Ernest Hemingway is noted as one of the greatest American writers in literature with his original writing style that is unique in its concise intelligent form. Hemingway felt that the reader should be using their imagination when engaged in a text and that they should be able to decipher their own meanings within the words. He felt that the less you give them the more exciting it is for them when they find symbols and hidden messages in the text. He gives the reader basic information from which they can base their own ideas of what the story is about. This method is favored by many readers as they feel more involved in the story. Hemingway uses the iceberg theory to achieve his compressed writing style and his work has been recognized worldwide since. I will look at ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ in my analysis of Hemingway’s writing style and how he incorporates the iceberg theory into his work.
Hemingway used the iceberg strategy to allow him to eliminate unnecessary information that could be guessed by the reader without the need for words. He developed “a prose style built from what was left after eliminating all the words one could ‘not stand to hear.’” (Hemingway 1981) In doing this he used dialogue a lot to direct the narration of the story. Through the characters seemingly normal conversation there is rich symbolism hidden within the select few words intelligently chosen by Hemingway: “[t]here is seven-eighths of it under water for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it strengthens your iceberg” (Hemingway 538). This method creates a more concise story with quality rather than quantity as Hemingway says a lot in just a few words. These words contain a lot of symbolism as well as what is not included by the author: “It is the part that doesn’t show” (538). This is evident in ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ as Hemingway leaves out the information that it is an abortion the man and the girl are discussing referring to it as “an awfully simple operation” (540). There are many clues in the text that hint to the fact that the story is mainly concerned with abortion. Everything tastes sweet like licorice to the girl suggesting her pregnancy. Even the beer tastes sweet: “Everything tastes of licorice. Especially all the things you’ve waited so long for, like absinthe” (540).
Although abortion is not mentioned in the text we know it is what the conversation is based on through Hemingway’s use of two literary elements in his application of his iceberg theory which are setting and symbolism (“machete what we’re thinking… ”). The setting is very important as it sets a foreboding atmosphere that allows us to decipher what the girl is thinking. Her observation of “[t]he fields of grain and trees represent fertility and fruitfulness, which symbolize her current pregnant state and the life in her womb” (“machete what we’re thinking… ”) but as she “looked across at the hills on the dry side of the valley” (Hemingway 542), it seems she is looking at what life would be like if she went ahead with the abortion. The land is “barren and sterile, symbolizing her body after the abortion” (“machete what we’re thinking… ”).
The girl observes that the hills look like white elephants. The symbolism here suggests that she is thinking of her unborn child: “[a]s she observes the white hills she foresees elatedly the birth of her baby – something unique like the uncommon white elephant. The color white symbolizes the innocence and purity of her unborn child” (“machete what we’re thinking… ”). White elephants were considered sacred in Buddhist tradition and so they were seen as both a blessing and a curse if you owned one. The reason being that these animals were said to bring good luck in the long run but as they were sacred they could not be used for labor and were extremely expensive to maintain. This is why the girl is so indecisive about the operation to get an abortion. She sees her unborn child as sacred but feels if she has the child she would sacrifice everything her and her partner had together: “[a]nd if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?” (Hemingway 541).
Hemingway’s use of dialogue to tell the majority of his stories is an effective aspect of his iceberg theory: “‘We want two Anis del Toro.’ ‘With water?’ ‘Do you want it with water?’” (540). Even though it doesn’t specifically state who said what we can easily make out what characters are speaking and this helps to eliminate words which “strengthens your iceberg” (538). The conversations become more fluid in the text and it’s easier to become immersed in the story. This intelligent prose style developed by Hemingway is concise, intelligent and an attractive method to the reader setting the benchmark for many writers since. His “concise way of developing a plot through dialogue ….. attracted many imitators” (538).
In conclusion I think Hemingway’s writing style incorporating the iceberg theory is an excellent strategy of writing and I feel it’s clear and concise narration his stories gained Hemingway a justified reputation becoming one of America’s most acknowledged writers and globally recognized in the literary canon. His writing style caught on like wildfire rapidly bringing him success and many fans. At the time of his death he was the most well known and studied writer in America. In today’s 21st century his work is still essential on the literary scene with scholars still learning so much from his simplistic writing style. His stories have “developed a modern, speeded-up, streamlined style that has been endlessly imitated” (Hemingway 1981).
Hemingway, Ernest. Hills Like White Elephants in The Story and Its Writer An Introduction to Short Fiction by Ann Charters. Compact 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2011. 538-542. Print
Hemingway, Ernest. The Norton Anthology American Literature. 7th. D. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007. 1981. Print.
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