Doing research on Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants.”

Doing research on Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants.”

In this brief story by one of America’s great writers, very little occurs on the surface. A man and woman are waiting for a train and having beer. But there is real tension beneath their words and the woman is very upset though tries, not always easily, to not show it, to not be afraid. But afraid of what?

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And that’s it, that’s the story, as if we’re sitting at a table nearby and overhearing (which is how the story came to Hemingway). So what’s to research? In this case, research will be merely to support—and not the main intention—of the short paper. Here are some suggestions:

Perhaps some brief research about the author: when he lived and died, a little about his remarkable life, what are his most famous works, where/when did this short story first appear?
The story begins “The hills across the valley of the Ebro…” Where is Ebro? Tell more about where the story occurs, how its setting highlights the story’s purpose. Other cities are mentioned: get a map and see exactly where the story occurs and tell about that.
The girl says, “Everything tastes of licorice…like absinthe.” What’s absinthe? There’s much to tell about that famous and notorious liqueur. If you research this, you’ll find yourself in Paris!
Although very subtly told and never directly mentioned, the woman will soon get an abortion. Considering when the story was written (about 1925), what was the traumatic (and illegal) procedure like? It certainly wasn’t, as the man says, a ‘simple operation’ that involved far more than merely ‘letting in a little air.’

Ernest Hemingway, about 18 years old, was a soldier in the Italian army during World War I: he had enlisted a year before the United States entered the war. He was badly wounded, and while recovering in a hospital in Milan fell in love with his nurse: it became the foundation of his great novel A Farewell to Arms.

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