Applying reader response theory to Ernest Hemingway’s Hills like White Elephants

Ernest Hemingway, has penned out hills like white elephants without providing much background information, clear conversation markers or information on characters’ background, not even proper names. A reader is left with several loose ends and scenarios so as to explain the story. Further, I will be explaining what I could make out from the story as a reader. 

Set near the Ebro river in Spain, the american and the girl are waiting for a train. The story advances through the short exchanges between the two characters. From the conversation, it is almost clear that the male character is trying to persuade the female character to do something. The female character, skeptical about the situation, appears to be trying to convince herself to be as confident as her companion. The characters are seen talking about “letting the air in” (Hemingway, 230) and everything being fine afterward, taking instances and conversations as proof, it feels like the man is forcing or rather trying hard to convince the female into an abortion. The man addressing it as a small operation, ensuring the girl that they will be like before after it, and disclosing that it is the only thing that is bothering him right now are the clear queues from the man’s side that it is an abortion. The girl being unsure about the situation and the man constantly trying to convince her and her unsure mind seeking validation from the man and asking him whether the procedure will make him love her again are clear points that state it is an abortion from the womens side. Without ever using the word abortion, Hemingway plants in our mind the seeds of thoughts that grow upto the conclusion that the characters are talking about abortion or rather the man is persuading the women into one. The woman comes out through the story as if she is convinced about the situation, she drinks without a limit almost as to prove she doesn’t care about the infant inside her. She dreams about her life after the procedure and seeks validation from the man, she needs to be sure that everything will be like before. It shows how she depends on his assurance, it shows how dependent she could be on the man. 

The story, which revolves around the conversation of the two characters, is open to many interpretations. As a reader, I feel that the woman is trying to strike a balance between what she wants and what he wants, but in the end she realises her old life is precious to leave just like that. 

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