The author Ernest Hemingway specialized in what is known as naturalistic writing. He tells the reader only the basic information about what is going on in a particular short story or novel. Much is told about the natural settings of the stories, but very little is given about the characters in his stories. Instead, the facts about the people, including their personalities and characteristics, have to be inferred by close readings of the texts in question. In addition to this, Hemingway's novel and short stories the interactions between characters show the underlying relationships between genders and classes which were present in the society during the time Hemingway was writing. This idea of naturalism both in terms of the landscape and in terms of the interactions of characters can be seen throughout Hemingway's various writings, including "Hills Like White Elephants," "A Clean Well-Lighted Place," "The Killers," and "The End of Something."
Ernest Hemingway's life was filled with adventure; most of the stories that appear in either his short fiction or novels are semi-autobiographical and discuss his own experiences, including his war stories. Hemingway began as a journalist and an ambulance driver during World War I. In 1918, at the age of 19, Hemingway was seriously injured and honorably discharged (Oliver 140). He would use his experiences in the war to write his first novel, A Farewell to Arms. This would prove the pattern of the rest of his life. He traveled internationally and covered everything from the "Lost Generation" of expatriates living in France, bullfights of Madrid, the Spanish Civil War, to people he met which would inspire his various fictional characters such as the fisherman in The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway was present at some of the most important moments of twentieth century American history including the landings at Normandy and the liberation of Paris during World War II (Oliver 192). Personally, Hemingway became obsessed by his passions and continually went hunting, even big-game shooting on safari in Africa. "Papa" as he was often called became consumed by alcoholism in his later years and after dealing with years of crippling depression finally ended his life by shooting himself in the head in his den in the summer of 1961, at age 62.
Hemingway's "Hills like White Elephants" is about a despondent woman who cannot escape her oppressive relationship because the period in which she lives is dominated by men. A man and a woman are in a foreign land, stopping at a small cafe while they wait for a train to pick them up and take them to their next destination. It is evident from their realistic dialogue that the two are not getting along and are in fact in disagreement over something serious. When the young woman says that the hills look like the elephants, the man responds that he wouldn't know. "I might have,' the man said. 'Just because you say I wouldn't have doesn't prove anything" (Hemingway). This is a strange thing to say in response and indicates a feeling of anger wholly unrelated to the context of the mountains in question. Immediately the girl changes the subject, unwilling or unable to disagree with him about anything because she does not have the right as a woman to challenge the man. Additional information is provided regarding this couple's relationship. After reading in between the direct dialogue, a whole additional level is added to the story. It is later made clear that the woman is pregnant and the young man is eager for her to abort the fetus, although that is never explicitly stated. He boyfriend tries to get her to abort by saying, "It's really an awfully simple operation, Jig…It's not really an operation at all" (Hemingway). The desires of the young man are more important to their dynamic than her wants and he presses her on the topic. Later, he assures her that the procedure is natural and that they will "just let the air in and then it's all perfectly natural" (Hemingway). From Jig's demeanor, it is obvious that she is very reluctant to abort the child and in fact may want to keep it. She stares at the hills, she sips her drink, and she does everything else she possibly can to distract the man from his harassment. Jig knows that having the abortion would drive them apart but the man assures her that everything will be good once she does this and is unable to hear her. The way he states his request is designed to cause Jig guilt and enforce his domination and her socially-imposed submission. He says, "If you don't want to 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" (Hemingway). It is obvious that the girl does not want to have an abortion but instead has become changed by this pregnancy from the type of woman she was before. Travelling and drinking no longer holds the same wonder for her, but she feels conflicted. By having the abortion, she can keep the man in her life and he promises things will return how their relationship was before. Although she knows this to be false, it is apparent from the girl's last words what she will do. She says, "I feel fine…There's nothing wrong with me. I'm fine" (Hemingway). As a woman in the Victorian period, she has no voice and so whatever her partner decides for her is what she will ultimately do. Jig will have the abortion because the decision has been made for her. No matter what the two had been fighting over, Jig would have given in because of the implicit character of their relationship. She is the submissive and he the dominant, thus his will is the one that will be done. Now, all that Hemingway has told his reader is that the guy wants the girl to get an operation and she is reluctant. He never explicitly states what kind of procedure. Everything from the girl's demeanor however tells the reader that a pregnancy is behind the arguments between the man and woman. It is background information which is neither explicitly stated nor completely important.
In Ernest Hemingway's "A Clean Well-Lighted Place" he writes about the conversations that take place within one evening among a group of strangers in a small cafe. The main characters of the story are an old man who has gone mostly deaf and two waiters who are very familiar with his habits. The old man is an alcoholic, but not a violent one. The waiters have to watch him or else he will go home without paying his bar tab. As the waiters look on at the old man, they reflect on what matters in their own lives: to the young man all that counts is leaving work early to be with his wife and thus enjoy his youth; for the old man, his life is solely about his time in the cafe and his bed at night. The waiters stand around chatting about how the old man tried to kill himself the week before. One waiter says that the reason for the suicide attempt was that old man was in despair over nothing. When the second waiter asks how he knows the old man was despairing of nothing, the first responds, "He has plenty of money" (Hemingway). This indicates that to this waiter, the only people who can be depressed for any real reason are those who are without money. Hemingway does not give any concrete reasons for this attempt. The waiters show their emotions through their insults towards the old man. The younger waiter is particularly disdainful towards the elderly man in the corner. He says, "I wouldn't want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing" (Hemingway). The author makes it clear that this waiter should be the subject of disdain, not the drunken old man. The young waiter rushes the old man out of the cafe because he is eager to go home. He doesn't care if the old man has nowhere to go. As a young man, his life consists only of his own desires and no one that stands in the way of the attainment of those desires can be tolerated for any longer than is absolutely necessary. To that end, he watches the old man drink his liquor only until the point when he can rush him out of the cafe without risking his employment. The older waiter chastises his younger counterpart and asks him, "What is an hour?" The selfish young man replies, "More to me than to him" (Hemingway). A single hour would allow the old man to relax in his favorite location instead of being thrust out onto the street. For the young man, he does not see this hour in the same context. He only sees the hour as time that could be spent with his wife, doing activities…