Hills Like White Elephants
Hills Like White Elephants Research
Ernest Hemingway shows remarkable writing and hidden meaning in his short story, “Hills Like White Elephants”. Not only does this story demonstrate a well-written plot, it also distributes different message to anyone who interprets it. To one reader, the story may just consist of two people have a complex, if not frustrating conversation; on the other hand, a more complex reader who would look into the plot of the story would conclude the story being about the issue of abortion. After reading the story myself many times and carefully analyzing and further researching the context of the story, I have came to a solid conclusion that this story is about a Spanish woman, named Jig, who is reluctantly going to have an abortion.
To begin with, my main focus of this story is not to answer the question of whether or not Jig will go through with the abortion, because I have already come to answer it myself, but rather how she convinces herself that it is okay to follow through with the procedure. Through the entirety of the story we see that Jig is struggling with her choice by her own mind and values placed upon her. The story never mentions the deeper connection between the two main characters other than the undeniable fact that they are a couple. However, there is nothing written in the story to suggest that Jig and the American man are married; therefore, I believe it is safe to assume that this story was written in a time era where women are frowned upon for two decisions: carrying through an abortion or having a child whilst being unmarried. To help ease her possible guilty conscience, Jig uses multiple ways to help her process her decision on the abortion. Throughout the story, Jig is constantly debating whether or not she is going to have her baby. Even though she knows, in her mind, that she will be going through with the abortion, she openly objects towards her decision whilst engaging in a conversation with her companion.
An example of this would be when Jig points out loud to her boyfriend that the land surrounding them is so pretty and fertile (Hemingway, 274). By stating those observations, she implies that she is fertile and pregnant, and she likes it that way. On the contrary, she then proceeds to contradict herself by saying that the hills, which symbolize her baby, look like white elephants (Hemingway, 247). This is an important statement that she makes for allowing the readers to understand that Jig does not want the baby, or she does not like that fact that she has to choose between two disliked options. The symbolism in the use of white elephants can be defined as something people want to avoid, thereby implying that she wanted to avoid a baby. This is very critical because she is traveling on to the infertile ground, which can easily symbolize her abortion. As I read this the first time, I admit that I was a believer of Jig choosing life her her unborn rather than abortion but as I read more times over, I came to ask myself: if she plans following through with the abortion, the “infertile ground” then why does she try to persuade her American companion that she does not want an abortion?
Well, how I came to this answer was looking at another way to see in Jig’s mind and discovering how Jig may feel as a possible mother figure. I have and ideal reason to believe that maybe Jig’s “motherly instincts” may have kicked in. An example of this is accusation in the story is when the American asks Jig, “Doesn’t it mean anything to you?”(Hemingway, 279) causing Jig to then reply, “Of course it does.” (247). The “it”they are discussing may not be the abortion but the baby, also showing that wanting to defend a baby is only natural for a woman to want to protect her young. Despite this reason to keep the baby, Jig only lets this effect show through her physical reactions because she understands, in her mind that she is still going to do the abortion.
Another important symbol that needs to be recognized in the same reasoning of Jig’s initial decision is the alcohol. As alcohol has a negative reputation for fetuses, one would think that being pregnant would cause Jig to think twice about drinking, but Jig embraces the idea of trying new alcoholic beverages. In fact, the drink mentioned in the story, Anis Del Toro, is actually illegal in most parts of the world, not including Spain (Lewis E. Weeks Jr.). This detail in the story sees the choice that Jig makes in accepting the abortion by not only having one drink, but nearly three. I believe this shows that Jig has allowed herself to believe that her unborn child is essentially doomed anyways, because why else would she drink something that is known to harm a fetus? Jig probably convinced herself that she will never conceive the child that she is carrying, most likely meaning that her baby would not be healthy. This unfortunate and saddening truth helps pJig persuade herself that the abortion is justified. Furthermore she will not have to feel guilty because she thinks she is doing the baby a favor.
This next point addresses Jig’s American companion. When in a situation that calls for an action that would potentially make the person feel guilty, one would try to place the blame for the decisions on another, instead of accepting the guilt. I think Jig tries to place the blame on her companion for convincing her to follow through with the abortion. Possibly convincing herself that he may even be the “bad guy” in her story. Though Jig makes the decision herself, it does not help that the American is overly persistent in voicing his opinion towards Jig carrying through with the abortion. He voices several times, “It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig.” (Hemingway, 279), Jig then replies, “And you think then we’ll be happy?” (279). Here Jig tries to justify that her companion believes that if she goes through with the operation, then they will be happy together in the future. These two lines also provide a perfect idea of Jig subtly disagreeing with the American. Thus allowing her to keep her innocence and her conscience from faulting her. This quote is relevant because Jigs it shows that her values that she possess attempt to tell her that going through with the abortion is not right, but she constantly ignores her “inner voice” trying to ration through multiple reasons to put her conscience at ease. Delving into the mind of Jig makes this simple story become more complex than a reader may have realized.
