25 June, 2022


Hills Like White Elephants: Reading Hemingway With 13th Amendment

By Ruchindra Abeytunge

Ruchindra Abeytunge

“On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies”.  It is a place somewhere between Barcelona and Madrid or maybe it is a kind of political simile to describe a place somewhere closer in dry, dusty A-9 road with no shade and no trees which connects the dominant South to the subordinate North. A bamboo curtain, precisely an ‘armed curtain’ hung across the open door to keep out ‘flies’. The subordinate North that is politically isolated with a ‘curtain’ has been crying for devolving power from the center to the periphery, now weeping faintly after the victory of  Sri Lankan military over LTTE.

The symbolism of Hemingway’s story represents the shaky relationship between the protagonists, the girl and the man, and their continuous conflict regarding humanity based on the discourse on abortion.  The man is manipulating the girl to convince her for abortion with no respect or dignity of life of the girl and the unborn.

“I’ll go with you and I’ll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural.”

Democracy is the rule of the people by people according to Abraham Lincoln intended that all people should have the fare chance to participate in their decision making directly or indirectly. In multiethnic pluralistic societies with weak civil societies and strong and dominant centralized state, majoritarian or Westminster democracy not only may not reflect its real meaning but also have a tendency to go towards authoritarianism, violating most of the norms of democracy. Societies with deep ethnic divisions and cleavages need more consensual political framework that engage greater compromise guaranteeing minority rights. In that juncture, the recent development of ‘anti 13th amendment’ force is clear and severe threat to the ‘consensual democracy’. In contrast, the 13th amendment- that was the major initiative of devolution dialogue in Sri Lankan polity- should be strengthened for reconciling deeply divided societies together, especially after the end of civil war; now the government should convince the Tamil society that it ready to come up with viable solution for the ethnic problem; the government should show its political will to solve this problem for good by strengthening the power sharing process.

The “café para todos” or “coffee for all” formula devolved the power concentrated in the center in Span; that finally heard demands of Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia that regions contain culturally distinct nationalities. The Spanish Constitution recognizes the existence of such regions with right to self-government which shows asymmetric power devolution. Finally Spain consists of seventeen Autonomous Communities and two enclaves with asymmetrically devolved powers.

Hemingway wrote about the girl and the man in a restaurant or a bar closer to the train station in Spain; the express train coming from Barcelona stopped there and went to Madrid. After many years of Hemingway’s writing, Former Prime Minister of Spain and Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) member Rodríguez Zapatero stated that “the rivalry between Barcelona and Madrid may have acquired an edge of mistrust, but it is in essence a creative tension.” It created tension but creative, spread power to the periphery; impeded power concentration in the center; and as it is named, it provided ‘coffee for all’.

The extensive power sharing process devolved power from the state to the periphery within less than twenty years in Spain. After more than twenty years of civil war in Sri Lanka, killing thousands of people, destroying properties and adversely affected to the country’s economy, if the authorities push the devolution dialogue to be ended up by repealing the 13th amendment, it will divert the whole political process to the place where it was in decades before.  Abolishing power sharing aggravates mistrust between the communities and continues the shaky relationship of them.

Hemingway has written in HILLS LIKE WHITE ELEPHANTS, where the girl asks:

“Then what will we do afterward?”

“We’ll be fine afterward. Just like we were before.”

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