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Week 1 Notes

by: Raquel Cato

Week 1 Notes ENGL 253 008

Raquel Cato
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Hi classmates, This is our first week of notes. It includes our class analysis of "Hills Like White Elephants". It includes everything discussed in lecture and information from other sources.
Harry Fredrick Newburn (P)
Class Notes
english, Fiction, Hemingway




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This 6 page Class Notes was uploaded by Raquel Cato on Wednesday January 20, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to ENGL 253 008 at UTK taught by Harry Fredrick Newburn (P) in Winter 2016. Since its upload, it has received 50 views. For similar materials see Introduction/Fiction in Foreign Language at UTK.

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Date Created: 01/20/16
“Hills Like White Elephants” – Ernest Hemmingway  Synopsis: The story focuses on a conversation between an American man and a girl at a Spanish train station while waiting for a train to Madrid. The girl compares the nearby hills to white elephants. The pair obliquely discuss an "operation" which the man wants the woman to have, which is implied to be an abortion.  Writing Style: Hemmingway is trying to put the reader in a place of discomfort by not providing much information about the characters, setting, and topic of conversation. Most readers are puzzled by the story. It takes an exceptionally perceptive reader to realize immediately that the couple is arguing about the girl having an abortion at a time when abortions were absolutely illegal, considered immoral, and usually dangerous. Typically, readers expect authors to guide readers through a story. However, in “Hills Like White Elephants,” Hemmingway completely removes himself from the story. Readers are not guided by a narrator, but are instead planted into the middle of dialogue and are expected to fend for themselves. As a result, it is difficult for the reader to know how to reach to the characters. If there was a narrator to state that the girl, for example, spoke "sarcastically," or "bitterly," or "angrily," or that she was "puzzled" or "indifferent," or if we were told that the man spoke with "an air of superiority," we could more easily come to terms with these characters. Instead, Hemingway so removes himself from them and their actions that it seems as though he himself knows little about them. Only by sheer accident, it seems, is the girl nicknamed "Jig." The second definition of the word is "a device that holds a piece of work" which can be interpreted as the girl being the device holding the work, her baby.  Characters: o The American: The male protagonist of the story. The American never reveals his name, nor does the girl ever directly address him by name. He is determined to convince the girl to have the operation but tries to appear as though he doesn’t care what she does. He remains disconnected from his surroundings, not really understanding or even listening to what the girl has to say.  Throughout the story, the American behaves according to Hemingway’s rigid conception of masculinity. Hemingway portrays the American as a rugged man’s man—knowledgeable, worldly, and always in control of himself and the situation at hand. Even when vexed or confused, he maintains his cool and feigns indifference, such as when he tells the girl he doesn’t care whether she has the operation. He initially avoids discussion of their problems, but when pressured, he tackles them head on by oversimplifying the operation and relentlessly pushing her to have it. Thinking himself to be the more reasonable of the two, he patronizes the girl and fails to provide the sympathy and understanding she needs during the crisis. Uncompromising, he seems to identify more with the other passengers “waiting reasonably” at the station than with his own girlfriend at the end of the story, which suggests that the two will go their separate ways. o The Girl: The female protagonist of the story. The American calls the girl “Jig” at one point in the story but never mentions her real name. Unlike the American, the girl is less sure of what she wants and appears reluctant to have the operation in question. She alternates between wanting to talk about the operation and wanting to avoid the topic altogether.  Compared to the American, Hemingway’s overly masculine character, the girl is less assertive and persuasive. Throughout the story, the girl appears helpless, confused, and indecisive. She changes her mind about the attractiveness of the surrounding hills, for example; claims to selflessly care only for the American; and seems uncertain about whether she wants to have the operation. In fact, the girl can’t even order drinks from the bartender on her own without having to rely on the man’s ability to speak Spanish. Ironically, the girl seems to understand that her relationship with the American has effectively ended, despite her professed desire to make him happy. She knows that even if she has the operation, their relationship won’t return to how it used to be. In many ways, the girl’s realization of this fact gives her power over the American, who never really understands why they still can’t have “the whole world” like they once did. o The Woman: The woman serving drinks to the American man and the girl. The bartender speaks only Spanish.  