Lecture Outline: Understanding Iceberg Theory by the Exploration of
Hills like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway
by Jing Nanfei
Objectives: after 2 class hours, students are expected to
• Demonstrate a better understanding and appreciation of H's strategy :short words, lively
dialogues and simple syntax, especially the "iceberg principle."
• Sharpen their skills of analysis and synthesis so as to explore the rich interpretations of
the author’s ideas.
• Classroom Discussion
Procedure: 3-Session lecture
• Session 1: general coverage about Hemingway’s literary career
• Session 2: discussion and exploration of the ―iceberg principle‖ underlined ―Hills like
• Session 3: summary
Session 1: General Coverage
Divide the students into groups to discuss what they know about Hemingway's life and work, and then brief it with the help of a ppt programme:
Brief introduction to Hemingway’s life and work
Hemingway, Ernest, 1899–1961, American novelist and short-story writer, b. Oak Park, Ill. one of the great American writers of the 20th cent.
The son of a country doctor, Hemingway worked as a reporter for the Kansas City Star after graduating from high school in 1917. During World War I he served as an ambulance driver in France and in the Italian infantry and was wounded just before his 19th birthday. Later, while working in Paris as a correspondent for the Toronto Star, he became involved with the expatriate literary and artistic circle surrounding Gertrude Stein. During the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway served as a correspondent on the loyalist side. He fought in World War II and then settled in Cuba in 1945. In 1954, Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. After his expulsion from Cuba by the Castro regime, he moved to Idaho. He was increasingly plagued by ill health and mental problems, and in July, 1961, he committed suicide by shooting himself. Work
Hemingway's fiction usually focuses on people living essential, dangerous lives—soldiers,
fishermen, athletes, bullfighters—who meet the pain and difficulty of their existence with stoic courage. His celebrated literary style, influenced by Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein, is direct, terse, and often monotonous, yet particularly suited to his elemental subject matter. Hemingway's first books, Three Stories and Ten Poems (1923), In Our Time (short stories, 1924), and The Torrents of Spring (a novel, 1926), attracted attention primarily because of his literary
style. With the publication of The Sun Also Rises (1926), he was recognized as the spokesman of the ―lost generation‖ (so called by Gertrude Stein). The novel concerns a group of psychologically bruised, disillusioned expatriates living in postwar Paris, who take psychic refuge in such immediate physical activities as eating, drinking, traveling, brawling, and lovemaking. His next important novel, A Farewell to Arms (1929), tells of a tragic wartime love affair between an ambulance driver and an English nurse. Hemingway also published such volumes of short stories as Men without Women (1927) and Winner Take Nothing (1933), as well as The Fifth Column, a play. His First Forty-nine Stories (1938) includes such famous short stories as ―The
Killers,‖ ―The Undefeated,‖ and ―The Snows of Kilimanjaro.‖ Hemingway's nonfiction works, Death in the Afternoon (1932), about bullfighting, and Green Hills of Africa (1935), about big-game hunting, glorify virility, bravery, and the virtue of a primal challenge to life. From his experience in the Spanish Civil War came Hemingway's great novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), which, in detailing an incident in the war, argues for human brotherhood. His novella The Old Man and the Sea (1952) celebrates the indomitable courage of an aged Cuban fisherman. Among Hemingway's other works are the novels To Have and Have Not (1937) and Across the River and into the Trees (1950); he also edited an anthology of stories, Men at War (1942). Posthumous publications include A Moveable Feast (1964), a memoir of Paris in the 1920s; the novels Islands in the Stream (1970) and True at First Light (1999), a safari saga begun in 1954 and edited by his son Patrick; and The Nick Adams Stories (1972), a collection that includes previously unpublished pieces.
Session 2: discussion and exploration of the “iceberg principle” underlined “Hills like white
embodied in the
strategy of short
this story a
―I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eights of it under water for
every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg.
It is the part that doesn’t show.‖
―There is seven-eights of it (iceberg)under water for every part that shows…The dignity of
movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water."
―I sometimes think that my style is suggestive rather than direct. The reader must often use his
imagination or lose the most subtle part of my thoughts‖
―If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he
knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things
as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is
due to only one-eighth of it being above water."
Session 2: discussion and exploration of the “iceberg principle” underlined “Hills like white
elephants.” Dig into the story by discussing the following questions:
1. How do you know what kind of operation Jig is confronting? How risky is it physically and
Since the man says ―it’s a simple operation‖, ―just let the air in‖, plus their relationship of lovers,
we readers may understand this is an abortion operation. Physically it is quite dangerous for it was back in the 1920s’, when medical condition for an abortion was not what it is today. Besides, this operation is practiced illegally in Spain, a rigid, pious, roman Catholic country that equals abortion to murder. The emotional stress is also two-fold: the guilty of murdering your own child, and the preoccupation about the consequence of this ―murdering‖.
2. What do they do when they are together? How would you describe the relationship then?
As the girl says, ―That’s all we do, isn’t it -- look at things and try new drinks.‖ And ―He did not
say anything but looked at the bags… There were labels on them from all the hotels where they
had spent nights.‖ These details seem to suggest that what goes on between the two is more a game for fun, than a serious relationship. Their game mostly involves activities like traveling, drinking and having sex; but such factors as caring for each other, good communication, respect, all of which combine to make a relationship long lasting, are no where to find.
3. Has Jig made up her mind to do the abortion?
Yes, otherwise she would not have drunk so much. In addition, she always uses subjunctive mood to indicate the baby thing: ―we could have al this‖, ―we could have everything.‖ ―we could get
4.If abortion is something already decided on , then what upsets Jig? What is the real conflict between the couple?
Even if Jig makes up her mind to do the operation, this does not contradict her feeling of guilty, pity and worry since reality leaves her little chance to choose otherwise. But we should notice that baby is not the only one biting. She as a matter of fact think more about the future of their relationship, as is quite obvious when she asks the man: ―Then what will we do afterward?‖ ― And
you really want to ?‖ ―You will be happy?‖ ― If I do it you won’t ever worry?‖
5.What is a ―white elephant ‖ according to the dictionary definition? What does ―hills like white
elephant‖ symbolize in the story?
White elephant metaphorically refers to some expensive presents with limited value. It may
symbolize the baby, too costly to keep in that it demands not only material provision but also responsible nurture. Hills like white elephant physically resemble the fat white belly of a pregnant woman, a symbol of life, in contrast to the ―brown and dry country‖.
6. Is there anything significant in the man’s oversensitive response to the girl’s ―everything tastes
like licorice. Especially all the things you’ve waited so long for, like absinthe.‖
Absinthe is highly alcoholic anise-flavored, distilled liquor containing the herb wormwood. Green in color, turning to cloudy, opalescent white when mixed with water. Highly aromatic, this spirit is dry and somewhat bitter in taste, with alcoholic content of 68 percent by volume. Maybe the girl is mbiguously accusing the man of seduction, resulting in her pregnancy. a
7.Do you think this conversation is representative or unique? In other words, do you think this incident makes or does not make any difference in their decision of operation or in their relationship?
Explain to students that this is not a true or false question since there is little definite in the interpretation of literature, wherein exactly the charm of literature rests.
Session 3: summary: further readings
Hemingway once suggested that his purpose in such a story is to tell the reader as little as possible directly. How does this principle operate in this story?
―Subject, setting, point of view, characterization, dialog, irony, compression and the symbolism implicit in the title and developed in the story all contribute to the powerful impact.‖Agree with any part of this statement in detail, quoting relevant phrases from the story.