Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants is filled with dialogue. It has the reverse problem from other stories that have too much prose and little dialogue. However, in this story, the dialogue takes on the role of prose, adding pauses within the story that might have not been present otherwise. At the beginning of the story, the dialogue is used to indicate a passing of time. “What should we drink?” is followed by a space of time when the girl sets her hat down, and gives the reader a pause to situate themselves within the frame of reference of the story.

This passing of time is also indicated later in the story, where two lines of dialogue are split by either “the girl said” or “the man said” or another similar divider. The divider subtlety indicates that time has passed. Later in the story, there is prose that offers a break from the constant dialogue. However, this prose does not seem to do much work for the momentum of the story. It essentially acts as a recapitulation of earlier prose, and shows that the two are in the same place that they were in the beginning of the story, but some time had passed. It reaffirms the allusions that the quotes give of time passing.

The quotations can also clarify who is speaking. Page 345 demonstrates a section of back-to-back, firing quotations. Some authors will allow dialogue to occur without separating it by quotation marks, but by having one quote per person per line, readers can more easily discern who is speaking within unidentified dialogue.

The quotations used also deliver an air of finality, and of decisions being made. They provide assertiveness to different parts of the story, like with the drinks that are ordered at the beginning. They indicate decisions are made. Another quality visible in the story is the lack of quotation marks on page 344. Here, the line “The girl did not say anything,” becomes more powerful due to the lack of quotes. It emphasizes what is not being said, and is at an in-between point for prose and dialogue. The lack of quotes gives readers time to ponder the message of why the girl might seem upset and not say anything in response to the man. Overall, this story uses quotes to indicate time and emotion, and demonstrates its uses within a conversation.


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