This allows the reader with multiple possibilities for what the story is about, also showing us how Jig deceives her mind to change what her conscience had once told her was wrong to accept that her decision will be the better for everyone. “Jig and the American understand that the unborn child has become a white elephant” (Avitzour, Daniel) . Also, using a type of manipulative style of communication, Jig forces her boyfriend to make her decision and tries to use that as a reason as to why the abortion is right. Blaise Pascal once said, “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” (Pascal).
Hemingway allows this short story to consist of various symbols but lack of explanation towards the objective of this story, allowing his readers to interpret it as they will. He writes at the end of the story from Jig’s point of view, “I feel fine, there’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.” (Hemingway, 278). This may not actually be Jig expressing this to her American companion but rather to her own self, as if she were reassuring her mind aloud that there is nothing wrong with going through with the abortion.
A Question Of Interpretations in “Roman Fever” and “Hills Like White Elephants”
Differences in Perspective in Edith Wharton’s “Roman Fever” and Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”
“There are no facts, only interpretations” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Interpretations of individuals and life vary. In Edith Wharton’s short story “Roman Fever,” Alida Slade and Grace Ansley each visualize the other through “the wrong end of her little telescope” (1370). These misinterpretations emphasize the complexity and depth of Grace Ansley’s character. The perspectives of the couple, the American man and Jig, in Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants” also differ on concrete issues, but imply a more abstract discrepancy of each’s view on life. The disparities in perspective in these two stories emphasize the misunderstood depth of an individual and the dependence of reality on interpretation.
Alida’s misinterpretation of Grace’s knitting in “Roman Fever” represents her skewed perception of Grace’s character. Mrs. Ansley begins by using her knitting to avoid engaging with Mrs. Slade. When Mrs. Slade first brings up their girlish escapades in Rome, Mrs. Ansley is said to reach a “delicate point” in her knitting (1370). Mrs. Slade misinterprets Grace’s work by claiming it to be so “like her” to focus on knitting in the face of their conversation and the ruins, when Mrs. Ansley does care deeply about the ancient scene. As the two women contemplate the colossal ruins, Mrs. Slade reflects, “one might almost have imagined (if one had known her less well) that, for her also, too many memories rose from the lengthening shadows of those august ruins. but no; she was simply absorbed in her work” (1371). Mrs. Slade misperceives Grace again, as many of Grace’s memories did rise from the ruins. The fact that Grace is knitting with crimson silk indicates a deeper meaning to the activity. Neither crimson, a passionate color, nor silk, a luxurious, almost sensual, fabric, evoke the idea of a “poor parent,” as knitting does (1367). Just as conceiving a child out of wedlock with a friend’s fiance contrasts Mrs. Slade’s impression of “poor Grace” (1369). Though both Grace and her knitting seem slightly “old-fashioned” (1367), the crimson silk and the secret night in the colosseum reveal a different perspective.
Initial misrepresentation of the daughter’s roles indicates the complexity of Grace Ansley’s character. The two daughters reflect the two women, bringing back the past “a little too acutely” (1371). The descriptive diction relates each daughter to the mother of the other. Alida’s “vividness” (1369) is described in contrast to her daughter, Jenny, just as Barbara’s “edge” (1368) is described in contrast to her mother, Grace. Both Alida and Barbara are also described as “brilliant” (1369), indicating them to be similar individuals, separate from Jenny and Mrs. Ansley. In contrast to their “brilliant friend[s]” (1369), Jenny and Grace are immediately described in terms of physical appearance, Jenny as “extremely pretty” (1369) and Grace as “exquisitely lovely” (1368). Mrs. Slade uses the word “boring” (1369) in regards to Jenny, and describes Grace as a “museum specimen” (1368), both descriptions suggesting conventionality. However, by the end of the story, Wharton reveals Grace and Barbara’s connection by disclosing the unconventional terms of Barbara’s conception, highlighting Mrs. Ansley’s unrecognized, edgy characteristics.
The differences in perspective of the couple in “Hills Like White Elephants” allude to differences in reality. Jig and the American man differ in outlook of the pregnancy. Hemingway dedicates most of the story to a dialogue of the American man attempting to talk Jig into this “simple” procedure. He pushes for this action because the pregnancy is the “only thing that bothers [them],” “the only thing that makes [them] unhappy” (540). He speaks for both of them, even though Jig doesn’t share this pessimistic view of the child. Jig implies that she cares about the baby when she asks him, “Doesn’t it mean anything to you?” (542). Jig looks for further meaning in the situation, which indicates her ability to hope for the future.
