Modernism: Hills Like White Elephants, By Ernest Hemingway

1848 words - 7 pages

The art, literature, and poetry of the early 20th century called for a disruption of social values. Modernism became the vague term to describe the shift. The characteristics of the term Modernism, all seek to free the restricted human spirit. It had no trust in the moral conventions and codes of the past. One of the examples of modernism, that breaks the conventions and traditions of literature prior to Modernism, is Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants”. The short story uses plot, symbolism, setting, dialogue, and a new style of writing to allow human spirit to experiment with meaning and interpretation.
Some of the characteristics of Modernism are: a desire to break conventions and established traditions, reject history, experiment, remove relativity, remove any literal meaning, and create an identity that is fluid. The rejection of history sought to provide a narrative that could be completely up for interpretation. Any literal meaning no longer existed nor was it easily given; essence became synonymous. Narrative was transformed. Epic stories, like “Hills Like White Elephants”, could occur in the sequence of a day. Stories became pushed by a flow of thoughts. The narrative became skeptical of linear plots, preferring to function in fragments. These fragments often led to open unresolved inconclusive endings. This echoes in the short story’s format. The short story functions in fragmented dialogue. Focusing on subjectivity rather than objectivity. Creating characters with unfixed, mixed views to challenge readers.
The characters of a modernist narrative reflected a new way of thinking. A summery no longer highlighted meaning, it was ambiguous. The ambiguity portrayed unmanageable futures. The Modernist created a new identity, one that was a fluid identity. Which focused on the reality that the reader is the furthest from himself or herself. Therefore there is no way knowing, only interpretation.
In “Hills Like White Elephants” Hemingway exceeds the boundaries of literature. He provides no clear resolution or climax. The reader becomes unaware of the narrator, only knowing what is said or described within the bare minimum of context. The short story seemingly only makes sense after multiple reads and in conversation with other readers. Each time leads to further interpretation. Its illusion is a simplistic dialogue that Hemingway exhibits. But, the subject upon closer observation is far more complex than just physical appearances. The individual is capable of inner turmoil under the scrutiny of simple actions.
The plot focuses on crossing boundaries. The two characters, The American and a woman nicknamed “Jig”, are constantly wavering middle grounds. It’s a story about communication and conversation. Though they are having a conversation the couple is not communicating. The story implements ambiguity and subtlety to discuss, though never clearly stated, an abortion. The couple arrives at a train station in Madrid....

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