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Date: Fall 1998
From: The Hemingway Review(Vol. 18, Issue 1)
Publisher: Chestnut Hill College
Document Type: Article
Length: 6,499 words

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Textual and biographical evidence sheds light on the ambiguous ending of Hemingway's short story "Hills Like White Elephants." The published text equally supports two opposite interpretations. However, the additional textual and biographical information supports the interpretation that the American man in the story changes his mind and agrees with the pregnant woman's wish to have a baby. The story also suggests a cross-gendered autobiographical representation of the relationship between Hemingway and Pauline Pfeiffer..

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This article considers textual and biographical evidence pertaining to the problematic ending of "Hills Like White Elephants." Study of the published text in conjunction with the holograph, letters, and biographical information supports recent criticism proposing that the American man concedes to Jig's wish to have the baby. Considered in isolation, the published text can support both new and traditional readings; considered in light of textual and biographical evidence, the text reveals not only strong autobiographical resonance but an early assay into cross-gendered representation.

STANLEY RENNER'S RECENT essay, "Moving to the Girl's Side of `Hills Like White Elephants,'" proposes a revolutionary reading of the story's conclusion: "[Jig] decides not to have an abortion, and her companion, though not without strong misgivings, acquiesces in her decision" (27). Renner suggests that this conclusion becomes clear through "a study of Hemingway's characterization of the pregnant girl" (27), which he traces through five stages, or "movements," in the text. Although Renner's conclusion is startling at first -- we all love to hate the American man -- it may illuminate a biographical detail neglected by most critical responses to the story: the dedication of the manuscript to Pauline Pfeiffer, "Mss for Pauline -- Well, well well" (File 473,12). Paul Smith wonders at the apparent paradox between this dedication and the story's ending, as traditionally read, especially given that the story concerns abortion and Pauline was Catholic (206). Michael Reynolds also notes the "disturbing fact that Hemingway completed the story while on his honeymoon with Pauline" in Le Grau du Roi in May, 1927 (8).

Neither Smith nor Reynolds develops this evocative thread beyond stating the fact and expressing puzzlement. With these two exceptions, biographical information has been conspicuously absent from critical responses to the story, an absence due, most likely, to the lack of evidence that Pauline (or, for that matter, Hadley) ever had an abortion. The lack of autobiographical content in this story is so obvious that it goes unmentioned -- the man's name is, presumably, not "Nick," and Hemingway certainly never suggested that the "thing left out" of this story is that the barmaid hangs herself later. But the questions remain. Why would Hemingway designate the Catholic Pauline, his new bride, the recipient of a story in which either a relationship is destroyed or a pregnancy terminated, as all save Renner have either argued or implied? Especially given that the date of composition indicates that this manuscript may have been a wedding present from husband to wife?(1) And what do we make of the fact that Hemingway himself referred to this story as one of his "hard" stories, implying in a letter to Max Perkins that "hard" meant "better"?(2)

Renner's aggressive reading of the story's physio-spatial rhetoric partially resolves these questions. If the story does not end tragically, then it is indeed "hard" -- much "harder" than can be accounted for by the mere omission of the word "abortion." Further, if the man does "capitulate," as Renner argues (28), then the matter of the manuscript-as-wedding-present loses some (but not all) of its shock value. If one keeps the circumstances of the story's production in mind while reading the story, Renner's persuasive argument for resolution in Aristotelian unity is strengthened. Yet why have generations of readers, from Dorothy Parker to Allen Josephs,(3) responded so emphatically with exactly the opposite interpretation -- that the story is a tragedy? In order to resolve questions arising from the story's ambiguity, i.e., why the published story seems to support at least two equal and opposite readings of its ending, I propose first to examine the textual elements which create that ambiguity.

Both sides of the critical debate are very nearly equally convincing -- perhaps because of the very nearly equal weight Hemingway ascribes to the rhetorical balance in the story. To begin with the title, a first connotation of "white elephants" is purely American: unwanted junk. But not just any unwanted junk; the junk you bring to the "white elephant sale" because, although you find it worthless, someone else might not. Sure enough, at the second mention of "white elephants" in the story, Jig finds the hills "... lovely. They look like white elephants." The second, historical layer of meaning embraces both aspects: "white elephants" as a gift bringing both honor and ruin to its recipient.(4) At first glance, it means one thing. At second, it means two -- not one of two, but one and two. Honor and ruin.