The American man’s insistence on maintaining their current relationship contrasts Jig’s willingness to change and expand. The man’s reluctance to adapt becomes apparent when he states “I don’t want any one else” (542). At first, this seems like a declaration of love for Jig, but in the context of the story it appears to relate to the child. The man is unwilling to welcome another being into the relationship, stubbornly clinging to the life of “look[ing] at things and try[ing] new drinks” (540). Jig realizes their relationship has already changed, as the world “isn’t [theirs] anymore” (541), no matter what they do. That conversation about whether they “could” or “can” have everything reveals the discrepancies in their perspective. Jig’s belief that they can’t have the whole world shows she has progressed past that stage of life in her mind. The man’s adherence to his ideal lifestyle only highlights Jig’s progression. Jig reveals his deluded perspective, as an unwilling but integral part of said lifestyle. He claims “We can have everything,” (541), but because Jig knows they can’t, she removes herself from the “we” he relies on, proving her own statement to be true; “We” can’t have everything..
The difference in view of the natural landscape represents the impact of perspective on life. The setting symbolizes the couple’s struggles and separate reactions. The hills in the distance immediately grab Jig’s attention, leading her to comment, “They look like white elephants” (539). Hills like white elephants evoke the image of a protruding, pregnant belly, so the man’s less than enthusiastic response implies his aversion to Jig’s pregnancy. However, just as the man periodically plugs the operation, Jig doesn’t cease to notice the hills. After the man shoots down her simile that the hills are like white elephants, she creates a metaphor, claiming the hills have white colored “skin” through the trees (540), as an elephant would. A comment, to which the man merely suggests they have another drink, showing the differences in perspective as Jig sees past their usual activity and the man remains stuck.
Jig’s appreciation of the train station’s surroundings conveys her open attitude toward the future and contrasts the man’s focus on the present. Hemingway narrates, “The girl looked across at the hills on the dry side of the valley and the man looked at her and at the table” (542). This image of the couple represents their separate views of life. The man remains hopelessly fixated on the girl and drink consistently in front of him, not bothering to look at what lies beyond. Jig sees past the hopelessness and normalities of her life to the possibilities the white hills and her own pregnancy hold.
The emphasis on different perspectives in these two stories illuminate the intricacy of character and dependence of life on the individual. Mrs. Ansley, a constantly misinterpreted character, reveals a secret about herself that contrasts the general perspective. This slight upheaval in Grace’s personality traits emphasizes the misconceptions she entertained throughout the story and her true, hidden character. The American man and Jig hold quite different perspectives on their pregnancy, relationship, and surroundings. The man’s immature opinions indicate his hopeless view of life, while Jig’s willing perspective highlights her optimistic idea of future. An identity constructed from other’s opinions could be entirely wrong, but defining. A limited view of the world can narrow reality accordingly. Perspective shapes individuals from the inside and outside.
Gender Identity of a Woman in the Yellow Wallpaper, The Story of an Hour, Hills Like White Elephants and A Sorrowful Woman
Women and Gender Identity
Throughout human history, women have been depicted as the weaker gender, evidence being in the literary communication left by those who gave themselves the opportunity to record such depictions. Since women are the weaker ones, then by definition (there being only two genders), men have been put in a position of control and power. This position of power is one that has often been abused and more than often been left unchecked. Because of these facts women have been bound and confined by men although not always necessarily physically. The stories “The Story of An Hour”, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, “A Sorrowful Woman”, and “Hills Like White Elephants” are ones with examples of how women have been confined, they share similarities and provide variety with their differences.
In “The Story of An Hour”, Mrs. Mallard is the main character and she has let her husband confine her subconsciously to a boring life, and has blamed her confinement on her illness and tiredness. When she is brought the news that her husband has died she consciously secludes herself in her room,alone, avoiding everyone because of her weakness. Mrs. Mallard’s true situation is obvious when, after her brief grieving period she has an epiphany, she’s free. “She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will- as powerless as her two white slender hand would have been. When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: ‘free, free, free’!”, Mrs. Mallard has been ruled by a man for so long that not having freedom of choice and personal authority are second nature for her. This woman is overwhelmed by freedom so much in fact that she considers freedom as being free from the traditional freedom. however overwhelmed she may have been when she finally comes to terms with her new freedom, she does so by imagining how much of a good time her future may be entitled to without her husband, just a small rebellion all set in her mind. Too bad the man did not die and when she sees him she’s surprised to death, maybe she felt guilty for having been optimistic of his absence, dying bound to him.
