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Hills Like White Elephants

Ernest Hemingway

Context

Table of Contents

Plot Overview

Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, the second of six children, and spent his early years in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago. Both his mother and father were active members of the First Congregational Church and ran a strict household. All their children were required to abstain from any enjoyment on Sundays, for example, and were strictly punished for any disobedience. Hemingway later condemned them for their distinctly middle-class values and oppressive sense of morality.

Intelligent and an avid nature lover, Hemingway demonstrated a clear talent for writing from a young age. In fact, he published his first literary work at age seventeen. His father encouraged him to attend college after finishing high school, but Hemingway wanted to enter the army or become a writer. When his father refused to allow him to enlist, Hemingway left home and began reporting for the Kansas City Star.

Hemingway began to hone his now-famous literary style during his years as a reporter. His editors instructed him to write short, factual sentences without too many negatives to deliver the facts in his articles. He later incorporated this writing style into his own fiction writing. Hemingway soon grew restless and left the Star to serve in the Red Cross, where he worked as an ambulance driver in Europe during World War I. While recovering from a knee injury in a hospital in Milan, he fell in love with a nurse named Agnes von Kurosky. Although their relationship didn’t last, he based his novel A Farewell To Arms (1929) on their romance.

After returning to America and finding new work as a journalist, Hemingway met and married Elizabeth Hadley Richardson. Soon after giving birth to their first child, however, the couple divorced because of Hemingway’s affair with Pauline Pfeiffer. He subsequently married Pfeiffer and had two more children, but he left her after twelve years to marry another mistress, Martha Gellhorn. This third marriage lasted roughly ten years, but it dissolved like the others when he fell in love with yet another mistress.

Hemingway published “Hills Like White Elephants” in 1927 in his critically acclaimed second collection of short stories, Men Without Women. He wove many autobiographical elements into the story, particularly his lifelong difficulty building meaningful relationships. The story’s numerous allusions and sparse style are also typical of Hemingway’s writing.

Despite his success, Hemingway struggled with depression and alcoholism for most of his adult life. Many critics claim that his writing deteriorated after World War II, when his mental and physical health took a turn for the worse. He died in the summer of 1961 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at age sixty-one.

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