The valley setting is neatly bisected into two sides, "this" side (the infertile side, "brown and dry" with "no trees"), and "the other" side (the fertile side: fields of grain, the river, the trees), by not one but "two lines of rails," between which the couple sits "at a table in the shade" (CSS 211). The setting is introduced in two stages. In the opening paragraph, we are given the bleak view; in the second, a "lovely" view (213). At first glance, the valley is one way: barren. Later, we learn that it is two: both barren and fertile, simultaneously.

So which hills are like white elephants? We are told that "the hills across the valley were long and white," and that "[o]n this side there [were] ... no trees" (211). When Jig defends her choice of simile, however, she states that she "meant the coloring of their skin through the trees" (212). There are no trees on "this" side; she means the trees she remembers seeing before sitting down, which have yet to appear in the text. Her companion does not look, but if he did, he, "close against the side of the station" (211), would see only the barren side. Valleys are valleys by virtue of lying between two lines of hills; the "hills" must be on both sides, but only after a careful reading and wrestling with the word "across" can we know this.(5) Of course they lie across the valley -- the station is between them; whichever way you look, they are "across" (211, 212). Both lines of hills, then, are "like white elephants."

Just as the valley lies between two lines of hills, the station sits between two lines of rails, presumably representing two directions of travel ("To Madrid" and "To Barcelona"). One line is on the fertile side, one on the barren side. When the man moves the suitcases across, to the "other tracks" (214), we first assume that he moves them in order to put them on the train to Madrid (which "is coming in five minutes" [214]). But those tracks are on the "other" side, the "fertile" side, which we know because Jig moves to the end of the station to look at the "river" across the valley, "through the trees" (213). Why, in a story in which every detail of setting is so carefully determined -- even overdetermined -- would the "abortion" train come on the "fertile" side of the valley? This leads, of course, to two additional questions. Why is Jig smiling? And why does the American man need an Anis in the bar when his beer awaits at the table?

The first time one reads the story, one assumes that Jig's smile is forced, that she is being submissive and conciliatory; conversely, one might also assume that she smiles because she has decided to leave her lover and have the baby on her own (Hannum 47; Renner 27). But once one remembers which side is which (by remembering Jig's movement to look to the distance "through the trees"), Renner's argument that she smiles because the man has capitulated (34) also makes sense -- even more so, when one remembers that her first smile, to the Spanish waitress, is "to thank her" (214) in the only language they share -- nonverbal. Jig and the man also appear to share only one language, that same nonverbal language (which comes as no surprise given what has probably been the basis of their relationship). If the first smile means "I don't speak your language but thank you," the second, which follows so hard upon the first, may mean exactly the same thing, in which case the third and final smile could easily follow suit: "Thank you for telling me with your actions what you could not communicate in words." At first her smile means one thing; later, perhaps, another. Unlike the inclusive meanings of "across" and "white elephants" however, the two possible meanings of the man's moving the suitcases and of Jig's smiles are mutually exclusive. Either they are taking the train to the abortion or they are not. Either she is thanking him honestly or she is smiling to mask her true emotions. How are we to tell the difference? Hemingway has not clearly designated either set of rails as "To Madrid."

One possible clue is the timing. We know the train is due "in five minutes" (214). The man, therefore, has seven minutes (the train stops for two [211]) to tell Jig he will move the suitcases, move the suitcases, look "up the tracks" and "not see the train" go into the bar, order an anis, look at the people "waiting reasonably" while drinking, come out through the curtain, and rejoin Jig at the table (to "finish the beer," as she states earlier [214]). Is it possible or impossible to do this in seven minutes? There is absolutely no way to know for sure, and again, Hemingway is not telling. This information may be valuable, but it may not. Another "white elephant."

What do we know for sure? The story seems simple enough; it is almost perfectly symmetrical. In the first section, the setting is established in the narration, introducing "this" barren half of the valley. The couple sits together in a "shadow" (211) at a table and is interrupted briefly by the waitress. After looking at the bamboo curtain, and holding two strands of beads in her hand, Jig decides to concede to the man's wishes that she terminate her pregnancy, rises, and moves alone to the end of the station. The story's second section, like the first, begins with a description of setting (the "other," fertile side of the valley). The second section repeats many of the elements present in the first, but with the active roles reversed: Jig sees a second "shadow" (213), the couple again sits at a table, the waitress interrupts, and the man looks at nearby objects (the two bags). He then moves, alone, to the "other" side, carrying the bags, pauses to look and ruminate, and rejoins Jig at the table. The two then, presumably, board the train to Madrid for the abortion. The story's physical action is "perfectly simple." Or is it?

