Hills Like White Elephants- First Person Point of View
First Person Narrative (Jig)
I gazed at the hills across the valley of the Ebro. The longer I stared at them, the more I noticed how white the hills were, even more so with the bright and cloudless sky. They seemed to stretch forever too, and they almost looked like white elephants. It’s really a rather funny thought, but somehow it took heavy weight in my heart. It was a bothersome feeling I couldn’t get rid of, and as the days passed by it only got worse. The air was thick in the hot afternoon sun. It was rather blinding, though I barely felt it inside of the bar; the only shade on that side of the station with two lines of rails that ran parallel to the platform, one on either side of it. The express train from Barcelona would come in forty minutes to take us to Madrid. Yet it was as if the forty minutes had mastered the disguise of living as a second and an eternity. I stared at the hills again; they appeared longer this time. I took a deep breath. The less I thought about it, the easier it would be, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t help but wonder what she or he would be like. To wonder if she’d have his eyes, the deepest blue of the sea; or if he’d have my smile, the one he’d use to get out of any troublesome situation.
Would she travel and drink all the absinthe and beer the world has to offer? He’d probably be as tall as he is, as demanding, and he too would have the chance to be a father like the man in front of me, and hopefully, he’d want to be. It was silly of me to think he’d want to keep it, to dream of a life that wasn’t defined by drinking and traveling. But why would he ever think of giving up that kind of life? To trade his own happiness for my own? If I go through with this he’d love me like he once did and things will go back to how they were. He wouldn’t leave me, would he? No, he loved me, definitely loved me, but maybe not enough. I mentioned the white elephants, even though I knew he’s probably never seen one. Of course, he never had.
“ I might have,” the man says,” Just because I say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything,”
But he didn’t say he wouldn’t have, he said he never had. He wouldn’t have argued over something so frivolous before. Then again, I wouldn’t have been so upset about this. Any day before this I would have laughed it off, and he would have laughed with me. I wanted to enjoy this moment, but I felt he didn’t care enough to be amused by me. I shouldn’t have mentioned the hills looking like elephants, how stupid.
After a while, we ordered another drink, and he droned on and on about the procedure as if he thought it would comfort me. He was always like this, pretending he knew everything, especially my thoughts and feelings. I suppose I didn’t mind. He always knew what was best for me. Or what was best for him? No, what was best for us.
“And you think then we’ll be all right and be happy?” I took deep breaths, focusing my eyes on anything but his face. I looked at the other side of the station, where fields of grain and trees ran along the banks of Ebro. Turning back I noticed the contrast to this side of the station, where everything was brown, almost barren. My heart felt heavy again. I took another sip of beer and gazed at the green fields on the other side.
“I know we will. You don’t have to be afraid. I’ve known lots of people that have done it.”
“So have I,” I whispered. “And afterward they were all so happy.”
Happy. Were they really happy? Would this make us stronger? Happier? I looked back at all the places we had been, all the things we had done. Everything was a blur. It seemed like all we ever did was look at things and try new drinks. Was that really all we ever did? I reached my hand out to the curtain, feeling the bamboo beads between my hand.
“Well,” the man said, “if you don’t want to you don’t have to. I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple.”
“And you really want to?” I ask him, my eyes searching for any signs of skepticism.
“I think it’s the best thing to do. But I don’t want you to do it if you don’t really want to.” I stared at the bamboo beads, that funny feeling I had before slowly creeping in again.
“And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?”
“I love you now. You know I love you.” The words felt as hollow as the bamboo I held in my hand. I knew I wouldn’t be the same person after these circumstances, neither would he, nor our relationship.
“I know. But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you’ll like it?’” I asked desperately because I wanted him to tell me things would be okay and mean it. He tells me, “I’ll love it. I love it now but I just can’t think about it. You know how I get when I worry.” I wanted to believe him, but I knew that nothing would be the same. It would be foolish of me to think everything could go back to being normal but could they? Of, course they could. That’s what he kept telling me. It’s simple. I’m doing this because he wants this; I want this. Do I really want this? She’d have my hair. He tells me that it’s not really an operation and that he’d be with me the entire time, but I don’t really care as long as things go back to the way they used to be. He would have his smile. As long as he keeps loving me, I’ll be fine. He’s still talking, why is he still talking? It’s so hot in here, I’m so sweaty. The train won’t be long; one more beer and I’ll be fine.
Comparing Point of Views
Multiple factors such as setting, plot, and theme contribute to the outcome of a story. However, one may argue that the narration of the story definitely has a hand in its final result. In Hills Like White Elephants, Ernest Hemingway uses objective third person point of view to narrate an exchange of dialogue between a man and a girl addressing an abortion that may or may not happen. However, at first, the reader would most likely be confused with the dialogue and have no idea what the story is about, to begin with. This was probably done in order for the reader to be immersed in the environment rather than the characters. Interestingly, Hemingway also takes advantage of third-person narrative in order to focus the reader’s attention on the conversation, offering a more nuanced version of each character’s perspective.Nevertheless, by rewriting the narrative in first person point of view from the girl, the reader is able to have a better understanding of the tension in the dialogue between the man and the girl. Therefore, the point of view of a story is vital because it affects how much a reader knows, what they focus on when analyzing the story, and the character’s internal struggle. the internal conflict of the character, and their emotions.
