I came across Ernest Hemingway’s very short story Hills Like White Elephants thanks to Brad Reed’s podcast. The topic was how to improve at writing dialogue in fiction, and one of the sections addressed Hemingway’s look inside a couple’s veiled debate over what Jonah Hill might refer to as a smushmortion as an example of two characters having very different agendas within the same conversation.
The degree to which the man’s and woman’s agendas are opposed is comical. Here’s this dude, acting like the decision is ultimately the woman’s, but refusing to put the topic to rest until she agrees to have the procedure and terminate the pregnancy. I mean, “it’s awfully simple, Jig.” He pretends as if nothing is wrong in the world – indeed, as if nothing between them had changed since their good old days. It’s not even his refusal to let the pregnancy be a catalyst of change between them; he seems to be trying to deny the passage of time itself.
Meanwhile, we have this pregnant woman who wants nothing more out of this conversation than for it to be over. Ideally she wants him to relate to her, to get what she’s saying, to acknowledge the huge fucking white elephant in the room, but once it is clear that he is only willing to throw glancing jabs that never satiate her desire to be an evolved adult, she shifts her desire to the singular relief that can only come from his shutting the fuck up.
I really like this piece of short fiction. There are many other things to look at in this 1,459-word story relating to Hemingway’s style, but I’ll leave those analyses to the people who have already done them. The kick I got out of “Hills Like White Elephants” was the humanity in seeing two people seemingly having two very distinct conversations with each other, over beers, and waiting for a train.