Two actions are missing from the narration and thus from this description. Although Hemingway does not tell us when Jig drops the strands of beads, he does not need to. Their release must occur before she leaves the table; the most likely moment is at her climactic line "Then I'll do it. Because I don't care about me" (213). If she underscores these words with such an action, however unconsciously, her action-oriented companion may be more likely to notice that something is amiss.

What Hemingway does need to tell us, and what has gone unremarked for seventy years, is that, at the narrative fulcrum, the man joins Jig at the end of the station. When Jig laments "[W]e could have all this," the man responds "What did you say?" This prompts Smith to note that "many have wondered why she does not stalk off" at this point and leave him (211). Why indeed? Because the man's question suggests, as does so much else in the story, two mutually exclusive interpretations: either he has not been paying attention and is therefore a cad, or he quite ,legitimately does not hear her. The next several lines of dialogue evince such tight stichomythia that he must hear her lament, but the text later reveals that this assumption is false and is the result of narrative misdirection. After the man says "You mustn't feel that way" "They sat down at the table ..." (214). Logically, if both sit, both must have been standing. The man therefore must have moved during the dialogue. But when? And why?

The reader must work backwards through the text to pierce the illusion that the man stays seated. The only plausible moment for him to move is as he asks "What did you say?" Prior to this line Jig is alone; subsequent to it the dialogue is so tight as to render motion not only improbable but illogical. The pronoun which reveals the man's movement is, like Poe's purloined letter, hidden in plain sight, and his movement changes his "Come on back" from an imperative to a plea. If the question "What did you say?" is not damnably insensitive, as Smith has suggested, but rather a mere request for repetition (and he wants to know what she said; he moves to hear her), what else may we, as disgusted as Jig by the man's apparent callousness, have missed?

What we and Jig have missed is the beginning of understanding which the man's words, read properly, evince, and which his motion to join her, underscores. Reading backwards yet again, one can scan no farther than the exchange at which Jig drops the beads before locating the man's initial shift. Prior to this question, the man has shown interest only in a short-term (but permanent) solution to what he perceives as an "unhappy" problem (212). As Renner argues (31), when confronted with "I don't care about me" he may begin, however dimly, to perceive that what he sees as expedient, Jig sees as a sacrifice. If her "I don't care about me" jolts his complacency, and if his assertion, "Well, I care about you," is true, then the remainder of the story should reveal his attempts to reopen communication and convey a willingness to listen to her side. As Smiley notes, he can speak only his own limited language, involving "the repetition of key words and phrases" (9), and he cannot understand Jig's. He can read her actions. He will discover that he has marred with insincerity the words he must now employ to elicit an opposite response. Jig's reasonable (given his stance thus far) resistance to his words will frustrate his efforts further. He must transform himself from antagonist to hero in somewhat less than two pages.

Returning to the stichomythic dialogue (from "What did you say?" to "We'll wait and see" [213]), one sees the evidence for a shift in the man's rhetorical position almost immediately. The dialogue begins in the indicative mood ("We can/can't have everything"). After Jig's statement that "[O]nce they take it away you can never get it back," the man breaks the indicative "Yes/No" pattern by shifting the mood, contextually, to the subjunctive: he replies, rather, that "They haven't taken it away" (213), thus attempting to re-open the debate. This is so subtle that Jig (and many readers) miss this verbal "action" This tack fails; he continues to try to convince her that the debate is still open with two statements, "I don't want you to do anything that you don't want to do" and "But you've got to realize." These lines unfortunately echo, nearly verbatim, his earlier insincerity (evident in "if" and "really": "But I don't want you to do it if you really don't want to" [213]). Jig interrupts both statements, having heard too many variations on these words to trust his sincerity now.

From this point forward, the story becomes an intricate calculus of repetitions of and variations on existing elements. The characters resume their original positions at the table, and much of the action from the opening section of the story is repeated: one character looks at things, one does not; one character tries to communicate, the other refuses to listen; the waitress interrupts a tense moment by bringing two beers; the man translates for Jig; one character moves to the "other side"; and the narrative voice focuses on that character's perspective. Now, though, the couple's respective positions in the spatial and communication dynamic are reversed.

