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Study Questions

for the Short Story,

"Hills Like White

Elephants"

electric train in the Barcelona station
Jig and the American may have taken a train like this one shown in the Barcelona, Spain, train station.*

See also the Norton LITWEB for this story, with questions for first reading and re-reading.

General Directions: The questions for this story will get you to think about a theme for the story. Before you re-read and again after you re-read the story, review the study questions and try to answer them for yourself. They may be the basis of quiz questions in a course, or they may help you to write an essay about the story.

The theme of a story is some implication about human nature that goes beyond the literal story. It's a statement that the author seems to be driving at--or to be driven by. It's your view of the meaning behind the story based on your image of the characters, their motivation, the setting and plotting of the story, the trustworthiness of the narrator, the author's writing style and symbolism, as well as the cultural, historical, and biographical implications for the story.

After you figure out what the author's image of life is, you need to go back through the story to figure out what details support your view. You also need to be able to explain away any details that don't support your view of the story's meaning.

Study Questions for "Hills Like White Elephants"

typehand.gif (8738 bytes)1. Looking back on the story, list the evidence that tells what kind of operation Jig is confronting. How risky is it physically and emotionally?  (See one group's answer here.)

2. Are you surprised that this story was written by a man? Why or why not?

3. How do the hills in the story spotlight Jig's decision? How does Jig see the setting as symbolic of her choices?

4. How does the fact that Jig sees the setting symbolically get us to identify with her more readily than if the author had suggested the symbolism to us directly? Note the symbolism of the two different landscapes on either side of the Zaragosa train station, plus the possible symbolism of the curtain, as suggested in the commentary beside the story.

5. Hemingway once suggested that his purpose in such a story is to tell the reader as little as possible directly yet to reveal characters' motives and their conflict. How does this principle operate in this story? Where would you like to have more information (besides "he said" and "she said")?

6. Lewis Weeks, Jr., claimed in 1980 that "although subject, setting, point of view, characterization, dialog, irony, and compression all make 'Hills Like White Elephants' one of Hemingway's most brilliant short stories, the symbolism implicit in the title and developed in the story contributes more than any other single quality to the powerful impact."  Agree with any part of this statement in detail, quoting relevant phrases from the story as needed.

Links to Related Works

Student Essay: A student (Marga Manzilla Olmos) from Zaragoza University (best viewed with Internet Explorer or other XTML-compatible browser) provides interesting perspectives on the historical era in which the story is set, having been published in 1927, along with ideas on the symbolism of the setting, a connotation of Jig's name, her desire for drinks, and other notions (but I don't think the conversation was in Spanish, do you?).  Also linked in Gagne's blog.

Student Essay: A student (Genia Stevens) from Beloit College (best viewed with Internet Explorer or other XTML-compatible browser) analyzes Jig's manner of speaking to see her predicament, her frustration, and her lover's self-absorbed blindness.

Essay: Linda Williams of East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma, in a student essay entitled "Communication Breakdown in Spain", also considers the American and Jig to act immaturely.  Based on an interview with Dr. Victor Lindsay of ECU, she suggests that the "white elephant" phrase indicates the man's desire not to have the baby, that he oversimplifies the operation, but that Jig's silence also contributes to the couple's communication problem.  At one point, she suggests that each character should bluntly state what he or she wants; can you guess why neither does so?  Citing an article in a VCU publication [Organ, Dennis, "Hemingway's 'Hills Like White Elephants'." Explicator. Sum. 1979: 11], she also associates the beaded curtain with the baby, although she does not mention a significance for why Jig grabs TWO strands (not one nor three).  I've always thought the two meant her and the American, but Linda's essay caused me to realize that the two might be her and her baby on their own without the American.

Other Notes and Links

 


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*The photo was downloaded from a gallery of train photos at this Website--

http://mercurio.iet.unipi.it/pix/es/diesel/pix.html

The caption read: The old Talgo III with its diesel locomotive class 352 in Barcelona station. These locomotives are being replaced by modern electric locomotives class 252 in the line Madrid - Avila.

jcastjr@telcom.es          Copied by permission of the photographer.

The URL for this page is: http://vccslitonline.vccs.edu/copy_of_hills/stuguide.htm