IntroductionIn “Hills Like White Elephants,” Hemingway presents more than one conflict reflecting traditions. The central couple, for example, are Americans in a Spanish setting, which requires more of an effort to communicate than it goes to actual conflict. More importantly, however, it is the interaction between the man and woman that strongly reveals how gender roles are inherently opposed. The core of the story in fact is one of a failure of mutual understanding, which occurs through how the woman seeks to communicate her feelings while the man, true to his gender role, views their situation very differently and essentially holds to what he believes is best for them. In “Hills Like White Elephants,” then, Hemingway almost clinically offers the reality of how gender roles dictate behavior and create distance between men and women.
The gender role tension between Hemingway’s couple, clearly centered on the man’s persuading the woman that her having an abortion is the right thing for them to do, is initially revealed through how they perceive the world differently. It is a “topical” means of revealing the basic differences between male and female perspectives, shaped by how each conforms to both biological and traditionally cultural forces. They order drinks, she remarks on how the hills strike her, and they comment upon the drinks’ taste. The woman then seizes on this to suggest that something is wrong: “’That’s all we do, isn’t it – look at things and try new drinks?’” (Hemingway 276). He agrees but indicates having no issues with this, and the gender tension is in place; over a trivial subject, she perceives and objects to the triviality of their life together but he, as an American man of his era, cannot enter into her dissatisfaction because a man requires nothing more.
As the conversation goes on, the deeper conflict is presented. She needs him to understand that, as a woman, pleasing him is her greatest concern: “’Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me’” (277). They are each essentially “coming from very different places” because his masculine nature cannot grasp her concern for anything beyond enjoying themselves. If she has the abortion, they can go on as they are, but he fails to see how this is not enough for a woman: “’But I don’t want you to,’ he said. ‘I don’t care anything about it.’ ‘I’ll scream,’ the girl said” (279). It is a complete failure of understanding, and because the male is only able to view the reality from a limited and practical masculine perspective.
In a very simple scene, Hemingway exposes how gender roles, no matter how they are created, go to crucial differences in perspectives. The woman is unhappy with the superficial contentment that satisfies the man. The author attaches no blame to either, but instead only reveals this as a frustrating condition inevitably affecting relationships. Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” then almost clinically emphasizes the sad reality of how gender roles dictate behavior and consequently lead to distance between men and women.
- Hemingway, Ernest. “Hill Like White Elephants.” From Literature and the Writing Process, 10th Ed. Eds. Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X. Day, Robert Funk, Linda Coleman. New York: Longman, 2013. pp. 275-279.