Book Review on Hills Like White Elephants Written by Ernest Hemingway

Book Review on Hills Like White Elephants Written by Ernest Hemingway

Without reading the story, what do you think the story is about just by looking at the title? Before I read this story, my eight-year old daughter saw the title, and she wanted me to read this for her because she thought it was about white elephants. I also thought about reading the story for my children. When I looked at the title, I had imagined white elephants, having escaped from a zoo, went up a hill and to live freely. Before Professor Hansen taught us about the symbolism that hills and white elephants represented, I totally misunderstood about this story. They were symbolism of pregnancy and unwanted gift (to express for main characters’ mind)

I will analyze Ernest Hemingway and composition of his Hills Like White Elephants to more understand this literary work. First, I will discuss more about Ernest Hemingway’s private life because I think the way a writer is brought up influences his or her written works in many ways. In the text book, The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction has Earnest Hemingway’s short profile. I also found more about Earnest Hemingway at an internet website “”. When I read about him from the website, I felt his life was a drama that included all of genres which were ordinary family drama, romance, adventure, and tragedy; only comedy was missing. (From this all about Hemingway’s life is that I summarize from the site) According to the “”, he had a good father who liked hunting and other sports. His father also taught Ernest Hemingway how to hunt. His mother was a very devout Christian and loved music.

When he graduated from high school, his father wanted him to go college. He, however, joined the Red Cross as an ambulance driver during World War I, and he got injured. During the medical treatment for his injury, he met a nurse, Agnes von Kurowsky, and fell in love her. Agnes took care of him at the hospital. Hemingway proposed to Agnes to get marry, but she refused because she thought he was too young for her; Agnes was seven years older than Hemingway. Hemingway was only nineteen years old at the time. A nurse in A Farewell to Arms, was portray of Agnes von Kurowsky.

When Hemingway was twenty years old, he got married to Elizabeth Hadley. It was the first of four marriages he later encounters. They went on a honeymoon to Bear Lake in Michigan where he spent his most of his childhood with his father (during summar). With Elizabeth Hadley, Hemingway had one son. However, their marriage lasted only five years. They got divorced because Hemingway cheated with Pauline Pfeiffer who was editor at Vogue. After his divorce, he got married to Pauline Pfeiffer. After their three-week honeymoon, Hemingway got ill. He was depressed and could not write for a while.

In 1928, Hemingway’s father killed himself using a gun. He completed A Farewell to Arms in 1929 and sold the book for 24,000 dollar for movie rights to help his mother financially. His second marriage gave him another son; however, in 1939, he had his second divorce. After the divorce, he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls because he felt guilty about the divorces. For Whom the Bell Tolls gave was a huge success. The book sold about 500,000 copies in five months. In 1940, Hemingway was once again married to Martha Gellhorn. But this marriage also did not last long. For his fourth and final marriage, he married Mary Welsh.

Hemingway liked fishing, writing, drinking, and travelling. He had been to Europe, United States, and Cuba. He also had travelled to Africa for lion hunting. When he came back from the lion hunting trip, he wrote The Green Hills of Africa. Hemingway often got injured and sick from trips, (plane) accidents, and drinking, and it started to take its toll on him. But, he did not stop drinking, and his health started get worse. Also, when he had to leave his house to get a job as a writer, he described how he felt when he saw his father sending him away for the first time to the Red Cross. According to “” , “Ernest had to leave home to take up his job. His father accompanied him to the train station and stood by the train until his son's moment of departure. Ernest was to remember the leaving for a long time afterwards and wrote about it in For Whom the Bell Tolls relating the mixed emotions he felt of sadness, relief and adulthood”.

When he received the Nobel Prize in 1954, his injury from a plane accident kept him away from accepting the Nobel Prize in Stockholm. In 1960, he showed psychological disorder and sign of losing his memory. His health got worse and worse, and he started to depend more on alcohol. In 1961, Hemingway ended his life in Cuba the same way his father did. As an author, he is respected, famous, and popular, and won big prizes such as the Nobel Prize. One may say that he was the luckiest man (because he had everything especially four wives). I do not want to refute anything, but as an individual, he had his complex, endured many injuries and sickness, faced drinking problem, and many fallen marriages. Perhaps, the number of marriages and divorces made him lonely. I can assume he was not an abstractive and imaginary writer, but his writing works were based on his experiences. Therefore, when we read his writing, we can imagine his life and his reflection on his own life. On the other hand, if we learn of his life, we would be able to understand more about his writing.