Opposite from in “The Story of An Hour” in “A Sorrowful Woman” the protagonist has the mind to admit to feeling confined and bound to a monotonous life and takes drastic measures to change this. Initially and throughout the story she ends up secluding herself from her family in order to rediscover herself and experience a type of freedom. It seems ironic that she would do this because she is essentially prescribing herself imprisonment which is the literal opposite of freedom. However this woman is going against the norm and expressing her self authority with her actions. Her main conflict is that she is not content with her life and when she changes it she shows to feel guilt when she tries to make up her absence to her family by cooking a feast, her family consists of a boy and a man. Her husband perhaps did not intentionally bind her to the housewife life but under the circumstances that is what happened. The husband actually is in a way a tool that can be antagonizing the woman because he is so comprehensive and nice, unknowing of course, of the damage he may or may not be causing his wife. Unfortunately all of his efforts proved useless for the wife’s benefit, since even after it seemed she had found the freedom she so dearly searched for, she was still subconsciously feeling inferior towards her man and could not deny her built in need to be submissive to him. The woman then all of a sudden is dead at the end of the story like in “The Story of An Hour” bound to a man and on top of that a guilty conscious that a modern woman would frown upon.
Postpartum depression is something today society accepts as a real thing and even though not everyone can relate to the experience, usually people are not apathetic towards a woman passing through that experience. In “The Yellow Wallpaper” the protagonist has a different feeling towards being locked up than that of the woman in “A Sorrowful Woman”, to her being locked up is hell, but it must be noted that the reason for this is that being closed up was not her decision but her husband’s. Her conflict is that no one especially the most important person that should understands what she is going through, there are no true sympathizers. Her husband is a doctor and his character pretty much defies the purpose of one because he is not listening to his patient. Since this man in charge of his woman’s life happens to be a doctor he is a clear illustration of power in the hands of men, he believes he is superior to his wife so never even second guesses his decisions on how to treat her, and ultimately just treats her as a spoiled child that is being a pain and is probably going crazy. Meanwhile she really is losing her precious mind, however when this happens it is like she has suddenly been cured in a way because at least she is no longer bored and is entertained with something, in this case the pattern on her wallpaper which leads her to describe her time in this way: “Life is very much more exciting now than it used to be.” When she said this she had totally lost it. The woman in this work never feels guilty for her behavior even when she is caught by her husband and he faints. She is actually freed from being bound despite the fact that she is physically not, she never lets her husband have her mind and by losing her “sanity” she has actually freed herself from his imprisonment, her mind is all she has left healthy or not he cannot get into it, he can no longer do her any harm.
No boys like taking the responsibilities of getting it in, and as “Hills Like White Elephants” suggests, this fact has always or for at least a very long time been true. Jig the girl that may be pregnant is at a train station with the American boyfriend who is exerting control over her through his persuasion for her to have an abortion when he says things like, “It’s really an awfully simple operation Jig”, and “That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy”. So here we have an unsympathetic controlling male who most likely does not have too much experience with the ladies, not taking responsibility for his failing relationship, and on top of this he’s cornering his girlfriend into an abortion. The “man” tells the girl that she does not have to have an abortion but he keeps making it sound good every time she leans towards a decision to go against it, Dr. Phil would tell this boy to shut up and let the lady speak his sentences are jumping her brain and thats when this happens: “I’ll scream”, the girl said. Fortunately this woman is trying to take control and realizes that if she is not alone with her thoughts she will break, she is unlike the woman in “ The Yellow Wallpaper” because she does not let what she does not like creep up to her and then just accept it, no she’s being a big girl and sticking up for what she does want, even if maybe she doesn’t know.
Women are forever trying to free themselves from being pushed to the side as mens’ inferior. Since all women are different they all have different ways of coming about their freedom. These four stories have done a literal job of describing very possible scenarios for this common quest of freedom.
Symbolism and Meaning of Liminal Spaces in “Hills Like White Elephants”
Since its publication in 1927, Ernest Hemingway’s seemingly simple short story “Hills Like White Elephants” has readers arguing over the ever-present issue of a woman’s rights. At first glance, “Hills Like White Elephants” appears to be about a man and a woman having drinks and a shallow conversation whilst awaiting a train. However, the seemingly light and airy time is actually much more serious and a matter of life or death for the woman and her unborn fetus. As the American and Jig take in the desolate scenery around them, the American continuously tries to convince Jig to get an abortion because “’it’s really a simple operation… it’s not really an operation at all.’” (Hemingway 590). The meticulous setting of this short story ultimately mirrors the three possible outcomes of Jig and the American’s relationship.
