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Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” and Tan’s “Two Kinds”


This paper will compare the style and point of view of the two stories “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway and “Two Kinds” by Amy Tan. The two different perspectives will be examined in the context of their respective stories and symbols to understand the viewpoints and the messages that they convey. Specific examples will be also given from each of the two works in highlighting the given symbols and stories. “Hills Like White Elephants” is the story of a young couple and the main issue pertains to whether the girl should undergo abortion in keeping with the intention of her lover who has other priorities in life than to raise a family immediately. The story, “Two Kinds” by Amy Tan depicts the life of a young immigrant girl from China who lives with her family in San Francisco. The story details the mental confusion and hardships the young girl undergoes in failing to keep up with her mother’s expectations from her.

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Thesis statement

In “Hills Like White Elephants”, Hemingway has used imagery of the settings to a great extent in symbolizing the internal mental process of the young girl in making decisions about her abortion.

In “Two Kinds”, Amy Tan has concentrated throughout the story on representing the theme that parents should concentrate more on guiding their children rather than controlling all their actions.

Hemingway’s story “Hills Like White Elephants”, starts with the use of settings in supporting the powerful symbols he has used. The surroundings as introduced in the story become the basis for the entire story that takes place in the 1920s in Spain. The setting is typically described by Hemingway as:

“The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. […] The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went to Madrid” (Machete, 2009).

The decision regarding abortion is difficult and the loneliness of the railway station symbolizes that there is no other choice; either they go for abortion or don’t. But the question appears to be having far-reaching consequences for the girl and the surrounding atmosphere adds vent to the seriousness of the situation. The landscape surrounding the station plays an important role through its symbolism in depicting the inherent conflict. When the girl glances at the long white hills she tells herself that they look like white elephants, wherefrom she elatedly foresees her baby being born which she believes to be unique like the white elephant. The white color connotes the purity and innocence of the unborn child which she looks forward to. She is happy in admiring the scene surrounding the place where they sat:

“The girl stood up and walked to the end of the station. Across, on the other side, were the fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river through the trees” (Machete, 2009).

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The trees and green fields symbolize fertility and hope as evidenced by her pregnant state and the life of the baby inside her. But the man wants the girl to have an abortion and as she thinks about what he wants, she glances at the dry valley which is desolate and fruitless thus symbolizing her body after she undergoes the abortion. Both the man and the girl continue to argue endlessly and the story ends with the revelation that the train will arrive in five minutes. The story ends without any decision being taken but it is quite evident that the obvious will happen much against the wish of the girl.

The story “Two Kinds” also describes the relationship between two people but here it is between a Chinese mother and her rebellious daughter who wants to be Americanized as soon as possible. The story depicts the details of how the girl named Jing-mei struggles in dealing with her internal and external conflicts that emanate from the pressures that her mother exerts on her. In being born a Chinese, Jing-mei has to bear the burden of being unable to keep up with the expectations of her mother. While trying to find her true self she learns a lot of lessons as she grows older. In the entire length of the story Amy Tan has represented the theme that parents should not aim at controlling their children but should concentrate on guiding them at every step in life.

Jing-mei’s mother is confident about her daughter being able to achieve the most difficult goals in the US if she makes sincere efforts, and keeps pushing her into becoming a prodigy. But her daughter does not share the same views as her and believes that she must establish her own unique identity in deference to what her mother desires. Jing-mei feels that she can be very successful by making her own efforts with determination and this desire leads her to become cruel, hard and stubborn. The story is plotted in San Francisco during the 1950s when lots of immigrants were settling in the city. The strongest arguments put forward by the author relate to the struggles that all children and parents have to undergo as they grow older. As the story moves forward a sense of emotional growth along with mutual respect is observed between the mother and daughter. Tan has in fact taken upon herself the role of the child in narrating from her own viewpoint. The girl’s mother is repeatedly heard using the Chinese words “Ni-Kan, You Watch!” (Amy Tan, 2002). The repeated use of these words implies that Jing-mei is the daughter of a disorderly woman. Tan has expressed the feelings as experienced by children while growing up with parents that are domineering in expecting the whole world out of them, when all they want is to just go and play with other children. The message as given by the author is clear in that the girl’s mother is mainly concerned about her daughter becoming famous so that she herself will be better off. It is easy to see the disguised attempts of the mother are trying to motivate her daughter for her own motives.

The story in using the first-person account appears to have been written in retrospection; that Jing-mei is making a reflection backward from around the age of thirty years thus signifying that it is too late to make changes to happen. But it is clear that the mother and daughter have different viewpoints about life. The identity of self as perceived individually by both characters also differs significantly. However the biggest irony in the story is presented in the last paragraph when JIng-mei realizes that she and her mother are “two halves of the same song” (Amy Tan, 2002). The timing for this was indeed very sad in depicting that her mother was dead at that point.

Both stories have similarities by way of the characters not being natives of the place where the story is plotted. The prevailing circumstances in both stories compel the character to make difficult and painful choices as also to bear the brunt of another’s decision. In Hemingway’s story the girl is seen as reluctantly accepting the decision of her lover in going for the abortion while in Amy Tan’s story the daughter is pressurized too much by her mother and has to ultimately confront her with denials in regard to the plans she had chalked out for her. Both stories provide intense mental pressures for the main characters in coping with their loved ones and in having to give in to their unjustified demands and desires. The stories depict a detailed saga of the mental and emotional pain and hurt suffered at the hands of close ones. Both stories end on a sorrowful note with the endings being sad in not meeting the motives of the main characters.

Works Cited

Amy Tan, “Two Kinds”: A Study Guide from Gale’s “Short Stories for Students” (Volume 09, Chapter 13), 2002, The Gale Group Machete, Hills Like White Elephants – Literary Analysis, Web.

Renner, S. “Moving to the Girl’s Side of ‘Hills Like White Elephants.’” Hemingway Review, 1995. Vol. 15.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 17). Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” and Tan’s “Two Kinds”. Retrieved from


StudyCorgi. (2021, November 17). Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” and Tan’s “Two Kinds”.

Work Cited

"Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” and Tan’s “Two Kinds”." StudyCorgi, 17 Nov. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” and Tan’s “Two Kinds”." November 17, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” and Tan’s “Two Kinds”." November 17, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” and Tan’s “Two Kinds”." November 17, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” and Tan’s “Two Kinds”'. 17 November.

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