The Ambiguity of Language with Ernest Hemingway

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The ambiguity of language in Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” Fiction in English: Nobel Prize Winners since 1950 Like many of Hemingway’s works, “Hills Like White Elephants” is deceptive in its simplicity and rather straightforward plot. An expatriate couple, referred to as the American and Jig, is waiting in a train station for a train that will arrive in forty minutes. As they are having a drink, they are also struggling to communicate their opposing views on the course their relationship should take. The story consists almost entirely out of dialogue and provides the reader with a tension created by the failure of communication. As Charles M. Oliver states that “[i]n spite of what seems to the reader only small talk, it is clear that underneath their conversation is a tension that permeates their relationship” (202). Therefore, I believe that the true conflict in this story is caused almost entirely by the increasing miscommunication between men and women and their use of ambiguous and gender-linked language patterns. The fact that conversational patterns differ already becomes clear at the beginning of the story when Jig describes the line of hills she sees in the distance. She states that “[t]hey look like white elephants” (251). Women’s language in general contains a lot of emotions and impressions. Therefore, their descriptions are rather more ambiguous and subjective. The American and men in general, on the other hand, tend to include facts and observations in their language to create a rather direct and objective result. His short replies clearly reflect a kind of irritation and give the impression of wanting to settle this matter as soon as possible. He probably feels uncomfortable with the situation and does not appreciate the fact that Jig is avoiding the subject. As Robin Lacoff states that the American’s contribution is “precise and to the

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