Jig has spent the entire story looking at her surroundings (hills, ground, curtain, fields, and shadow); the man has yet to look directly at anything. He does so now: first at her, then at the table, the bags, the tracks, and, finally, the people in the bar (214). Jig, in this second section, does not appear to look at anything. Just as the man is the one who looks, he is the one who now confronts the urgency of their situation and who must attempt to communicate this urgency to her, as she tried (and failed) to do initially. Her orientation has been spatial (imaginative) throughout; his must be temporal (goal-directed) -- whereas she has perceived the "whole world" (213), he can only perceive the ticking of the train's timetable and the rising odds against resolution.

Unfortunately, at this point in the story, we and Jig are confronted with a veritable plethora of indefinite pronouns, nine obviously indefinite ("it") and one which in its first appearance appears to be definite ("we") but by its second, at least in the manuscript, is quite the opposite:

      "You've got to realize ... that I don't want you to do it if you don't
   want to. I'm perfectly willing to go through with it if it means anything
   to you."

      "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 any
   one else. And I know it's perfectly simple."

      "Yes, you know it's perfectly simple."

      "It's all right for you to say that but I do know it" (214).

Two lines from this section of dialogue proved elusive to Hemingway as he reworked them through four complete versions between the first draft and publication (File 473, 10):

      "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." (214).

In the first draft, this section of dialogue reads two ways:


      "It doesn't mean anything to you?"

      "Of course it does. But it's just a question of expediency. And I know
   it's perfectly simple"


      "Doesn't it mean anything to you?"

     "Of course it does. But I don't want anybody but you. I don't want anyone
   else. I know how the other thing is. And I know it's perfectly simple."

By the end of the first draft, Jig's initially strong accusation had been weakened slightly, but the man's attitude remains essentially unchanged. Both first draft versions support the reading that his position never waivers.

The second-sitting revisions, the final revisions Hemingway made on the manuscript,(6) also contain two versions of this section (the latter of which matches the published text). The first raises the abortion debate to a new level, one that recognizes the baby as a real third person:


      "Doesn't it mean anything to you? Three of us could get along."

      "Of course it does. And I know we could."

Hemingway rejected this version in favor of the more ambiguous published text, rightly excising Jig's reference to the "Three of us" as a flaw -- not necessarily of content, but of effect. The phrase is too direct, too obvious, and represents too efficient a form of communication to be consistent with these characters. In writing a short story such as this, Nakjavani tells us, "to explain is to destroy" (43). Even so, Hemingway tried these same three words again at a later point in the second-sitting. Their second appearance occurs in the man's lines:

      He did not say anything but looked at/her/the bags against the wall of
   the station. There were/stickers/labels on them from all the hotels where
   they had/spent nights/stopped.

      "But I don't want you to," he said, "I don't care anything about it.
   /Three of us could get/" (File 473, 10-11; emphasis added; deletions
   indicated by//).

Thus, after "He did not say anything" he does say something -- too much and too directly. Hemingway did not even complete the sentence before he crossed it out. Although Hemingway's oft-quoted assertion regarding the lingering affective resonance of "things left out" of his works must be invoked with caution, the rhetorical shift from "expediency" to "Three of us" is diametric and total. Of all the things "left out," or at least crossed out, of all of Hemingway's stories, these three words may be the most startling, as they indicate without question an interpretive possibility which Renner alone has articulated.

The man has been misunderstood in his first steps toward the language of commitment. His reply to Jig's sarcasm, "but I do know it," reverberates with pathetic irony. He does know what he is trying to say, but he knows with equal certainty that he is failing miserably. When she asks that they "please please please please please please please stop talking," the man is forced to comply to prove the sincerity of his claim that he would "do anything for you" (214). He is dutifully silent, "but looked at the bags" (214). This sentence could have read "and looked at the bags"; the conjunction "but" links his consideration of the bags to what he would say had he not bound himself unwittingly to silence.

