Emotions and Love in the Stories “Hills Like White Elephants” and “Good People”

Emotions of love and hate are often reoccurring themes in many literary works. These emotions are often displayed between characters in a story and are affected my multiple factors including settings, situations, conflicts, and the list goes on. Throughout history love and hatred has been symbolized in poems, stories, and dramas to reflect deeper themes. These emotions set the mood and tone of the characters and help us better understand the events in a story. Both stories “Hills Like White Elephants”, by Ernest Hemingway, and “Good People”, by David Foster Wallace, demonstrate lessons about expressing emotions of love and hate throughout the text.

“Good People” is a story about Lane Dean and his girlfriend Sheri who gets pregnant unexpectedly. Dean struggles with his Christian beliefs that go against abortion and how Sheri will be affected by this event. Eventually a decision is made after debating whether or not she should go through with it. Sheri is going to get an abortion. The conflict in the story is not only the abortion but the fact that Lane will not love Sheri. Wallace states: “All the different angles and ways they had come at the decision together did not ever include it-the word-for had he once said it, avowed that he did love her, loved Sheri Fisher, then it all would have been transformed. It would not be a different stance or angle, but a difference in the very thing they were praying and deciding on together,” (Wallace 160). This shows that if he previously expressed that he loved her, this situation wouldn’t be as severe of a conflict. The conflict in the story allows the characters to express these emotions and their true honest feelings.

Although I don’t believe Lane hates Sheri, he definitely isn’t in love with her. I think that there are feelings of hatred in regard to the entire situation which is the conflict in the story. Wallace states: “But sitting here beside this girl as unknown to him now as outer space, waiting for whatever she might say to unfreeze him, now he felt like he could see the edge or outline of what a real vision of Hell might be. It was of two great and terrible armies within himself, opposed and facing each other, silent. There would be battle but no victor,” (Wallace 161). He compares the situation that they are in to Hell- a place of torture and despair. This is the polar opposite of love. The situation provoked a layer of honesty which was the deeper conflict in the relationship all along. Lane and Sheri never loved each other at all and this dark situation shined light onto this conclusion.

The ending of the story is significant about the feeling of love. Lane feels that he doesn’t love her and needs to be honest with her about that. He questions love at the end of the story, “why is he so sure he doesn’t love her? Why is one kind of love any different? What if he has no earthly idea what love is?” (Wallace 162). I think this is important because it shows that Lane had to go through this experience to realize that he must be honest with Sheri about how he truly feels. I also think it made him fully realize that he isn’t in love with her and needs to move forward in his life with honesty.

After Sheri decides to get the abortion, Lane feels as though she released him: “That she releases him, all claim, and hopes he finishes up at P.J.C. and does so good in his life and has all joy and good things,” (Wallace 162). He feels released and relieved to not have a future with her because he doesn’t love her. Lane feels that them being parents ties them together for the future because of their beliefs. A major theme of the poem is honesty, and this theme is displayed by Wallace telling a story that expresses both feelings of love and hatred. A theme I gathered from the story is that sometimes we have to go through events in life that are difficult and be under circumstances we hate, in order to determine what and whom we do love in life.

The story “Hills Like White Elephants”, by Ernest Hemingway, expresses feelings of hatred and love. An article titled, “Analysis of ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ by Ernest Hemingway”, by Catherine Sustana goes more into detail about these emotions while the characters face the conflict of abortion. Sustana states: “Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ tells the story of a man and woman drinking beer and anise liqueur while they wait at a train station in Spain. The man is attempting to convince the woman to get an abortion, but the woman is ambivalent about it. The story’s tension comes from their terse, barbed dialogue,” (Sustana). Hemingway uses symbols and dialogue between the characters to demonstrate their feelings of love and hatred.

Sustana considers the white elephant to be a symbol. She states: “But if we consider a ‘white elephant’ as an unwanted item, she could also be pointing out that he never accepts burdens he doesn’t want. Notice the symbolism later in the story when he carries their bags, covered with labels ‘from all the hotels where they had spent nights,’ to the other side of the tracks and deposits them there while he goes back into the bar, alone, to have another drink,” (Sustana). The man makes it clear that the baby that the girl is carrying is unwanted, he says: “But I don’t want anybody but you. I don’t want anyone else,” (Hemingway 126). This shows that the man in the story is giving the girl a subtle ultimatum, this isn’t love. The situation itself has provoked harsh and hateful feelings since they stand on opposing sides of what to do. He says ‘I don’t want anyone else’ which implies that he may move on from her and not stay in the relationship if she doesn’t go through with the abortion. One can also perceive this quote as him meaning that he only wants her and not a baby.

Even though the girl wants to have the baby, she decides to get the abortion because it’s what he wants. She’s doing it because she loves him and wants to make him happy, yet she is suppressing her feelings of anger. At the end of the story, the man asks her: “Do you feel better?”, and the girl lies stating: “I feel fine…There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine,” (Hemingway 126). She is constantly trying to make him happy that she decides to make a decision that she hates and will hold against him. She does it because she wants things between them to be good, “But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you’ll like it?” (Hemingway 125). This quote shows the desperation she has to please him and to make their love vital in the relationship again. But deep down she hates the decision that she’s making, and their relationship isn’t based on real love since it’s one sided. In Buddhism, white elephants symbolize: “A classic symbol of strength, patience, loyalty and wisdom, the elephant epitomizes the boundless powers of the Buddha,” (Olson). Elephants are a role model in Buddhism since they are creatures that, “are unwaveringly obedient to their companions, loyal and loving to their family,” and are, “calm in threatening circumstances”, (Olson). The relationship between the man and girl in the story is nothing like this. The girl is loyal to him, despite the circumstances, yet he is willing to flee the relationship if she doesn’t get the abortion. He doesn’t remain calm or loyal during this situation whatsoever and doesn’t take into account what she truly wants. There is irony in the symbolization of the story since the girl wants what the white elephant represents in their relationship, yet what they have represents the opposite of the symbol.

Emotions of love and hate are themes in many literary works from the beginning of time. These emotions were displayed between characters in both stories I focused on and are affected my multiple factors in their relationships, especially the conflict of abortion. Love and hatred have always been symbolized in poems, stories, and dramas to demonstrate central themes or messages. Both “Hills Like White Elephants”, by Ernest Hemingway, and “Good People”, by David Foster Wallace, express the themes of love and hate throughout their individual texts. The authors demonstrate this through the character’s (and their inner thoughts and feelings), symbols, and dialogue.

Works Cited

  1. Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills Like White Elephants”. The Norton Introduction to Literature to 12th ed. 1927.
  2. Sustana, Catherine. ‘Analysis of ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ by Ernest Hemingway.’ ThoughtCo, Feb. 11, 2020, thoughtco.com/hills-like-white-elephants-analysis-2990497.
  3. Wallace, David Foster. “Good People”. The Norton Introduction to Literature 12th ed.