The Theme of Manipulation in "Hills Like White Elephants" and "Barn Burning"

In the short stories “Hills like White Elephants” and “Barn Burning” manipulation is shown. The story “Hills like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemmingway shows a man trying to manipulate a woman into getting an abortion. The same is with William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning,” where the father is manipulation his son into protecting the father’s crimes or arson. Both of these modern stories portray issues that happen today. Such as the issue of doing what is right vs. listening to loved ones.

Despite having a good conscious, manipulation changes people and makes them feel scared. The short stories “Barn Burning” and “Hills like White Elephants” portray humans’ thoughts when the issue of manipulation arises.

In William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning,” the reader sees the issue of manipulation and the effects it has on humans’ thoughts. Colonel Sartoris is a young boy that has difficulty with telling the truth about his father, Abner Snopes arson attempts.”…why should a man who had not only seen waste and extravagance of war but who had in his blood an inherent voracious prodigy with materials not his own, Burn everything in sight” (Faulkner 773)? Sarty is questioning his father’s reasons for burning everything.

It specifies that Sarty’s father served in the war and can be a reason for his harsh behavior. “You were fixing to tell them. You would have told him.” He didn’t answer. His father struck him with the flat of his hand on the side of his head, hard…” (774).

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The father has an abusing nature towards Sarty and his family. The harsh father’s character could have been from the after-effects of the war. Sarty’s reaction of not saying anything when asked by the Judge and the fact that his father is telling Sarty he wanted to tell the truth to specify Sarty’s good nature. Sarty’s father is not only physically abusing but also mentally. Confliction set between doing what is right and staying true to the family is an issue explained in the story. His father uses force and manipulation to get his son to stay true to his family. Snopes manipulation shows when he hits Sarty and tells him, “your getting to be a man. You got to learn to stick to your own blood…” (774). Going back to the idea that is doing what is right vs. doing what the other wants come up. Snopes tells Sarty not to betray his family and stay silent.

Ernest Hemmingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” also shows the issue of manipulation by someone they trust. The story starts with the couple waiting to get on a train while talking about an operation which turns out to be an abortion. “” It’s really an awfully simple operation. Jig,” the man said. “It’s not really an operation at all” (Hemmingway 805). Although the specific operation is not specified, it’s evident that the man is trying to manipulate the woman into getting the operation. Saying that the operation is simple” is his way of telling the woman that the operation is no big deal. The men are using his manipulative nature to make up the woman’s mind about getting the operation. The women’s reaction towards getting the operation is one that someone would expect: “The girl looked at the ground, the table legs rested on [and] … Did not say anything” (805). The woman fails to show her true feelings about the abortion and hints the fact that she may want to keep the baby. The male uses more manipulation when he talks about love and saving their love: “That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that made is unhappy” (805). The male is saying that the unexpected baby is interrupting their love and that they would both be happy with it gone. It’s seen that the male I determine what the female wants and how she feels in accordance to the pregnancy. But the female wants love and she know that he would not give that love to her if she didn’t have the operation. The female questions the male and says: “And if I do it, you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?” (805). The female’s happiness is not started in this sentence and is mainly focusing on what the male wants. If the baby is gone and then they would still be in love.

In response to the Manipulation, both “Hills like White Elephants” and “Barn Burning” have the same response. In “Hills like White Elephants,” the woman questions the male and the abortion. She wants to make him happy but is in confliction about the operation. The woman stays silent well the same talks about the simple operation like its no big deal. “” Well,” the man said, “If you don’t want to you do not have to. I won’t have you do it if you do not want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple”” (Hemmingway, 805). The male is saying that he will not push her into getting the operation, but at the same time, he is making it sound like no big deal. It’s also hinted that the female knows that once the abortion is complete, there is no getting the baby back: “Once they take it away, you never get it back” (806). It is hinted that the female does want to keep the baby or is at least conflicted about her loyalty to what the man wants or what she wants. The woman is responding subtly but not putting up much of a fight in the end. The same goes for “Barn Burning,” where Sarty has a good heart and wants to tell the truth about his father’s crimes but does not because of his father’s manipulation. “I reckon anyone named Colonial Satoris is in this country can’t help but tell the truth, can they? The boy said nothing” (Faulkner, 772). Sarty desperately wants to tell the truth but stays silent. Sarty responds to the issue by fighting back a little bit just like the woman Sarty does not put up much of a fight.

Lastly, “Hills like White Elephants” and “Barn Burning” portray the manipulation of the issue creates. Manipulation affects people’s minds and makes them rethink what they should be doing or more specifically, what is right. This issue portrays the twentieth centuries and the Americans in it. The problem is that Americans are easily manipulated or easily persuaded to do something that they do not want to do or at least double think their decision. Both Sarty and the Woman did not say what they wanted falling for the manipulator’s arguments that they had to choose love and family over doing what was right.

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The Theme of Manipulation in "Hills Like White Elephants" and "Barn Burning". (2022, Feb 21). Retrieved from

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