First, there is the setting of the train station bar, the liminal ground, in which the pair are the majority of the story. This liminal space mirrors the fact that Jig and the American are undecided in whether to keep the baby or rid themselves of it. Second, there are the dry and infertile-looking hills, which would ultimately mean Jig getting rid of the baby. The final option for the pair would be the beautiful lush forest by the Ebro that Jig explored by herself, which would mean Jig having the baby and leaving the American. As the characters explore these possibilities they grow farther apart from each other, and each end up coming to their own conclusion. Throughout the text, the liminal train station and change in setting allows both characters to explore what their futures may hold, and face the truth that Jig ultimately holds the power to make the decision to keep her baby or to get rid of it. Throughout the text, Jig and the American use the setting surrounding them in the train station to mirror their inner, liminal state. As the story opens, Jig and the American sit at a train station that on one side had “no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun.” (589). This train station, which is set between two lines of rails allows for the conversation of liminality. Jig and the American could quite literally go one way or another with their decision to keep the baby or not.
In addition to the liminal space of the train station, Jig and the American are also sitting “at a table in the shade, outside the building.” (589). Herein, there is a contrast between the station being in the sun and Jig and the American sitting in the shade. The station, which is illuminated by light, symbolizes truth or realization. However, where Jig and the American are sitting in the shade, can be read that they are quite literally shaded by denial and doubt—at the beginning of the story the pair are not ready to face the light. While outside, the “girl was looking off at the hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.” (589). Again, the sun illuminates the hills, which cannot only symbolize the stomach of a pregnant woman, but also, the fact that they are white means that they have positive connotations and are pure, compared to the desolate brown country surrounding them. Yet, Jig and the American are still in the shadows, illustrating both the liminality and avoidance of the issue of her pregnancy. Within the story, the liminal setting begins to revert the American into the past, and force Jig to think about her future.
Separating Jig and the American from the inside is the liminal structure of the beaded curtain with “Anis del Toro” painted on it (589). Since alcohol has been such a prominent part of Jig and the American’s previous relations, one could assume that the beaded curtain symbolizes the pair’s past—and going back through the curtains means reverting to their past party-going ways and not having the baby. Jig comments, “’that’s all we do isn’t it—look at things and try new drinks.’” (590), herein, she focuses on the desolation and shallowness of her and the American’s relationship. If all Jig and the American do is run around drinking and being irresponsible, is it really love or a quality relationship that could sustain a child? As Jig comes to the realization the she and the American will separate, she begins to humanize the baby, saying “’they’re lovely hills… they don’t really look like white elephants,’ I just meant the coloring of their skin through the trees.’” (590). By calling the hills lovely, Jig is romanticizing her pregnancy and starting to appreciate that having a child would not be as bad as the American makes it seem, but rather having a child with the American would be bad. Though Jig has made her realization, the American is still stuck in their party days and has the persistent mindset that Jig will get the abortion. As Jig sends the American to bring their bags to the other side of the station he, “did not say anything but looked at the bags against the wall of the station. There were labels on them from all the hotels where they had spent nights.” (592). First, the fact that the American brings the bags to the other side of the station could suggest that he is indeed changing his mind about making Jig get the abortion, but the fact that he romanticizes the hotel labels forces one to believe that he is still fixated on not being tied down. This quote reinforces the American’s perpetual liminal state of mind, though Jig seems to clearly make up her mind, the American never comes to a concrete conclusion.
Through the progression of the story, Jig interpretation of her surroundings allows her agency to move from the liminal space. Ultimately, the conversation between Jig and the American goes nowhere, and Jig begins to have agency and is able to move out of the liminal space. Out of frustration: The girl stood up and walked to the end of the station. Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river through the trees. (591) At the end of the station, the imagery is lush and fertile. By leaving the liminal bar and walking off by herself, Jig is able to clear her head and find a positive place, where there is life and presumably happiness, as opposed to the dry, infertile country inhabited by the American. In fact, as Jig returns to the bar where the American resides, the imagery once again becomes desolate: “they sat down at the table and the girl looked across at the hills on the dry side of the valley and the man looked at her and at the table,” (592) herein, the American becomes linked with the negative infertility of the hills. The pair’s different interpretation of the setting surrounding them leads to tension. As the story closes, Jig has come to the conclusion that she will have the baby, and the American just looks around and sees other people, “waiting reasonably for the train,” (592). This quote makes it seem as if the American is stuck perpetually in the past, in a state of adolescence. Instead of moving on, growing up, and having a family like most “normal” people, he wishes to travel, have guiltless sex, and drink alcohol excessively. By the end of the story, it is clear that Jig is drawn to the fertile forest, and the American is just drawn to the bar.
