for me to have attempted, for I would not have learned my craft if I had not written them; and while I now wish that I had not submitted them for publication, I nonetheless must admit that, if I had not published them, first in magazines and later in books, I doubt that I’d be able today to recognize them as failures. If I had tossed them out while they were still in manuscript form, strangled my darlings in their beds, as it were, I would not have learned from them as much as I have: in cold print, those stories taught me what I have no talent for or no abiding interest in.”

Russell Banks in short tells us that his mistakes showed him what he had no interest in. Sometimes people have to make mistakes and face their consequences before they can learn. The couples in both short stories learn that they were not ready to exercise their duties as parents. Unlike Hemingway, Banks’s story carries another important theme of racism. This theme surfaces when the white girl says, “If Daddy were alive, it would be different…Hated niggers.” This quote reveals that pregnancy is not the only problem facing unmarried couples but also family’s disapproval of interracial relationships.


Hemingway, E. (1927) Hills Like White Elephants. In A. Charters (6th Ed). The Story

and Its Writer (2003). (pp. 647-650). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins


Banks, R. (1981) Black Man and White Woman in Dark Green Rowboat. In A. Charters

(6th Ed). The Story and Its Writer (2003) (pp. 115-120). Boston, MA:

Bedford/St. Martins Publications.

Banks, R (1973) Author’s Note. In A. Charters (6th Ed). The Story and Its Writer (2003)

(pp. 1464-1465). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins Publications.

Maupassant, G. D. (1888) The Writer’s Goal. Translated by Mallay Charters. In A.

Charters (6th Ed). The Story and Its Writer (2003). (pp.1533-1534). Boston, MA:

Bedford/St. Martins Publications.

Anderson, S.(1924). Form, Not Plot, in the Short Story. In A. Charters (6th Ed).

The Story and Its Writer (2003). (pp.1453-1454). Boston, MA:

Bedford/St. Martins Publications.

O’Connor F. (1958). The Nearest thing to Lyric Poetry Is the Short Story. In A.

Charters (6th Ed). The Story and Its Writer (2003). (pp.1553-1554). Boston, MA:

Bedford/St. Martins Publications.

Charters, A. (2003). The Story and It’s Writer. An Introduction to Short Fiction. (6th Ed)

The Elements of Fiction (pp. 1742-1749). Boston, MA:

Bedford/St. Martins Publications.

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