Symbolism of White Elephants: A white elephant symbolizes something no one wants— in this story, the girl’s unborn child. The girl’s comment in the beginning of the story that the surrounding hills look like white elephants initially seems to be a casual, offhand remark, but it actually serves as a segue for her and the American to discuss their baby and the possibility of having an abortion. The girl later retracts this comment with the observation that the hills don’t really look like white elephants, a subtle hint that perhaps she wants to keep the baby after all—a hint the American misses. In fact, she even says that the hills only seemed to look like white elephants at first glance, and that they’re actually quite lovely. Comparing the hills—and, metaphorically, the baby—to elephants also recalls the expression “the elephant in the room,” a euphemism for something painfully obvious that no one wants to discuss.  Setting: Hemingway sets “Hills Like White Elephants” at a train station to highlight the fact that the relationship between the American man and the girl is at a crossroads. Planted in the middle of a desolate valley, the station isn’t a final destination but merely a stopping point between Barcelona and Madrid. Travelers, including the main characters, must therefore decide where to go and, in this case, whether to go with each other and continue their relationship. Moreover, the contrast between the white hills and barren valley possibly highlights the dichotomy between life and death, fertility and sterility, and mirrors the choice the girl faces between having the baby or having the abortion. The girl seems torn between the two landscapes, not only commenting on the beauty of the hills but also physically walking to the end of the platform and gazing out at the brown emptiness around the station. “Yes,” said the girl. “Everything tastes like licorice. Especially all the things you’ve waited so long for, like absinthe.” Even though the girl had asked the American man to order the absinthe because she had never tried it before, she immediately puts her glass back on the table after the first taste, surprised by the drink’s sharp bite. She remarks that her drink tastes like licorice and then tries to subtly broach the subject of her pregnancy again, because the American had ignored her earlier comment that the nearby hills look like white elephants. Basically rehashing the adage “be careful what you wish for because it may come true,” the girl recognizes the irony in not liking the taste of the drink she’d asked the man to order for her, just as she presumably dislikes being pregnant when she’d always wished for a baby. The man, however, perhaps senses the underlying message of the girl’s seemingly casual remark and tells her to be quiet, prompting her to once more bring up the subject of white elephants. “But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you’ll like it?” By this point, midway through the story, the girl has already retracted her previous comment that the surrounding hills look like white elephants, hinting that she wants to keep the baby instead of having an abortion. The man had been upset at this, feigning indifference but pushing for the abortion because he doesn’t want the child. Still hoping to save their broken relationship, the girl asks her boyfriend whether things between them will return to the way they used to be if she goes through with the abortion. Her indecision and desire to placate the man demonstrate her dependence on him. At the same time, however, the mere fact that she asks the question may imply that she believes that nothing can save their relationship. "They look like 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." The girl looked at the bead curtain. "They've painted something on it," she said. "What does it say?" "Anis del Toro. It's a drink." "Could we try it?" The reader must interpret their dialogue and body language to infer their backgrounds and their attitudes with respect to the situation at hand, and their attitudes toward one another. From the outset of the story, the contentious nature of the couple's conversation indicates resentment and unease. Some critics have written that the dialogue is a distillation of the contrasts between stereotypical male and female relationship roles: in the excerpt above, for instance, the girl draws the comparison with white elephants, but the hyper-rational male immediately denies it, dissolving the bit of poetry into objective realism with "I've never seen one." By saying, "No, you wouldn't have" she implies he hadn't had a child before, or hadn't allowed birth in the past. She also asks his permission to order a drink. Throughout the story, the girl is distant; the American is rational. While the American attempts to frame the fetus as the source of the couple's discontent with life and one another, the tone and pattern of dialogue indicate that there may be deeper problems with the relationship than the purely circumstantial. This ambiguity leaves a good deal of room for interpretation; while most critics have espoused relatively straightforward interpretations of the dialogue (with the girl as the dynamic character, traveling reluctantly from rejection to acceptance of the idea of an abortion), a few have argued for alternate scenarios based upon the same dialogue Sources: “Hills Like White Elephants” – Ernest Hemmingway Sparknotes Wikipedia Dr. Harry Newburn – class lecture


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