"Hills Like White Elephants" Literary Analysis: Hemingway’s Use of Intentional Ambiguity

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Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Hills like White Elephants’ is a short story set in a train station. The typical interpretation of the story assumes that the couple are considering getting an abortion based on the implied events which occur. However, if we look at the story from a whole other angle, we can begin to consider that Hemingway’s use of intentional ambiguity is not only central to the narrative but could even change the conclusion of the story. Therefore in this essay on ‘Hills like White Elephants’ we will perform a literary analysis of the short story.

One way in which Hemingway creates ambiguity is through the puzzling dialogue. At many points in the story, the back-and-forth dialogue between the couple although real and true, is not captivating.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t care about me”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t care about me”

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“Well, I care about you”

Conversations like this occur throughout the story, in which the couple are clearly upset yet do not scream or shout which is what makes it feel so authentic. The reader really gets the feeling of the frustration from both the boy and the girl. The short clippings of thoughts and ideas adds to the sense of ambiguity. We do not get pages of dialogue to help us understand the situation so we must interpret it ourselves. Another way in which the dialogue adds to the ambiguity is through the idea that in some areas of the text, we do not actually know who is speaking and must figure it out for ourselves.

Another way in which Hemingway creates ambiguity is through the setting in the story.

“The station was between two lines of rails”

We are further introduced to the contradiction between the already conflicting couple. Which line should they take? Which direction are they going in? Are they going the same way? This one sentence makes us wonder all these questions further highlighting this sense of ambiguity and mystery for the reader.

The girl also contradicts herself many times. In one part of the story, she states that the hills “look like white elephants” however she later states they “they don’t really look like white elephants.” We once again see the constant contradiction in simplest things like the way the girl sees the setting and how much its changed.

Later, in the text the girl says, “there’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.” Due to previous events, we have no reason to believe this. The girl struggled to respond to a waitress just moments earlier yet states she is now fine. It is this conflict in her behavior which leaves the reader uncertain and leaves their entire interaction clouded with ambiguity. We as readers are extremely uncertain with the entire interaction and are left with doubt.

Through the casting of doubt and uncertainty we have an overall sense of ambiguity throughout the entirety of ‘Hills like White Elephants.’ Hemingway clearly does this through the great implementation of contrasting dialogue with a further addition of setting. He simulates the sensations associated with ambiguity in the reader allowing the reader the experience the same feelings for themselves.

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“Hills Like White Elephants” Literary Analysis: Hemingway’s Use of Intentional Ambiguity. (2023, July 10). WritingBros. Retrieved June 18, 2024, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/hills-like-white-elephants-literary-analysis-hemingways-use-of-intentional-ambiguity/
““Hills Like White Elephants” Literary Analysis: Hemingway’s Use of Intentional Ambiguity.” WritingBros, 10 Jul. 2023, writingbros.com/essay-examples/hills-like-white-elephants-literary-analysis-hemingways-use-of-intentional-ambiguity/
“Hills Like White Elephants” Literary Analysis: Hemingway’s Use of Intentional Ambiguity. [online]. Available at: <https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/hills-like-white-elephants-literary-analysis-hemingways-use-of-intentional-ambiguity/> [Accessed 18 Jun. 2024].
“Hills Like White Elephants” Literary Analysis: Hemingway’s Use of Intentional Ambiguity [Internet]. WritingBros. 2023 Jul 10 [cited 2024 Jun 18]. Available from: https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/hills-like-white-elephants-literary-analysis-hemingways-use-of-intentional-ambiguity/
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