“Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway

In the early 1900s, Spain was very unstable due to the carryover of the 19th century anarchy. In a span of 24 years, three prime ministers had been assassinated in Spain. In addition, there were numerous bombings, uprisings, strikes, attempts on the life of the king and military repression.

The short story “Hills Like White Elephants” written by Ernest Hemingway is a good depiction of the socio political state of Spain at the time.  The story is about an American man who is urging his lover to undertake an abortion. The conversation takes place on a train station as they wait for a train. The story is an inquiry into the isolation and estrangement in Spain.  The brutality of the First World War had taken away the traditional believes of the societies.

Heming’s setting establishes a strong sense of isolation. It is also reinforced by the difference between the characters.  First, he has placed the characters on a desolate train station with parallel train tracks running in opposite direction. One side was brown and dry with no trees or shade. The other side was fertile with trees and fields of grain. The setting is a choice between sterility and fertility. This presents the choice between death and life.

This was the choice the people of Spain had. The country had to either die or stay alive. The country was in anarchy and a decision had to be made. Just like the parallel train rails, the decision was irreversible and totally opposite.  The country had to make the decision without the decision of other countries just like the girl had to make the decision without the help of her friends or family.


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