Hemingway's Minimalism in "Hills Like White Elephants"

1445 words 6 pages
Hemingway’s Minimalism in “Hills Like White Elephants”

In this essay we will look at Earnest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” as an example of his use of the minimalist technique, what that technique is, and what its overall effect has on the reader.
What is minimalism and how did Hemingway use this technique in “Hills Like White Elephants”? The primary effect of Minimalism in modern prose is to place the control of the work back onto the reader. That is to say, the reader is forced to play an active or participatory role in both the visual and emotional aesthetic of the story. Whereas more vividly detailed works by authors such as Falkner and Joyce paint a picture and color in the details of character and setting for the
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Hemingway is not trying to convince the reader to sympathize with a character's emotions, but rather he forces the emotions to come directly from the reader. While minimalism is often explained as a “bare boned” stylistic approach, the effect, ultimately, is that it’s the reader, not the writer, who puts the flesh on the bones.
Thematically, this minimalist technique Hemingway employs here has a similar effect. While one could easily say that this is a story about a man and a woman who are discussing whether or not she woman should have an abortion, Hemingway avoids vague, abstract, and unnecessary words to convey a subtler implication through dialogue. Indeed, one could say that this is a story about miscommunication, about a rift that exists between the two characters, an American who is insensitive and will say just about anything to convince the girl that she ought to have the procedure. Neither of the two characters truly communicates with the other. Both speak, but neither of the two truly listens. When they first receive their drinks, for example, and “…the girl was looking off at the line of hills,” (368) she attempts to reach out to him emotionally through the use of a symbol when she says, “They look like white elephants.” (368) But the American does not receive this in the way she might have hoped. He simply says, “I’ve never seen one,” (368) and then he continues to drink his beer. This disconnect between the two is clear