Decontextualization and Schema Formation in "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway

Essay, 2014

11 Pages



I. Introduction

II. Methodology

III. Discussion

IV. Result

Works Cited

I. Introduction

Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway is accounted as one of the most famous short stories in English language. Apart from its particular adoption of the objective point of view, the story embodies the notion of identity crisis in its most hidden layers. It happens as a conversation in a train station between a girl and an American man, in which the latter “apparently” attempts to convince the former to miscarry her baby, heading as an inconclusive debate. As a matter of fact, the man is seeking to regain his “seemingly” lost freedom threatened by a new role as a father, while, on the contrary, the girl is willing to keep her feminine sensibility. The work remains unfinished while the two characters are marked to continue their trip by the coming train.

The climax of the story lies in its very dealing with the issue of identity. Speaking of Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants, it is very interesting to read the work through finding the “possible” functions of the elements of the Critical Discourse Analysis, especially those with particular emphasis on the situation, conversation as the mode of communication, the voice and identity issues. This conversational story, in the very first glance, reflects the conflict of a man and a girl in every line, each representing a set of crisis. Apparently, asked to miscarry or the simple operation, the girl sees her feminine identity interrogated by the man, and the man – called American – is at the threshold of losing his male American freedom, comparable to what is called American Dream. But the surest thing is that all conversation takes place within the atmosphere of vagueness and uncertainty, paving the way for the play of the schema theory.

II. Methodology

That “discourse” is accounted a general, critical, and essential concept in the realm of human sciences including sociology, history, literature, and politics and so on is an undeniable reality. Additionally, one may consider literature as a literary discourse, but a bit different. This difference lies simply in the fact that since literary texts are read by a variety of readers in numerous situations, they are always exposed to so many discourses. To put in simple words, change of context will lead to change of meaning. Let’s have a quick glance to the definition of the term “discourse”, as a technical term, and the challenges it encounters to as the most general, essential, critical, but controversial term in all human sciences.

Primarily, there have been numerous definitions concerning “discourse.” Generally speaking, it refers to the statements within which the world can be recognized. However, the surest thing is that “discourse” is associated with language in its very nature. Jan Blommaert in his “Discourse” states “there is a long tradition of treating discourse in linguistic terms, either as a complex linguistic forms larger than the single sentence (a ‘text’) or as language-in-use … the conception of discourse, broadly speaking, underlies the development of contemporary linguistic pragmatics” (2). Not only does Blommaert accentuate “the developments within the linguistic theory”, in regard with the levels higher than the single sentence – cohesion and coherence, but also he asserts “the contacts between linguists and scholars working in fields such as literary analysis, semiotics, philosophy, anthropology and sociology. In order to suggest the generality of “discourse”, Blommaert, stating he follows Michel Foucault in studying “discourse”, claims that “discourse”, to him,

comprises all forms of meaningful semiotic human activity seen in connection with social, cultural, and historical patterns and developments of use … what is traditionally understood by language is but one manifestation of it; all kinds of semiotic flagging performed by means of objects, attributes, and activities can and should also be included for they usually constitute the “action” part of language-in-action (3).

Along with the emphasis on the social and communicative nature of language, Blommaert stresses the process in which the construction of meaning takes place. This process is provided under both linguistic and socio-cultural conditions. Brian Paltridge in his book “Discourse Analysis: An Introduction” utters the phrase “discourse analysis” to define both “the knowledge about the language beyond the word, clause, and sentence that is needed for successful communication” and “the relationship between language and the social and cultural contexts” (3).

The other phrase which is very familiar today in the study of discourse is “Critical Discourse Analysis” or CDA which has paved its own way in the syllabus of the academic graduate courses in Humanities. In addition to what Paltridge rendered as “discourse analysis”, Critical Discourse Analysis deals with the study of socio-cultural elements which are embodied in shaping the process of discourse analysis. According to Blommaert, “CDA is part of a wider landscape of critical approaches to language and society, and will thus make our view of the contribution of CDA sharper and clearer” (6).

The attributes articulated by Blommaert to describe CDA embrace “the role of voice,” “contextual study of cultural forms,” and “the significance of sociolinguistic patterns of language of varieties and forms of language use in societies.” Firstly, one key element is “voice.” It is the first condition without which no language-in-use is possible. Also, it causes the inequality of people for some have stronger voices. Besides, it determines the amount people are heard by others. The other point is the way one can choose to produce the voice. Secondly, it is important to note that the contextualized cultural forms, or what Blommaert calls the “ecology” of cultural forms should have a foreground. Precisely, it bears in mind that there is no universal criteria for understanding language within culture. Instead, any research in this field must be conducted inside a particular environment within which culture and language exist. Thirdly, the focus of sociolinguistic patterns is put on the varieties and different forms of language-in-use in societies. In other words, different social variables including race, class, and gender can be investigated by sociolinguistic instructions, and are categorized based upon the mode of communication, geographical elements, social elements, situation, and style or format of communication. Thus, CDA has a wide and infinite domain which provides the necessary ground for any discursive investigation.

Among all the elements the categories of the CDA, identity is still a pervasive one. It is both in the realm of social studies and has a direct relation to the concept of culture. Also, other considerations about the CDA are adaptable to it as a subject participating in the process of discursive formation. In today’s social studies, identity is included within the realm of discourse. It means that identities are made through interactions, and they can be altered along with the change of discourse. When we articulate the term identity, we imply its various manifestations such as gender, nationality, ethnicity, race, etc. Identities can be established as they are recognized by others. They are non-essential and constructed in practice as are produced and enacted. In other words, identification is the result of a semiotic behavior, coming out of social conditions. Related to Conversational Analysis, identities are not relevant until they are enacted by the participants in conversation although they may target other parties not involved in the interaction. The other point is the relationship between identity and inequality. In fact, the issue of identity emerges when inequality exists. (Blommaert 2005, 203-8)

Explaining the schema theory, Guy Cook maintains that schematic knowledge is known as an essential element in development of the meaning. This theory suggests a schematic system, representing a particular method in discourse analysis. But the schema theory is challenged in its relation to literature, because of the fact that certain discourses or the certain uses of language can alter the representations of the world. It means that they affect our schemata followed by the change of the meaning. On the other hand, one may consider the story as a discourse which like any other text can be interpreted through a reader’s schemata. The story enters into dynamic interaction with these schemata that simultaneously can both being interpreted and rejecting them. Since, as mentioned above, the story is surrounded by a kind of uncertain tone, it paves the way for using the lens of schema theory to apply for finding the identity challenges in the work.

Consequently, the story can be read through both discourse of identity, included within the realm of socio-linguistics, and schema theory with its particular application in literary works. In other words, identity crisis in Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway can be indicated through schema refreshment and discourse deviation.


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Decontextualization and Schema Formation in "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway
University of Tehran
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decontextualization, schema, formation, hills, like, white, elephants, ernest, hemingway
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Amir Hossein Yasini Visti (Author), 2014, Decontextualization and Schema Formation in "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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