The labels remind him of their nights together and spur him to attempt one more speech: "But I don't want you to ... I don't care anything about it" (214). Although in the published text, the man certainly does not continue by asserting that the three of them could get along; the repetition of "but" in this section indicates that he knows the matter is too important for silence. Once again, though, the effect of his words is the opposite of what he intends. "I don't care anything about it" is a terrible rhetorical fumble. Neither Jig, who threatens to scream, nor the reader, who might want to, can locate an antecedent for that crucial "it" which in the manuscript refers to neither abortion nor baby, but to his earlier stance in the debate. Reluctant, frustrated, and overwhelmed, he is, finally, conceding.

The story's ultimate ambiguity resides in the nearly perfect balance Hemingway crafted in the manuscripts between the representative "sides," both spatial and rhetorical. A collation of the manuscript (File 473) with the text of the first edition (the 1927 edition of Men Without Women), reveals that the nearly overwhelming ambiguity in the story resulted from emendations made during a second writing session, including the man's surprising "Three of us." An analysis of this set of emendations reveals a vast chasm between the narrative in its first draft and that which became the published version.

In the first draft, the story reads as many have read the published text: the man's character and attitude remain static throughout, and Jig must either defer to his judgment regarding the abortion or end the relationship. During the second sitting, however, Hemingway made subtle changes to great effect. To Jig's apology "I just meant the coloring of their skin" he added "through the trees" (File 473, 5). After "It's the only thing that's made us unhappy" he added "The girl looked/away/at the bead curtain,/and/put her hand out and took hold of two of the strings of beads" (File 473, 6). He added the cloud's shadow, "The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river through the trees" (File 473, 8). He changed the imperative, paternalistic "But you must realize" to the more pleading "you've got to realize" (File 473, 9). He reworked the difficult dialogue, added a "please" and nearly let the cat out of the bag with "Three of us" (File 473, 10-11). He added Jig's second smile, her response to "I'd better take the bags over to the other side of the station" (File 473, 11).

As a set, these second-sitting emendations serve to heighten, if not to resolve, the story's ambiguity. Why do we care about the trees? They orient us within the setting and cement both characters' perceptions spatially. The beads? Because we and the man can see Jig considering her options and deciding. The cloud's shadow (and it is just its shadow, moving ominously, perhaps, but not coming to rest, over the grain) provides an evocative image (shadows are ominous, especially from Jig's perspective at this moment, but a cloud may also bring the cool relief of rain to a parched valley), and also, practically, reminds us about the trees, in case we missed them the first time.

Why a second smile? Because it links her first and her third, and because provides us with her immediate response to the man's decision to move the bags. Is she saying "thank you" again, and for much more than just carrying the heavy bags? The bags are "heavy" indeed, if they contain not only their literal contents but also their possible metaphorical meaning. Prior to the man's movement, they suggest only the shallow exteriority of the relationship: they bear the surface symbols of a peripatetic existence. As the man carries them, however, they are two, they are full, and they are heavy. They now have internal content and heft, and bear a closer affinity to the weighty commitment of parenthood than to shallow "expediency."

As the man moves the bags to the "other" side (and, incidentally, into the light), the narrative voice shifts to his perspective and indicates his distance from the train, which he does not see. This underscores his distance from the people who will, unlike himself, reasonably board the train for which they have been waiting rather than some later train which will take them into an uncertain future. From his perspective, abortion would have been the "reasonable" course of action. The recent debate must have felt anything but "reasonable" to him. But he has learned that his perspective is just that: his. As he sits in the interior space, which Kozikowski associates, obliquely, with the womb (108), one wonders why he is there unless he needs to steady his nerves and let the concept of impending fatherhood begin to sink in.

Smith notes that the first draft of this section reads quite differently from the published text:

   There must be some actual world. There must be some place you could touch
   where people were calm and reasonable. Once it had all been as simple as
   this bar. (Smith 205; File 473, 12)

Smith asserts that the "reasonably" sentence, with which Hemingway replaced these deleted lines during the second sitting, functions as a "[reduction of] the whole perception to the inserted sentence with its metaphoric adverb" (Smith, 205). This interpretation is consistent with the reading which proposes that the man's "benighted vision" remains unaltered, yet by making this second-sitting change Hemingway lends "reasonably" more rhetorical weight than Smith suggests -- it may function not as a "reducing" metaphor but as a metaphor for the distance traveled by the man, who literally turns his back on "reason" when he rejoins Jig outside. From his perspective, he has been "hooked" and "landed," as suggested by her name's fishing connotation.(7) In response to the white elephant aspect of their situation, he may have done the honorable thing; but the lingering negative affect derives from his focus on their previous life as having been ruined.