The Hills Like White Elephant consists of a short plot. The time setting of Hills Like White Elephants implies that it is summer using the words such as hot, sun, and references to drinking cold beer outside of a bar. The spatial setting is near a train station that trains transit between Barcelona and Madrid, Spain. The train station is very contrasting; one side of the station had no shade or trees while the opposite side of the station was fully decorated building with passengers. The main characters are an American and a female named Jig. Jig looked like she was waiting for a train outside of a bar at the train station. Jig did not have any drink. Then, the American ordered a beer for Jig without asking Jig if she would like a drink. I can tell he is quite dogmatic. While they were waiting for their drinks, Jig mentioned first about white elephants. She said that hills look like white elephants. In this story white elephants was used as a symbolism to describe unwanted gift. However, the American could not even see any hills. When he ordered the beer for Jig, I could not assume she was pregnant. I did not know the hills were used to symbolize pregnancy. However, after I know the meaning of the hills, I assume they did not have any knowledge about how alcohol can affect unburned infants. When they ordered second drinks, Anis del Toro, Jig could not even decide whether she wanted water or not. They talked about alcohol for a little while, and Jig said, “I was being amused. I was having a fine time” (662). Maybe she wanted to escape from her real situation that she was pregnant. However, she looked at the hills, and she said, “They’re lovely hills, they don’t really look like white elephants” (663).

Once again, the symbolism of the hills as a pregnancy and white elephants as unwanted gift are mentioned. From what Jig said, I sensed that she wanted to have baby. But the American asked Jig if she wanted another drink. He does not appear to care about the baby because he seemed to have already decided to make her to get an abortion. He said the operation would be easy simple, and he persuaded her to have an abortion. The American is very selfish, he does not care about her and the baby. He just wants to go back to the simple and irresponsible life of sex and drinking. I assumed Jig feels uneasy to continue on their irresponsible life. The American pretends and she does not have to have an abortion, but he continues to say that abortion is really easy that it is nothing at all. Also, he tries to comfort her by insisting that he loves her and that everything will be fine. But, I can tell his love has faded gradually since her pregnancy. Jig is finally persuaded by him and decides to have the abortion. And, she says, “Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me” (663). It sounds like she gave up on herself and her baby. She also feels that even if she gets the abortion, their lives will not be the same as before. The American did not really love her; he just wanted to have sex and drink with her. That is the reason why he did not want the baby and recommend the abortion. This couple looks like they just have spent days in a state of torpor. At the end of the story, she says, “There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine” (665), but she is not feel fine at all. She looks like she wants to ignore and lie about her feeling, guilty and sadness; all toward the baby. This sentence made me so sad because I could feel what she felt. The American and Jig appear to for each other, but at the end, what they want is a simple life without the baby and responsibilities.

This is not a well-organized passage. When I read this story, I thought it was not the end of the story. I felt like this was only a portion of a bigger story from Hemingway’s writings. Each sentence is short and easier to understand compared to other Hemingway’s writings, but I could not understand what this story wants to show at first. There is no particular event; the story is processed by only two characters, the American and a girl named Jig. There is no explanation on why this couple went to the train station and where they intend to travel to and what happened to them before they came to the bar. So as I read this story, I could imagine or emphasize the voice to match my feeling. For example, if I think it is a comedy genre, I could just imagine as such because there is no narrative elements to describe otherwise.

This story made me imagine more about the couple and Hemingway. When I finished reading about Hemingway’s life and literal works, I thought Hills Like White Elephants also was from his experience. I assume the American was Hemingway himself. Hemingway had four wives, and he probably had girlfriends in between the marriages. He did not even gave a name for the male character. I guess he wanted to express about his situation more metaphorically. I think Jig was one of his girls or wives. The girl was pregnant; however, Hemingway did not want this baby (or wanted to have this baby). But, the girl had an abortion without his permission. So he wrote about that the girl was really weak, irresponsible as a mom and as a person.

English is my second language, so If I had read this story without Professor Hansen’s explanation, I probably would not have understood it at all, and just wondered ‘What is this?, What did Hemingway write?’ However, Hills Like White Elephants makes me think about gender role, unplanned pregnancy, responsibility, and abortion. The story also made me wonder about what Hemingway wanted the reader to gain after reading the story. This story makes me imagine about Hemingway’s life, thought, and his written works. This story also makes wonder, “What if I was Jig?”. After learning about Hemingway’s life, I was able to understand little more about this story. I believe Hemingway might wanted the story be about relationship between men and women showing that even when a man and a woman are together, they may not share the same goal and each have different perspective. Therefore it is difficult to remain married to one person. These are how I felt and analyzed Earnest Hemingway and his work to be more understandable.

Works Cited:
Bausch, Richard, and R.V. Cassill. The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. New York : W. W. Norton & Company, 2005. Print.

“Ernest Hemingway”. Web. 18 Feb. 2012.