Saturday, January 16, 2010

Hills Like White Elephants

It is said that Hemingway never wasted a word. Perhaps this is so. Decidedly, he is spare and favors the direct statement over the ornate. And yet, what's always fascinated me by this story is how much time is spent avoiding a single word. The couple talks and talks and talks, wasting all sorts of words, yet both refuse to speak the one taboo word that ultimately matters.

A friend of mine used the phrase "the elephant in the room," a phrase I hadn't heard in a while but immediately thought about while re-reading this story. The elephant in the room. The topic everyone avoids speaking about. Here, the elephant isn't only in the room; it's in the world. It dominates the landscape, stretching just behind the trees. The American and the girl both agree that they know "lots of people who've had it done," implying just how widespread abortion is and always has been. Yet there was and *is* a tacit understanding that it cannot be spoken of or acknowledged, as if not speaking of all these elephants will cause them to vanish.

I can't help but notice how isolated this girl is. A bubble of all that's unspoken hangs around her, and she can feel her lover's distance from her. The public cafe, rather than offering a social backdrop, seems to isolate her all the more. She unsure of the world in which she lives, not knowing what drinks to try, or what words are painted on the beaded curtain (a image of failed language and its inability to fully cloak what is to be hidden). The labels on their bags from all the hotels they've stopped at again emphasizes her isolation from home.

Hemingway, being the masterful writer he is, comments on none of this. He lets the images carry, and trusts us, his readers, to draw our conclusions. He lets his characters waste words, but himself never says anything beyond the necessary.

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