When the man emerges from the bar, the "three of them" have barely survived the struggle in this isolated valley arena. His movements and her smiles are actions, the language of the arena, language which does not require words, and the only language in which the two communicate fluently. This is not to say that the story presents the reader with a blissful vision of the union or its future. It does not. Physio-spatial communication may avert the unnecessary termination of an unplanned but not entirely unwelcome pregnancy, yet gendered miscommunication will extend beyond the closing of the arena into "real life." The two will have to learn to communicate verbally; the prognosis can be only guarded at best.

A partial answer, then, to the "disturbing" question of why Hemingway gave Pauline this story within three weeks of their Catholic wedding is that Pauline, reading the manuscript, could see instantly what has taken so long to reconstruct here: that not only does the American man change his mind halfway through the story, but that Ernest Hemingway did too. He initially wrote the story as most people read it, and then laid over it a nearly transparent layer consisting of a few minute changes which transformed the story entirely. As published among the other stories in the already-titled Men Without Women, the subtlety of this transformation nearly disappears. But Pauline, on her honeymoon, had access to two sources of information that a reader holding just the published text does not. The first, of course, was the immediate twelve pages of visual evidence for the transformation Hemingway had wrought on the story. What had been a "perfectly simple" story in the first draft had become a narrative palimpsest, an aggressive reading of Which will yield the reward of

an almost perfectly symmetrical and diabolically ambiguous story, one that can end with nearly equal certainty in tragic disunity or Aristotelean comic unity. Pauline's second advantage was her intimate knowledge of what the word "abortion" meant to Hemingway within the context of their relationship.

During the writing of "Hills," Hemingway deviated from his usual composition method, which was to prepare his own typescripts and to make authorial emendations as he prepared the various typed drafts. By 6 December 1926, however, he had broken his typewriter (Bruccoli 53) and he presumably did not bring the one he borrowed to Le Grau du Roi. His own had been damaged, perhaps, by heavy key-pounding as he wrote desperate, forbidden letters to Pauline during the bleak "100 days' separation" initially prescribed by Hadley as a condition for divorce.

These letters and cables, several of which are unfinished (Outgoing Correspondence 1926), reveal Hemingway's despair as communications from Pauline grew sporadic and finally stopped altogether. He knew from her sister Ginny that their mother was preying on Pauline's guilt at destroying Hemingway's marriage and family. Unable to control events in Piggott from Paris, Hemingway waited, in a "black depression" (SL 234) for Pauline's decision either to return to marry him in Paris or to accept a job in New York. He would not know her decision, for sure, until she sailed.

Hemingway waged a long-distance written campaign against and for Pauline's conscience. In his letters, one can trace the evolution of one of his most elusive metaphors -- the metaphor "left out" of "Hills Like White Elephants." Its origin lies in his encoding their relationship as a nascent body. In his letter of 12 November 1926, he attempts to persuade her that the stakes of her decision outweigh the obvious sins of adultery and divorce; he implies that their reunion is a matter of life and death:

   It was certain that your mother would feel badly about your marrying some
   one who was divorced, about breaking up a home, about getting into a
   mess--and it is certain too that silent disapproval is the most deadly ...
   (SL 220, emphasis added).

Hemingway rhetorically alleviates adultery and divorce by renaming them "mess" and then juxtaposing that relatively benign noun with the weighty descriptive "deadly" This charged adverb marks the conception of what was initially a relatively simple metaphor: for their relationship to be in "deadly" peril, it must be somehow "alive." It is mortally threatened by Pauline's apparent decision to break off the relationship: "evidently we are to be smashed by choice -- our own free choice -- in a grievous matter, with deliberate and full consent" (SL 222).

Hemingway elaborates the metaphor by giving the relationship a body. Under the conditions of this evolving metaphor, love can potentially realize embodiment (metaphysical birth) through the motion of bodies (in this case, Pauline) across space (the Atlantic) toward union (marriage/intercourse). A strange alchemy of genius will resolve this traditional erotic vision into one of Hemingway's most subtle works by capitalizing on having placed the burden of the metaphorical tenor, "relationship as body" on the improbable vehicle, "surgery":

   But I won't and I won't think about it and maybe you'll come back and maybe
   there will be something left of you and maybe we'll have a little guts and
   not try self sacrifices in the middle of surgical operations and maybe
   we'll come through and maybe and maybe and maybe and maybe (SL 222).

