Writer Wednesday: Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”

‘Well,’ the man said, ‘if you don’t want to you don’t have to. I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple.’

‘And you really want to?’

‘I think it’s the best thing to do. But I don’t want you to do it if you don’t really want to.’

‘And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?’

‘I love you now. You know I love you.’

‘I know. But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you’ll like it?’

‘I’ll love it. I love it now but I just can’t think about it. You know how I get when I worry.’

‘If I do it you won’t ever worry?’

‘I won’t worry about that because it’s perfectly simple.’

‘Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I don’t care about me.’

‘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.’

The girl stood up and walked to the end of the station. Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river through the trees.

‘And we could have all this,’ she said. ‘And we could have everything and every day we make it more impossible.’

– From “Hills Like White Elephants”, written by Ernest Hemingway.

For some reason, I was in a Hemingway mood and took another look at “Hills Like White Elephants”, one of his more popular short stories. This is a great example of what set him apart as a writer at the time, with his emphasis on dialogue, minimalistic descriptions, and complete lack of fear in throwing the reader in the deep end. All the information you need is here, both in terms of what Hemingway gives you and in what he doesn’t give you. In fact, like those hills, on the page and on the white screen in front of you, it feels like the void of whiteness surrounding his words works in favor of Hemingway’s story, as if even that was his intention.

In this age of burst culture and this need to experience complete narratives in short periods of time, writers today can learn a lot from Hemingway. Don’t just take my word for it, read the whole story here.

Ernest Hemingway