Sample Coursework Paper on Communication as a Conflict in Hills like White Elephants and Story of the Hammer


Thesis statement

Literary analysis calls for a reader to be perceptive. It is the only way they can be able to uncover the hidden meaning of most literary works. Most writers use literary techniques to deliver various themes or conflicts (Abram and Harpham, 2011). Moreover, the techniques make the literary work more inviting. This paper strives to analyze the conflict of communication in two short stories namely Hills like White Elephants by Hemmingway (2003) and The Story of the Hammer by Watzlawick (Stiehl, 2012). It will discuss the literary techniques that have been used to develop the theme of communication in the two short stories. The importance of communication, clear understanding of the communication and the influence of others people’s words on one’s decision making are some of the things that will present themselves in both stories.

In the story of the Hills like White Elephants, two people, a girl and a man, who is only called an American waits for a train in Spain valley surrounded by hills, rivers and fields. The girl initiates a conversation with the man. She describes the landscape around the River Ebro and says that it appears as white elephants (Hemmingway, 2003). Here the girl, who is later referred to as Jig by the American, uses hyperbole or figurative language to drive in her point. The man on the other hand, understands this literary and says that he has never come across white elephants. As they ask for more drinks, they engage in yet another conversation about the taste of the liquor. This is after the girl identifies a liquor brand on the beaded curtain. The man tells the woman that they should enjoy themselves, this seems like he wants to put to an end to their earlier conversation. Hence, the girl is forced to retract from her earlier comment. Here the man is seen to have some level of influence on the decisions of the girl. It also shows how the understanding of a particular comment can change the direction of a conversation (Hemmingway, 2003, Abrams and Harpham, 2011).

Through communication, one party can influence the decisions of the other. While they are still waiting for the train to arrive, the American tells the girl, whom he calls “Jig”; he would like her to take an operation. He does not quite reveal the kind of operation but as the writer says, he tries to conceal the seriousness of the operation. It is clear to the reader that this operation is none other than abortion. The girl seems to be a great listener. She only talks after some time. Alternatively, maybe she was trying to allow the conversation to sink in. She asks about the expected changes, after the operation is complete. Will their relationship be the same? Will he continue loving her? (Hemmingway, 2003). Here the writer uses euphemism (Abrams and Harpham, 2011) to hide his concerns about the operation. He tells her that other people have performed the operations and they are running their lives in a “normal” manner. He even attempts to downsize the magnitude of the procedure by saying that it will not be a real operation. While this should be a dialogue, the American already has a point of view or a perception on what should be done. At this point, the girl has only one option that of buying his idea. Impulsiveness is a killer of communication and it becomes a persuasion tool for one party to push their agenda.

Communication can help to solve serious issues instead of leaving unattended or pushing them into the throats of others. It can also be driven in various ways besides verbally. Seeing the displeasure of the girl, the man states that he loves the girl very much. However, the girl does not subscribe to this statement. It is clear that she understands the effects of what the man is trying to push her into and to her, it is not a safe procedure as her man tries to paint it. At this point, the American understands that the girl is not for the idea of procuring the abortion. She might not have said much all through the conversation but her body language is clear enough. Even if she says that she could do it, only if she is guaranteed of their future happiness, she still has some concerns and the American is not blind to them (Hemmingway, 2003).

The girl moves to some place within the station but far from the station. She may be trying to have an internal reflection and evaluate whether to take the serious decision or not. During the conversation the man tries all he can to convince her to get the abortion and he even says that it is the best way forward. The pressure is too much on her, although she still fears that the relationship would not stand if she goes through the procedure.

Lack of communication can bring up misleading and destructive perceptions. This is well outlined in the Story of Hammer as told by Watzlawick (Stiehl, 2012). The story is about a man who wanted to hang a wall painting. He had all the tools needed but mixed a hammer. The only person he could borrow the tool from was his neighbor and so he decided to go to him. However, before he went to the neighbor’s house, he started having a monologue about his doubts on whether the neighbor will give him the hammer or not. After a long analysis, he decides in his mind that the neighbor will not give him the hammer and so, he goes and insults him.

The style of point of view (Abrams and Harpham, 2011) is used to depict the conflict of communication. The man only considers his point of view. He goes to the extent of over-analyzing simple greetings. He says that when the man greeted him, in the previous day, it was short. He thinks positively first and thinks may be the man was in a hurry. But, he does not stop there; he continues to doubt his neighbor and even thinks that he does not like him. While the story does not tell us much about the neighbor, it is easy to understand that the man who is in need of a harmer has never taken time to know the neighbor.

There are higher chances that they do not communicate regularly. That is why; he can only make perceptions about the man. On the other hand, in the story of the Hills like White Elephants, there is a one on one conversation; the girl claims that the man does not love him. In the conversation, she does not ask much about the operation, only to make a generalized statement. All the same, the story on the girl and the American represents healthy communication (Hemmingway, 2003).

Communicating in times of need is not appropriate. The hammer in the story by Watzlawick (Stiehl, 2012) is a symbol of need. The man requiring the hammer feels that it is time to communicate to the neighbor. It seems he has not done it before apart from the ordinary handshake they had shared earlier. However, now a need has presented itself and he has to talk to the neighbor, whom he thinks too lowly off. Communication should not be used only when people are in need. On the contrary, it is important to communicate always. The operation in the story of the American and the girl is another need. The American feels that the idle talk about the liquor and the landscape are ruining their time. But, in the real sense, he is in a hurry to present his case about the procedure he would want the girl to take. Idle talk is an important icebreaker. It lays the foundation for more serious issues. Again, ensure that the other party understands it.


Communication is integral to sound decision making (Stiehl, 2012). The conversations people have with others can influence the subsequent thoughts and choices in the future. Lack of proper communication can also lead to misleading perceptions and uninformed decision making. It is always important to hear the other side of the story. This way, one can make the valid decisions and choices.


Abrams, M.H. and Harpham, G. (2011). A Glossary of literary terms. Singapore: Cengage Learning.

Hemingway, E. (2003). Hills like White Elephants. In The Story and its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction (6th ed., pp. 475-478).

Stiehl, O. (2012).  The Story of the Hammer.  In the “If the solution is the problem.”-The pope of communication, Paul Watzlawick.