The "surgical operations" in question here seem to refer both to the divorce from Hadley and the separation from Pauline, with "self sacrifices" indicating Pauline's "natural" (one is tempted to say "reasonable") inclination to listen to her mother (SL 220) and end their relationship.

Hemingway combines the "surgical operation" motif with the idea of "sacrifice" in a later, unfinished letter (3 December), as he recasts Pauline's apparent decision to stay in the United States as a decision to "abort" their embryonic relationship:

   You see Pfife I think that when two people love each other [going `away
   from each other'] works almost as bad as an abortion.... But the deliberate
   keeping apart when all you have is each other does something bad to you and
   lately it has me all shot to hell inside (SL 234; emphasis added).

It is disconcerting to imagine the Hemingway representing himself as a pregnant mother, "shot to hell inside"; it is no less disconcerting to consider the couple in "Hills" as a very heavily fictionalized, cross-gendered representation of Ernest and Pauline's relationship -- a possibility that Hemingway himself seems only to have realized consciously during the second sitting. Two people in love, his vision asserts, create between them a metaphorical pregnancy, their mutual labor producing the birth of a successful union. Pauline, of course, finally decided against sacrifice in favor of that union: on 30 December 1926, she sailed for France (Kert 198), moving her suitcases across to the other side of the Atlantic. The wedding took place in Paris on 10 May 1927.

Further, Baker notes with "some interest" that Hemingway "began the story in the first person" (emphasis added), referring to the author's 31 March 1927, letter to Fitzgerald as the source for one of the story's images: "We sat at a table in the shade of the station" (Life 595). (Smith adds that the same letter contains the phrase "Well, well, well" [206; SL 249].) Although Baker does not include the entire letter in Selected Letters, thus obscuring the antecedent for the pronoun "we," what is of even more interest is that Hemingway continues,

   Pauline is fine and back from America. I've been in love with her for so
   damned long that it certainly is fine to see a little something of her (SL
   249; emphasis added).

The "black depression" is over and, although he sounds a little bitter about it, there's nothing wrong with him. He feels "fine."

   "Well, well, well" indeed.

Most readers do not, of course, have Pauline's advantages of having read Hemingway's letters and the holograph first. Only those familiar with Smith's work have any knowledge of dedication, which has never appeared with the published story. "Hills" is the only story manuscript so dedicated, and perhaps Hemingway intended the dedication for Pauline's eyes only. Everything about the abortion is left out of this deceptively simple "abortion story" (Baker, Life 595)--not only the word, but also its metaphorical status in the context of the newlywed's intimate history, and the dedication which provides the signpost "To Biography." Instead, Hemingway presents us with a truly modernist metaphor, or what Pound would perhaps more aptly call an `Image':

   that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of
   time.... it is the presentation of such a complex instantaneously which
   gives that sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time
   limits and space limits, that sense of sudden growth we experience in the
   presence of the greatest works of art. It is better to present one Image in
   a lifetime than to produce voluminous works.(4)

The palimpsest of the published text, like much in the story itself--the white elephants, "Jig," the shadow of a cloud, "across," the smiles, the act of moving suitcases, nearly every spoken pronoun (Josephs 55) and almost all of the dialogue--can almost miraculously support two equal and opposite meanings. But no matter how we choose, each by each, to approach the story, to resolve these oppositions, the story is about more--much more--perhaps even seven-eighths more--than the end of a shallow relationship or the fly-by-night expediency of the operation necessary to keep it that way.


I am grateful to the Hinkle family, The JFK Library Foundation, The Hemingway Society, Norma Seim, and Joe Johnston, for their generous research support; I am deeply indebted to Bill Veeder, J.T. Ferguson, Martha Adams Bohrer, Rebecca Chung, Tracy Banis, and, especially, the late Paul Smith for their comments on and contributions to this argument. Any errors are my own.

All page references to the published version of "Hills" refer to The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigia Edition.

(1.) The first and only holograph lists Hemingway's return address as c/o "Guaranty Trust" (File 473, 1), indicating that he was away from Paris. The absence of an emended typescript suggests professional preparation and that it was mailed to Perkins from the honeymoon, along with a letter dated 27 May 1927, "Here are two more stories for the book [MWW]" (SL 251).