In “Hills Like White Elephants,” Hemingway suggests that the current human condition is strained. Relationships are shallow and filled with misconnections. Especially relationships such as Jig and the American’s, it started out as liminal, something that was not serious, but also was not completely blasé—but then when Jig got pregnant neither knew how to properly deal with the situation. Through the use of the liminal settings, Hemingway allows Jig and the American to explore their different options for the future. Though the American keeps trying to convince Jig to get an abortion, she finally comes to the realization that she does not have to listen to him and she has the autonomy to do what she pleases with her own body. Unfortunately, though this story was written in 1927, there is still a controversy concerning a woman’s rights to contraception, abortion, etc. today.
The Significance on What is Left Unsaid in Hills Like White Elephants, a Short Story by Ernest Hemingway
The great American author Ernest Hemingway is well-known for his unique style, which places the greatest significance on what is left unsaid. Among his works, and in his typical fashion, is the short story “Hills Like White Elephants.” This narrative focuses on a couple travelling in Western Europe and the unspoken problem that is straining their relationship. Although not specifically stated, the dialogue suggests that the girl is pregnant and considering terminating the pregnancy. While the girl remains uncertain of what to do, the man accompanying her is steadfast that she should have “the procedure.” In Hemingway’s story, “Hills like White Elephants,” an uncomfortable atmosphere, choppy dialogue, and the sharp contrast between the central characters’ desires creates tension as the girl struggles to make a difficult decision regarding the future of her relationship and her unborn child.
From the beginning, Hemingway creates an uncomfortable atmosphere to suggest to readers that there is already friction between the girl and the man. The story is set in an unfamiliar place, both for readers and for the characters. The man is identified as an American travelling in Spain. Although readers are not told where the girl is from, it is clear that she is not from Spain, as the man must translate to the woman who is serving them. Within the first moments, both characters are drinking alcohol. Not only are they drinking, but the girl asks, “Big ones?” and the man agrees. The presence of alcohol and the staccato quality of their initial dialogue contributes to the uncomfortable atmosphere of the story early on. As the story continues, the two order additional drinks in what seems like a very short time. They order “Anis del Toro,” and another round of beers, which helps to establish the edginess that both characters have in anticipation of their conversation. When not used in reference to social drinking, alcohol generally suggests uneasiness, acting as a buffer for difficult conversations. In this story, the alcohol leads into their discussion of whether or not the girl should have an abortion.
In addition to the tension created by the uncomfortable atmosphere, Hemingway also uses dialogue to build tension between the two characters. The longest sentence on the first page is only five words up until the man snaps, “Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything,” in response to her comment about seeing white elephants (475). This first sentence of considerable length reveals some of the tension already building between the two. While discussing their Anis del Toros, the girl makes a simple joke and the man appears short with her. She responds, “You started it…I was being amused. I was having a fine time.” He then says, “Well let’s try and have a fine time” (476). This text suggests that they were having to work at acting normal and appearing “fine.” At this point, they are still concealing their true emotions and the reason for their discomfort. The word “fine” appears again at the very end of the story when the girl appears to have lost the argument and the man asks if she feels better. The girl responds shortly with, “I feel fine. There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine” (478). Although she claims to be “fine,” her repetition of the phrase and the word choice of “fine” suggest that she is anything but.
The choppy dialogue throughout the story is accompanied by a sharp contrast between the two characters and their motivating desires. While the man is quite clear about what he wants, the girl is torn between conflicting desires. In the very beginning, the girl comments that the hills “look like white elephants,” a term indicating an unwanted or troublesome possession, which in this case would be the unborn child (475). This initial statement seems odd at first, which is comparable to their peculiar relationship. However, the girl retracts her statement later on when she says, “They’re lovely hills…they don’t really look like white elephants” (476). This is the first indication of her inner struggle. The man, however, quickly assures her, “It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig. It’s not really an operation at all” (476). Jig’s uncertainty continues when she asks the man if things will be like they used to be and whether or not he will still love her. Although the man says he loves her now, reassurance comes with a reason to go on with the procedure. He tells her, “That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy” (476). Even when he tries to sound supportive, he still insists it’s the best thing to do. In response to her continued uncertainty, he says, “I think it’s the best thing to do. But I don’t want you to do it if you don’t really want to” (477). Each of these statements suggests that the man has a clear idea of what he wants. Even amongst the girl’s uncertainty, he continues to push her. Finally, not wanting to discuss it any further, the girl says, “Would you please please please please please please please stop talking” (477). The man’s continued insistence contrasted with the girl’s apparent reluctance further contributes to the tension of the story.
Like many of his greatest works, Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” places significance on what is left unsaid. Although many of the important facts in this story are not clearly stated, the dialogue provides clues into what the characters are discussing and insight into the nature of their relationship. This story is dominated by a feeling of tension, created by the elements of atmosphere, dialogue, and character. The tense atmosphere comes from the foreign environment and the large amount of alcohol. The short, indirect dialogue expresses the discomfort each of the characters feel, and the conflicting desires of the characters make an easy resolution impossible. All of these elements combine to build the tension throughout the story as the girl struggle to come to decision about whether or not she should keep the baby, and, furthermore, what to do about her relationship with the man. Although the decision is not clear, the tension remains even in the end.
