Humans’ Reluctance to Confront Harsh Realities in “White Hills like Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway

Humans’ Reluctance to Confront Harsh Realities in “White Hills like Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway

If there is one universal quality that describes humans, it is the unwillingness to confront or accept harsh realities like death, terminal illness, and loss. This human nature is seen in humankind’s attempt to downplay the seriousness of issues through the use of euphemisms, ignoring painful truths, and the use of colorful language and metaphors to describe painful events. In “Hills like White Elephants,” Ernest Hemingway uses euphemisms to downplay the seriousness of abortion and make it appear like a normal medical procedure, and not the termination of the life of a fetus.

In “Hills Like White Elephants,” the two main characters, an American man and his girlfriend simply known as “Jig”, are having a conversation about the need for the girl to abort the unwanted pregnancy. The dilemma that the author presents is the man’s need to convince the girl to terminate the life of her unborn baby, without making it to sound painful or bad. To resolve this dilemma, the author employs euphemisms to describe the experience of aborting. Accordingly, nowhere in the text does the author use the term “abortion” to indicate it was what the man means when he asks the girlfriend to have an “operation.” The use of the term “operation” instead of the actual term to describe the act helps the man to view it as a harmless act. Abortion involves the termination of life, but the man does not want to acknowledge that he is proposing to make his girlfriend terminate the germinating life inside her (Jiahong 100). Secondly, he uses the term operation in a way that suggests that it is a treatment procedure. Before the reader gets the gist of it, it is easy to be misled into thinking that the girl is suffering from some kind of disease, for which she needs an operation to get well. In this regard, when the man says “It is really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” the reader is persuaded to think that the man is referring to something as simple as removing jiggers (Hemingway 476). At the same time, it is easy to assume that he is trying to persuade the girl to go under the knife for her own good. One becomes suspicious, however, after realizing that even the girls does not know what kind of operation she needs, or that she needs one at all. Yet, the man does not want to tell her directly because it will not only hurt her, but also because he does not want to put into words the life-ending act he is thinking about.

To conclude, the short story “White Hills Like Elephants” by Earnest Hemingway demonstrates how humans deal with harsh realities like abortion by speaking about them in a harmless way. The man’s reluctance to have a meaningful conversation about it indicates that he would like to be through it as quickly as possible without thinking about its implications.

Works Cited

Hemmingway, Ernest. “Hills like White Elephants.” Charters, Ann (Ed.). The Story and its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2003.

Jiahong, Ren. “The Analysis  of Characters’  Speech Act in  Hills Like White Elephants.” Advances in Social Sciences Research Journal, vol. 4 no. 14, 2017, pp. 99-106.

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