Hills Like White Elephants
by Ernest Hemingway
Analysis: Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
A man and a woman are outside a bar having some drinks and waiting for a train
The initial situation is really a view of some hill, but we thought we’d just skip right to the bar, which is where we will stay throughout the story. There isn’t much more to the initial situation than that. The exotic Spanish setting and all the stylistic frills are incidental. The conversation that makes up this story could have happened anywhere, anytime.
Similes are dangerous business, folks. Use them with caution. Jig’s seemingly innocent statement that the hills are like white elephants quickly turns into a competition with the man over who has traveled more. But that’s just the top layer of the conflict cake. Underneath this conflict lies a major complication.
Turns out the hills are a metaphor for pregnancy, which is a little more important than previous travel experience. The man complicates the already complicated situation by saying that an abortion is not an operation. Well, Jig seems to think differently, which leads to the climax.
The seven pleases
If the seven pleases aren’t climactic enough for you, then toss in Jig’s threat to scream. It’s an intense moment, maybe even a little shocking. We suspect she means it, too, and we wonder if things might have escalated further if the woman serving their drinks hadn’t intervened with an update on the train’s arrival.
When the man walks off with the suitcase, we wonder for a moment if he will disappear, just keep on walking, bags and all. When we see him headed back we wonder if Jig will still be there waiting. The story doesn’t give us much time for suspense, but it’s definitely there.
The action is winding down when the man has a drink at the bar, and when he’s walking back to Jig, and then when he walks through the curtain. At the same time, all closure is suspended; we don’t know quite how things will end.
A little more conversation, but not much else
Not a very dramatic finale, unless you pay attention to the undertones of the mini-conversation Jig and the man have at the very end of the story. It’s also rather dramatic to leave us hanging about absolutely everything.