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The Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway, Creative Essay Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1010

Creative Essay

Transcendentalism:

  1. A literary and philosophical movement, associated with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller, asserting the existence of an ideal spiritual reality that transcends the empirical and scientific and is knowable through intuition.
  2. The quality or state of being transcendental.

“Transcendentalism.” Dictionary of American History. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. 1 Oct. 2011 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Transcendentalism, pioneered by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller, is a literary and philosophical movement which affirms an instinctively foreseeable existence of an ideal spiritual reality that transcends any means empirical or scientific.  This is what separates humans from any other form of mammal, as well as any other generalized animal, plant, or mineral.  Emerson identified that Transcendentalism “posits a distinction between Understanding, or the normal means of apprehending truth through the senses, and Reason, a higher, more intuitive form of perception” (Campbell).   We also maintain, Emerson reflects, a transcendental sense, or an intuitive reaction.

Take, for instance, a garbage can spotted on the curb side.  We Understand (observe) that a garbage can is there.  We then Reason that the can is there to store refuse.  When we see a man approaching that garbage can with a bag of garbage, we intuitively comprehend that he will deposit that bag into the can before the action is performed.  This is a perfect example of Transcendentalism.  By realizing that the man approaching the garbage can with a bag of garbage will soon deposit that bag into the can, without asserting any customary or habitual training, we are asserting a fundamental irrationality or paranormal conclusion to this event.  Within this text, Jig and the American both Understand that she is pregnant.  They both Reason the conception of the pregnancy and that she will give birth to a baby soon enough.  But they both Intuitively recognize, and therefore yearn toward, very separate conclusions.  Her intuition, however, alters.

Existentialism: A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one’s acts.

“Existentialism.” Dictionary of American History. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. 1 Oct. 2011 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

As they initially meet and the story opens, a parallel is drawn.  A spilt exists between the barren wasteland and nature, as well as a split between the dominant American and the submissive girl. These appear to be central metaphors in the story from the beginning.  Their personality features stand out at first when she comments that the hills look like white elephants. When she applauds her original premise, “Wasn’t that bright?,” she is searching for approval of her own insight.  She even forces a compliment out of this nameless, older American, “That was bright,” but she soon denies what she sees since she fears the round symbolism and protruding, womb-like quality of an elephant.  “They don’t really look like white elephants.  I just meant the coloring of their skin through the trees” (Hemingway 189).

More importantly than the symbolism of the protruding quality, however, the American maintains complete control of Jig’s emotions.  This signals that her emotional state is at his mercy; of course he can intuitively draw a conclusion to her pregnancy at this point.

The selfish American instills the irony.  He acts as if he knows—”It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig… It’s not really an operation at all” (Hemingway 189) – when in reality he’s focused on his selfish intent rather than her well being.  He puts up a front in order to further manipulate.  When he tops it off with, “if you don’t want to [follow through the planning of this abortion with me] you don’t have to.  I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to.  But I know it’s perfectly simple” (Hemmingway 189), he’s at his manipulative peak.

This sends out notions of trust me and I care; but more than anything, I’m on your side; I know what’s best for you; therefore, I know I can leave you to pick the obviously safe choice (mine) – manipulation at its finest.  Upfront, she follows suit accordingly.

Her altered intuition is the plot of this story.  As she asks him to “please stop talking” (Hemmingway 191), Jig comes to an awareness.  She experiences what alcoholics would refer to as a moment of clarity.  More than that, she has an epiphany.  Her intuition eventually alters her reasoning and narrows the conclusion in this dialogue.  She wants to form a family and he wants her to have an abortion to lessen his responsibilities.  According to Emerson’s philosophy concerning transcendentalism, the American’s entire transcendental state remains rigid, whereas Jig’s changes.  She has a realization; her perception alters.

Through an overwhelming majority of the story she follows suit to the American’s domination.  In the end, however, whatever she decides to do will be her own decision rather than the American’s.  The girl’s evolution throughout this story sets the theme.  He remains consistent, and with her concluding line, “I feel fine… there’s nothing wrong with me” (Hemingway 191), she discovers a new element within herself.    Jig is the only character named, whereas “The American” is not.  This story is definitely her story.  He portrays a flat characterization, and she is rounded.  He remains consistent, and with her concluding line, “I feel fine… there’s nothing wrong with me” (Hemingway 191), she discovers something within herself.  Thus, this story is more centered on her than him.  Even her focus drifts from herself and her personal well being onto the entirety of the situation at hand.  And despite Hemingway’s use of characterization, dialog, and density, the symbolism throughout plays a key feature.

Through Emerson’s take on transcendentalism, a different lens by which this dialogue can be interpreted becomes available.  Jig and the American clearly assert their own fundamental irrationality or paranormal conclusion to the event of her pregnancy.  By realizing that her pregnancy can lead to both absolute and fulfilled or devastating results at the same time, much the way we realize that man approaching the garbage can with a bag of garbage will soon deposit that bag into the can, we more clearly understand the American’s and Jig’s process of reasoning.

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