Point of view contributes to how much the reader knows about anything and anyone in the story being told. In Hills Like White Elephants the reader is able to recognize a tension between a man and a girl speaking about an operation. For example, after trying Anis del Toro, the girl comments on the drink by saying, “ I wanted to try this new drink. That’s all we do, isn’t it- look at things and try new drinks?” (Hemingway) This line may appear to be meaningless at first glance, but after finishing the story it becomes apparent how important it is when placed in context to the situation given. The girl is more than torn about having to abort her child but is even open to the change that would happen if she kept it. She realizes how linear their relationship actually is, and now that she is with a child it’s clear to her how superficial and in a way, fleeting their lives were, and that maybe a baby would give it more meaning. It is on complete contrast to how the man feels since he doesn’t want any change, evident in how he responds to the girl by saying, “ I guess so,” a response that is rather unfazed. In this way, the reader has to think about the theme of the story, without actually saying it. Instead of outright telling us that this whole situation is the result of an unborn baby repelled by a partner threatened by change, Hemingway cleverly uses third person narrative to give little hints as to what is going on between the two main characters. The clues are scattered throughout, especially in the conversations with the man and the girl. It can also be noted how the narrator in Hemingway’s version has very little presence. Instead, the spotlight is turned to the conversations of the two characters. However, with the point of view changed to the first-person narrative, there is more attention on the thoughts of the girl than the actual conversation she is having with her partner. In the retelling of the story, the same line is used, but not in conversation,“ Will this make us stronger? Happier? I looked back at all the places we had been, all the things we had done. Everything was a blur. It seemed like all we ever did was look at things and try new drinks. Was that really all we ever did?” By translating her lines into inner thoughts, the words she said are given more emotion, while not giving away too much. Her narration shows how unsure she is, and how it is affecting her emotionally. When she asks those questions, she is more or less wondering if the operation will be worth it, or if their relationship was an illusion all along. Additionally, the reader is also able to understand the severity of the decision that she’s to make. This comes to show how the point of view creates a better picture of their circumstances and therefore affects how much the reader knows and understands from the narrative.
Point of view can also change what readers focus on when analyzing the story. Hemingway is aware of this since he takes moments in between dialogue to describe the setting of the story. This is evident in the first paragraph of the story, where the background or setting of the story is introduced first, rather than the characters. After the characters are introduced, it isn’t clear what their names are until the male protagonist mentions the girl’s name. Even then, the man is never introduced by his name, but rather, he is simply called the “ American man”. Hemingway does this particularly to show how the environment surrounding the protagonists symbolize the tension growing between the two characters. For example, in Hills Like White Elephants, after a long conversation with her partner, the woman walks to the other side of the station, which is described like this, “Across the other side were fields of grain and trees along the banks of Ebro.” (Hemingway). The fertile ground on the other side is a comparison to the choice the girl has to make since abundance in nature, is often used as a symbol for fertility in women. In the retelling, the girl looks at the other side, “I look at the other side of the station, where fields of grain and trees ran along the banks of Ebro. Turning back I notice the contrast to this side of the station, where everything is brown, almost barren. My heart feels heavy again. I take another sip of beer and gaze at the green fields on the other side”. The girl is now gazing at the other side while contemplating on her decision, linking nature and her own life together. Yet the artificial “shade” of the bar shields her from the reality of the situation.
Throughout the narration the girl named Jig internally struggles with deciding whether or not to go through with the operation; However, Hemingway’s narration doesn’t make it as noticeable as the rewritten version does. She’s aware that regardless of what happens, things will never go back to how they once were. In the rewritten narration, repetition is utilized to accentuate the reassurance Jig seeks from the man she’s with and her decision about the operation. For example, “He was always like this, pretending he knew everything, especially my thoughts and feelings. I suppose I didn’t mind. He always knew what was best for me. Or what was best for him? No, what was best for us.” shows that she’s pretty certain that once the operation is done with that he’s going to leave her because she becomes overwhelmed by her fear of abandonment and her hunger for his love. In addition to repetition, Jig wanders back and forth between deciding to go through with the abortion and imagining an alternate lifestyle of how her daughter or son would grow up to be, in the rewritten version it says, “He tells me that it’s not really an operation and that he’d be with me the entire time, but I don’t really care as long as things go back to the way they used to be. He would have his smile.” By demonstrating her thought process the reader is able to see how vulnerable and uncertain she is about the situation she’s placed in. She attempts to reassure herself by coping with beers, which also reflects on her lifestyle with the man, and therefore brings to question if she’s ready to leave it behind. Regardless, having the story narrated in first person point of view gives the reader a better understanding of the girl’s thought process and therefore helps sympathize with her unstable emotions.
There are different kinds of Points of View in which a story can be told. Generally speaking, the third point of view is when a story is told using “he” or “she” and “him” or “her” rather than “me” and “I”. Whether or not the story has insight into the character’s thoughts or feelings solely depends on what type of third person point of view, whether it’s omniscient or limited. Omniscient refers to all knowing, therefore insinuating knowing the thoughts and feelings of all characters, and limited point of view read refers to knowing the thoughts and feelings of one character, a selected few or none at all. The first point of view is when the characters use the word “I”, “me”, or “mine”, in other words, anything that indicates that the story is being told by the character themselves. Ernest Hemingway wrote Hills Like White Elephants in a third person point of view to provoke thought and observation of context clues. However, the vagueness of the story simply leads to confusion and misunderstandings. By rewriting the story in the first point of view from the girl, the reader is able to grasp a better concept of what the story is about and is able to reach a new level of emotional understanding. Therefore, this comes to show how the point of view plays a vital role in the outcome of a narrative.