Discussion Notes: Hills Like White Elephants

Find this week’s story here: Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway

Next week’s story: Insomnia by Hannah Rahimi

Rated: Clean

The Literary Roadhouse hosts discuss the podcast’s third Hemingway short story, “Hills Like White Elephants.” The story prompted yet another Literary Roadhouse debate about Hemingway, with Gerald as his most vocal champion. The conversation weaves through symbolism, prose, characters, and the history of abortion, of all things. Rammy found the dialogue “refreshing.” As for Maya, this was the first story she enjoyed by Hemingway, whereas Anais still wished he had given her more to chew on. Stay to listen to Gerald ace a Hemingway quiz and be accused of grading on a curve.

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2 comments on Hills Like White Elephants | Ernest Hemingway | Literary Roadhouse Ep 111

  1. Richard Dennis says:

    Enjoyed the podcast. A story like this (and I do think it is a story, for the same reason that I thought “Good People” was a story–at least one of the characters changes by the end) is best understood, I think, after hearing it discussed by a group of smart people.

    The thing I loved about this story is the way Hemingway was able to communicate strong emotions with simple dialog, without telling us how the people sounded. As someone who writes, i know that is insanely difficult. For example:

    “I know we will. You don’t have to be afraid. I’ve known lots of people that have done it.”
    “So have I,” said the girl. “And afterwards they were all so happy.”
    “Well,” the man said, “if you don’t want to you don’t have to. …

    In that exchange Jigs just chewed the man up and spit him out. Venomous sarcasm conveyed beautifully, without telling us. I can just picture the look on her face, and the sound of her voice as she says “they were all so happy.”

    Another brilliant exchange came later:

    “Well, I care about you.”
    “Oh yes. But I don’t care about me. And I’ll do it and then everything will be fine.”
    “I don’t want you to do it if you feel that way.”

    From his response, we know what she meant by “everything will be fine.” She is getting bolder and more biting in her sarcasm, yet the narrator still hasn’t said a word.

    Still later:

    “I don’t want you to do anything that you don’t want to do.”
    “Nor that isn’t good for me,” she said. “I know. Could we have another beer?”
    “All right. But you’ve got to realize–”
    “I realize,” the girl said. “Can’t we maybe stop talking?”

    This young woman has sized up the man’s game and is pouring him out. She doesn’t need to hear any more. And we know it, all without any guidance from the narrator.

    The hammer really falls a few lines later:

    “Doesn’t it mean anything to you? We could get along.”
    “Of course it does. but I don’t want anybody but you. I don’t want anyone else. And I know it’s perfectly simple.”
    “Yes, you know it’s perfectly simple.”

    That to me is the killer point in the story. Not “I know it’s perfectly simple.” She says “you know its perfectly simple.” At this point, it’s personal. She is sticking the knife in deep.

    The big difference between DFW’s ” Good People” and this story is that here we see the movement in the woman, whereas in Good People it was the young man who had his world changed. Give Hemingway some credit. He might be a world renowned misogynist, but in this story, the guy came off as pathetic compared to the woman. I think by the end of the story, she will go off and do what she damn well pleases. If she has the abortion, it will be because she wants it, not because of the man’s cajoling. He’s played his game, and lost.


    1. Excellent comment! The dialogue is really superb.

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