(2.) Hemingway informed Perkins that "Stories like Fifty Grand, My Old Man and that sort are no where near as good stories, in the end, as a story like Hills Like White Elephants or Sea Change. But a book needs them because people understand them easily and it gives them the necessary confidence in the stories that are hard for them" (Bruccoli 188).

(3.) Parker, in 1927, characterizes "Hills" as "delicate and tragic" (94); Josephs, in 1996, implies that the story illustrates "the end of love" (58). Pamela Smiley's 1988 response differs by arguing that both characters are simultaneously victims and perpetrators of "gender-linked miscommunication." She relocates responsibility for the tragedy, but agrees with the majority that the outcome looks bleak.

(4.) For a summary of critical discussion of the various meanings of "white elephant," see Smith 208.

(5.) The extent to which the story's ending depends on which hills are like white elephants is evident from a mistranslation of "across" in the story's current French translation, which begins "A l'autre cote de la vallee ... [On the other side of the valley...]" (trans. Robillard and Duhamel 9). The story's title in this translation is "Paradis Perdu [Paradise Lost]."

(6.) The Collation reveals that the story was composed in three sittings: first draft; second sitting (revisions made on the same pages but at a later time); and final editing. The first draft appears to have written rather quickly, in large, generously spaced letters, with very few same-draft changes. Second sitting emendations are characterized by smaller handwriting, heavier pencil, and a different angle on the page. No substantive material was added or deleted after this sitting.

(7.) Although several critics have discussed the relevance of the name "Jig" (most extensively, O'Brien, 21; also Abdoo, 240), one definition is consistently and surprisingly left out. According to the 1913 edition of Webster's Dictionary, a "jig" is not only a dance, a mechanical sheath, etc.; it is also "a trolling bait, consisting of a bright spoon and a hook attached." That Hemingway would be unaware of the connotational possibilities of "bright lure" and "hook" to Jig's name is highly unlikely, especially as David Bourne wishes for such a device in The Garden of Eden (7).


Baker, Carlos. Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story. New York: Collier, 1969.

Bruccoli, Matthew J. Ed. The Only Thing That Counts: The Ernest Hemingway-Maxwell Perkins Correspondence. New York: Scribner's, 1996.

Hannum, Howard L. "`Jig Jig to dirty ears': White Elephants to Let." The Hemingway Review 11.1 (Spring 1991): 46-59.

Hemingway, Ernest. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigia Edition. New York: Scribner's, 1987.

--. Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters 1917-1961. Ed. Carlos Baker. New York: Scribner's, 1981.

--. The Garden of Eden. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1986.

--. "Hills Like White Elephants-- A Story." File 473. Hemingway Collection. John F. Kennedy Library. Boston.

--. Men Without Women. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1927.

--. Outgoing Correspondence 1926. Hemingway Collection. John F. Kennedy Library. Boston.

--. Paradis perdu suivi de La cinquieme colonne. Trans. Henri Robillard and Marcel Duhamel. 1949. France: Gallimard, 1995.

Josephs, Allen. "How Did Hemingway Write?" North Dakota Quarterly 63.3 (Summer 1996): 50-64.

Kert, Bernice. The Hemingway Women. New York: W.W. Norton, 1983.

Kozikowski, Stanley. "Hemingway's `Hills Like White Elephants.'" Explicator 52 (Winter 1994): 107-109.

Nakjavani, Erik. "The Aesthetics of Silence: Hemingway's `The Art of the Short Story.'" The Hemingway Review 3.2 (Spring 1984): 38-45.

O'Brien, Timothy D. "Allusion, Word-Play, and the Central Conflict in `Hills Like White Elephants.'" The Hemingway Review 12.1 (Fall 1992): 19-26.

Parker, Dorothy. "Review of Men Without Women." The New Yorker (29 October 1927): 92-94.

Pound, Ezra. "A Retrospect." Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. Ed. T.S. Eliot. New York: New Directions, 1968.

Renner, Stanley. "Moving to the Girl's Side of `Hills Like White Elephants.'" The Hemingway Review 15.1 (Fall 1995): 27-41.

Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: An Annotated Chronology. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1991.

Smiley, Pamela. "Gender-Linked Miscommunication in `Hills Like White Elephants.'" The Hemingway Review 8.1 (Fall 1988): 2-12.

Smith, Paul. A Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1989.

HILARY K. JUSTICE University of Chicago

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A53409309