Communication in Hills Like White Elephants
Communication in relationships, especially intimate romantic ones, is very vital for the progressive sustenance of the bond between the two parties involved. Ernest Hemmingway’s Hills Like White Elephants presents a narrative of a couple struggling with communication breakdown between them which threatens their relationship and prevents them from solving pressing issues between them. One of these issues, though subtly implied rather than directly mentioned, is abortion which the American man wants but the girlfriend does not appear to favor Both Jig and the American struggle with communication breakthrough in a bid to come to terms with the conflict in their relationship with each having different views and opinions. The story delineates a couple at an emergency point in their relationship. They battle, in broad daylight, to convey their opposing perspectives on the course their relationship should take. The narrative opens with the two main characters waiting for a train while trying to talk out the conflict and issues in their relationships. However, from the very first moments, one can tell that neither listens to the other and poor listening and communication is going on which worsens the existing crisis in their life. Jig notes that the hills behind the train station“…look like white elephants” and when her boyfriend states he has never seen a white elephant, she responds rudely (Hemingway, 40).
Her rude reply could be because of the pressure she is feeling from her boyfriend, the American, who insists that she procures an abortion as she is pregnant with his child. He has not shown signs that he would like to marry her and although she pretends as if the subject of abortion does not bother her, she is very scared and frustrated about it. She therefore unconsciously directs her frustrations, pressure, and fears by being rude and uncommitted in conversation with her boyfriend. Fear and uncertainty of prospects, plans, and state of things after the abortion is a factor that causes strain in the relationship between the two lovers. This strain is manifested in the poor communication seen in the rude, strained, and unproductive conversation between the two. Jig’s main fear is whether she will be okay or the same after the operation as she asks “Then what will we do afterward?” and the American vaguely answers that “We will be fine afterward, just like we were before.” He does not seem to address her fears that the abortion might not be safe or how it will affect their relationship whether it fails or succeeds. In truth, she likes the American a lot, and she is concerned that the abortion might affect how they relate after losing the baby from abortion. It is reassuring for her to hear everything will still be the same but still harbors uncertainty after she asks him “how sure are you?” in his response that it will be just like it used to be before when they do the operation (Hemingway, 40).
This is a sign that she is still distressed and not fully comforted. Both the characters have different perspectives and opinions on what direction their relationship should take which they struggle to show the other while still respecting the other’s views. While the American appears not able to fully express himself in the best way possible, it is evident that he cares a lot about his girlfriend when he openly tells her what he thinks she should do. She makes it clear that she does not want to force her to do anything “…I don’t want you to do it if you don’t want to” referring to the abortion. He tells her that to assure her that he is not going to force or infringe on her wishes thus reassuring her that she doesn’t want her to do something that she is not comfortable with in respect to the abortion. He tells her that he will respect her decision if she does not want to go ahead with the abortion. The take away from this is that the American man cares deeply for her enough not to force his opinion on her. Equal and shared opinion decision making is applied in a bid to solve the issues facing the couple. One primary conflict between Jig and her lover is the divergent views in sharing parenthood. Jig does love her American lover, but at the same time, she is frustrated that the man does not want to share parenthood with her. She walks away to the end of the station frustrated with his sentiments that after the abortion, they will be free to go anywhere that they want to emphasize that as long as the operation is done “we can go anywhere.” To this, she retorts that “No, we can’t it isn’t ours any more.” Jig is referring to the world she thinks they share as a couple which will cease to be theirs in case that the operation destroys magic. The conflict here is that the man does not idealize shared parenthood with Jig and this destroys any image Jig has of a magical world post the abortion (Link, 68).
A closer look makes reveals that while the two couples are trying to achieve a convergent place to live their life and steer their relationship into a stable place, there is lack of proper attention and active communication. After her first remark about the hills looking like white elephants is ignored, Jig repeats the statement to her lover saying “I said the mountains looked like white elephants. Wasn’t that bright” The last questions shows that she is somehow still in doubt about herself and how the American feels about her. She then later comments that all they do is look at things and try new drinks in a way that shows she is tired, bored, and frustrated by their life. Her lover does not seem to read this properly and nonchalantly answers “I guess so.” When she goes ahead to comment that the lovely hills do not “really look like white elephants” and that she “just meant the coloring of their skin through the trees” he responds in a completely different tone and subject saying “should we have another drink?” (Hemingway, 56). Their communication lines are very different, and they lack that synergy and relation in how they talk. One can say they are both poor listeners who do not take time to listen to respond appropriately (Link, 68).
