Emotional Impact of Separation on “Hills”
Before authoring “Hills like White Elephants,” Hemingway had been residing in Paris with his wife Hadley and son, Bumby. During their stay in Paris, Hadley and Ernest Hemingway met a woman named Pauline Pfeiffer. Pauline was more of a friend to Hadley than Hemingway was. Pauline did not think much of Hemingway at first, she thought he was lazy and a no-doer. Later Pauline and Hemingway fell in love and had an affair. Once Hadley knew of their affair, Hemingway requested a divorce. Hadley agreed under one condition, Hemingway and Pfeiffer had to separate for 100 days. After the 100 days if they were still in love, then Hadley would grant the divorce (Baker 174). This separation period left an indelible effect on Hemingway’s life and works. During this separation, Hemingway began a collection of short stories titled “Men without Women.” Hemingway explained, “The title was an indication that all the stories were missing the softening feminine influence” (Baker 182). Out of this collection, he wrote a short story, “Hills like White Elephants.”
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The story opens up with two people engaging in a conversation at a café in a train station. The reader can easily view that the couple is merely just passing time. However, several references could lead the reader to believe that the alcohol consumption is a panacea for the couple. In the opening paragraph, the couple is getting off the train. They wanted to get something to drink. The couple could have had any beverage to drink but the man suggested they drink beer and then he emphasized “big” ones. This was an indication that the couple was dealing with something serious. In paragraph 87 when the girl did not want to talk anymore, she then asked if they could have another beer (Stanford 841). It is human nature to avoid problems, as this couple is doing. Why do people drink? People develop dependencies, to cope with troubles. In relation to Hemingway, he was among the many literary writers who were alcoholics. He even said, “That all good writers are drinking writers” (Benedictus). Looking at the circumstances when Hemingway wrote the story, he was very depressed. He became so emotionally depressed he vowed to kill himself by Christmas if his love affair had not settled (Baker 176). He faced guilt for divorcing Hadley. He also faced criticism and rejection from his parents. They did not grant approval to his literary works. Hemingway’s mother had even referred to one of his works as, “One of the filthiest books of the year” (Baker 180).