Representation of Women in Hills Like White Elephants by Hemingway

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1025 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Dec 3, 2020

Words: 1025|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Dec 3, 2020


Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Iceberg Technique in "Hills Like White Elephants"
  3. The Societal Context: Post-War America
  4. Dependent Women in a Dominant Dynamic
  5. Conclusion


Ernest Hemingway, a renowned American novelist and short story writer, is celebrated for his profound influence on the world of literature. Central to his literary exploration is the consistent portrayal of women as integral but often weaker figures. In his body of work, issues related to masculinity and gender themes are pervasive, making it imperative to delve into the representation of women in one of his seminal short stories, "Hills Like White Elephants." This critical essay aims to comprehensively explore the nuanced depiction of women throughout this short story and to decipher why Hemingway chooses to present them as objects of pity rather than respect. The narrative unfolds as a conversation between an American man and a young girl, highlighting their contrasting roles and illuminating Hemingway's underlying patriarchal attitudes.

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The Iceberg Technique in "Hills Like White Elephants"

In "Hills Like White Elephants," Hemingway employs his signature Iceberg technique, which involves the selective revelation of information and emotions to create a layered narrative. At the heart of this narrative is the discussion between the American man and the girl about her pregnancy. As the story unfolds, the American man, who embodies Hemingway's rigid concept of masculinity, emerges as a pivotal character. He exudes confidence, worldliness, and control, maintaining an exterior of indifference that masks his true intentions.

The American's insensitivity becomes evident when he callously expresses his apathy towards the girl's decision regarding the abortion. He oversimplifies the procedure, presenting it as a routine medical operation, all in an effort to persuade her. His approach is relentless and emotionally detached, relying on simplistic logic rather than engaging in a meaningful conversation. This stark lack of sympathy and understanding amplifies the girl's vulnerability, rendering her seemingly helpless and confused. Notably, she remains unnamed throughout the story, emphasizing her lack of identity and agency in contrast to the American.

The Societal Context: Post-War America

To fully comprehend the portrayal of women in "Hills Like White Elephants," it is essential to consider the societal backdrop against which the story is set. The narrative unfolds in the liberated post-war American society, characterized by shifting social dynamics. Hemingway, however, frequently relies on the stereotyping of masculinity to address the perceived challenges posed by women in his stories. This recurring theme underscores his patriarchal attitudes, as he often depicts women as easily manipulated and unintelligent.

In "Hills Like White Elephants," the American man decides to oversimplify the abortion procedure as "painless" to eliminate an obstacle to his desired way of life. This dehumanization of women permeates the story, underscoring themes of discrimination and patriarchal values. Hemingway's representation of women aligns with his definition of a Code Hero, an individual who exemplifies honor, courage, and endurance in a chaotic and often painful world. These heroes are characterized by courage, knowledge, chivalry, and an individualist attitude, often indulging in alcohol and romantic pursuits. The portrayal of women in his works serves to amplify the patriarchal image of the Code Hero, eclipsing the strengths of the women surrounding them.

Dependent Women in a Dominant Dynamic

Hemingway's portrayal of passive and childlike women in "Hills Like White Elephants" further reinforces the concept of the Code Hero. The American man exercises complete power within the relationship, symbolized by his exclusive command of the Spanish language. This linguistic asymmetry compels Jig, the girl, to rely incessantly on him, even for trivial decisions such as ordering drinks. This dominance solidifies the man's role as the Code Hero, contrasting starkly with Jig's submissive and dependent character.

Jig's portrayal as a woman who cannot make decisions independently is a recurring motif in the story. She consistently seeks approval and validation from the man, who happens to be the one responsible for her pregnancy. Her dependency on him is palpable, reflecting her insecurity and uncertainty within the relationship. Jig's opening question, "What should we drink?" may appear as a common courtesy, but it serves as an initial glimpse into her character. She is portrayed as someone who questions rather than acts, indicative of her self-doubt and lack of assertiveness.

This reliance on the man extends to her inability to make significant life decisions. She imagines white elephants in the surrounding hills, equating the baby with an unwanted gift. Her perception of the child as undesirable, due to the man's lack of desire for it, contributes to her unhappiness and yearning for an "imaginary life." Throughout the story, Jig grapples with her inability to chart her own path and define her purpose. Her character is portrayed as empty, unsure of her ability to create her own meaning in life.


At the heart of "Hills Like White Elephants" is the unspoken theme of women portrayed as helpless and unstable, juxtaposed with men who exude power and clarity. This stark contrast underlines the centrality of male characters in the story while relegating women to roles that support the thesis of the Code Heroes. The prevalence of fragile female characters emphasizes the importance of male protagonists, reinforcing the gender roles Hemingway employs to enhance the ambiance of his Code Heroes.

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In conclusion, Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" serves as a compelling platform for examining his multifaceted portrayal of women within the context of masculinity and gender roles. Through the contrasting characters of the American man and Jig, Hemingway highlights the profound disparities between male dominance and female dependency. This nuanced representation of women as pitiable objects underscores the author's underlying patriarchal attitudes, ultimately serving to accentuate the enduring allure of his Code Heroes. Hemingway's exploration of gender dynamics in this seminal short story resonates with readers, challenging us to critically examine societal expectations and the power dynamics between the sexes.


  1. Hemingway, E. (1927). Hills Like White Elephants. In M. Meyers (Ed.), The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (pp. 211-215). Scribner.
  2. Donaldson, S. (2007). A Farewell to Arms: The War of the Words. In S. Donaldson (Ed.), New Essays on A Farewell to Arms (pp. 1-20). Cambridge University Press.
  3. Smith, P. (2002). The Masculine Image in Hemingway’s Work. In L. Wagner-Martin (Ed.), Ernest Hemingway: Six Decades of Criticism (pp. 123-141). Michigan State University Press.
  4. Griffin, P. (1992). Hemingway’s Gender Critique in “Hills Like White Elephants.” Modern Fiction Studies, 38(3), 423-439.
  5. Spanier, S. (1973). Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.” The English Journal, 62(2), 202-205.
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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Representation of Women in Hills Like White Elephants by Hemingway. (2020, December 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from
“Representation of Women in Hills Like White Elephants by Hemingway.” GradesFixer, 10 Dec. 2020,
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