In summation, the two characters in the Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants struggle with communication issues in their bid to resolve conflict in their relationship. The primary issue was causing a rift in their different perspectives on the issue of abortion and shared parenthood. Also, poor communication which is manifested in poor listening skills and wanting interpersonal, verbal skills exacerbates the existing rift in their communication. At the core of it all, both genuinely care about each other and want to be with each other only that while Jig thinks having the baby will cement their shared parenthood, the man thinks that it will not be necessary. With time, they both come to learn how to compromise on different issues and come together in a more open and accepting relationship.
The Literary Technique of Minimalism in Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway and Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville
In Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway and “Bartleby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville, both pieces of literature contain a technique called minimalism, an extreme simplicity used to iterate a deeper meaning in the text. Both authors use this writing style to their advantage. Each piece centers on two characters, (so as to focus on the message the author wishes to convey). Hills Like White Elephants introduces, Jig, a childish woman who have been impregnated by her controlling lover, The American’s child, unfortunately, the couple is unmarried and this child will be born out of wedlock unless there is some way to make sure the pregnancy remains covert. “Bartleby the Scrivener” contains the static self-destructive main character Bartleby and his curious boss who resumes the position of narrator throughout the short story. Melville and Hemingway each employ minimalist techniques in their short stories; however, Hemingway uses minimalism in his description while Melville uses minimalism as a theme.
“Bartleby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville depicts Bartleby, a hardworking man who one day decides to give up. His downhill spiral is eminent,“Bartleby was one of those beings of whom nothing is ascertainable…” (Melville 26). The short story, written and set in 1853 follows the life and duties of this not-so-average scrivener, who would once copy the words onto the paper perfectly but now rarely accomplishes anything at all. During his slump Bartleby isolates himself from the rest of society,“[he] sat in his hermitage, oblivious to everything but his own particular business” (Melville 32). A normal person would get fired if they told their boss that they would “prefer not to” when asked to complete a task, but not Bartleby. His boss, often called The Master of Chancery, is so shocked by this response that Bartleby gains the sympathy of his employer and is offered help to get himself out of a dark situation, that he does not fundamentally take, his success or failure will be on his own terms and it is this stubborn attitude that leads him down this path of deterioration. This simplistic response, leaving room for little explanation, is so shocking, breaking down the social contract that society has set in place. The author keeps this singular phrase so brief, as a reflection of his minimalistic stylings. The story, as a whole, utilizes the setting, dialogue, and characterization to depict minimalism as a theme.
In Hills Like White Elephants, a conversation between an arguing couple with a big decision to make is narrated through a third-person point of view. Two young people with thirsting wanderlust traveling along a spanish railroad are deciding on whether or not they should choose to have this unexpected child or not. It is revealed through the narrator’s statements that the couple has had problems prior to this and likely would not have made so far without the baby, but the American, the male lead, seems to think otherwise, "That's the only thing that bothers us. It's the only thing that's made us unhappy." (Hemingway 50) he says, meaning that their problems are only circumstantial, surely not any of their own doing is responsible for the bickering. As the reader progresses through the story two settings are revealed on each side of the tracks, one side representing fertility, “the fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro”(Hemingway 37) and the other representing death and baronity, “The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white.” (Hemingway 1). After ages of bickering, they come to a compromise and choose to keep their own version of a white elephant, something that nobody wants but in this case turns out to be a precious accident. Hemingway never uses the word abortion, though that is the main argumentative topic covered in the story, he instead uses and details of the setting to communicate the weight of this decision the lack of options for the characters reflect the fact that Hemingway’s use of minimalism is in the description itself.
Hemingway’s literary techniques entail the fate of the main characters by foreshadowing the differences of each outcome using the description of the setting. While Melville has one direct path followed throughout the story until Bartleby, an unfixable lost cause, meets his ultimate demise. Melville’s minimalism, embedded within the theme of the story, is from the few simplistic words spoken by the main character himself, Bartleby. Almost everything Bartleby says is so concise that there are many different forms of interpretation, but it is ultimately what drives the curiosity for the narrator to continue on with the story. Both works contain minimalism but each author uses it in a different way to provide a structural anomaly within the text.
Formalism and Geography in Hills Like White Elephants, a Short Story by Ernest Hemingway
When one hears the title, “Hills like White Elephants”, what comes to mind? Maybe a visual representation of ginormous white hills or maybe something that looks to be an elephant. In fact there are such things as white elephants. White elephants are considered sacred and rare in nature. The short story “Hills like White Elephants”, by Earnest Hemmingway, is being told through a conversation between an American man and a woman that is answering to the name of Jig. The two are waiting for a train to Madrid and as they wait a conversation sparks up between them about a difficult decision that has to be made. