Hills Like White Elephants

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Hills Like White Elephants Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Ernest Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway was born in Illinois just before the turn of the century. He grew up outside a Chicago suburb, spending summers with his family in rural Michigan. After high school, he got a job writing for The Kansas City Star, but left after only six months to join the Red Cross Ambulance Corps during World War I, where he was injured and awarded the Silver Medal of Military Valor. Afterward, he lived in Ontario and Chicago, where he met his first wife Hadley Richardson. In 1921 they moved to Paris, where he began a long friendship with F. Scott Fitzgerald and other expatriate American writers of the "lost generation." After the 1926 publication of his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, he divorced Hadley and married Arkansas native Pauline Pfeiffer. The couple moved to Florida where Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms (1929), which became a bestseller. Hemingway then moved to Spain to serve as a war correspondent in the Spanish Civil War, a job which inspired his famous 1939 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. After its publication, he met his third wife, Martha Gellhorn. Hemingway married his fourth and final wife, Mary Hemingway, in 1946, and the couple spent the next fourteen years in Cuba. After a final move to Ketchum, Idaho, Hemingway took his own life in 1961, just as his father had in 1928. Hemingway left behind his wife and three sons. In the literary world, his name has become synonymous with minimalist, stripped down prose.
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Historical Context of Hills Like White Elephants
The two wars Hemingway directly participated in, as an ambulance driver in World War I and a foreign correspondent during the Spanish Civil War, were formative periods of the writer’s life, the crucible in which his famous writing style was forged. As a World War I ambulance driver at only 18 years old, Hemingway was seriously wounded by shrapnel and forced to recuperate for several months in Italy before returning to his family in the United States. Upon his return, however, Hemingway struggled to adapt to civilian life after the horrors of war, part of the inspiration for his short story “Soldier’s Home.” The effects of these early traumatizing exposures to war, followed by his subsequent and equally painful experiences in the Spanish Civil War, molded Hemingway’s bleak and often cruel depiction of human relationships in his prose. Notably, he was present at the Battle of the Ebro in 1938, the most protracted battle of the Spanish Civil War, which lasted months and left tens of thousands dead.
Other Books Related to Hills Like White Elephants
Hemingway was a prolific writer, publishing poems, stories, memoirs, and novels. His most famous works are the novels The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell To Arms, and the novella The Old Man and the Sea, which exemplify his minimalist, “grace under pressure” writing style. As a member of the “Lost Generation” of American writers and artists who spent their time in Europe after World War I, Hemingway was a friend (and sometimes “frenemy”) of many of the significant writers of the period, including F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night), and his work often played with themes common in the work of other Lost Generation writers. Many writers have been inspired by Hemingway’s stark, minimalist prose, including novelist Cormac McCarthy (author of The Road and No Country for Old Men), short story writer Raymond Carver (author of Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? and Cathedral), and fiction writer Denis Johnson (author of Jesus’ Son).
Key Facts about Hills Like White Elephants
  • Full Title: Hills Like White Elephants
  • When Written: Approximately 1926
  • Where Written: August 1927
  • When Published: The literary magazine Transition
  • Literary Period: Early modernism
  • Genre: In the larger sense, this story belongs to the 20th century short story modernist fiction genre. Hemingway was famous for his “Iceberg Theory” of fiction writing, which holds that powerful writing relies most on what it omits, what is concealed out of the reader’s sight. The theory’s name stems from its analogy with icebergs; just as one can only see the small sliver of an iceberg exposed above the water, so should the minimalist style of fiction allude to but not reveal its implied and “deeper” meaning. Beginning his writing career as a journalist, Hemingway favored clipped, impersonal statements over subtle, emotional, or poetic styles of writing. His fiction style followed this model of objective reporting, hinting obliquely at characters’ feelings and motives.
  • Setting: Train station near the river Ebro in Spain.
  • Climax: In such a compressed scene with such stripped down prose, it is difficult to determine an exact climax. However, tensions between the man and girl boil to the point where she threatens to scream if he keeps talking about getting an abortion. In a moment of desperation, faced with the impossibility of their talking, the man moves the luggage to the other side of the station. This moment signifies the first physical separation between the man and the girl in the story.
  • Point of View: This story engages in delicate shifts of free indirect discourse, in which the reader slips into both the man and the girl’s points of view. However, in line with Hemingway’s distinctive style, the story avoids explicit expressions of perspective in favor of journalistic precision and impersonal objectivity.
Extra Credit for Hills Like White Elephants

American Expatriates in Paris. Hemingway was a frequent visitor to Gertrude Stein’s salon in Paris where he socialized with artistic legends such as Pablo Picasso, Ezra Pound, and Joan Miro.

Hemingway the Hunter Hemingway was an avid hunter throughout his life, even going on safari in Africa in 1933, the inspiration behind his 1936 story “The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”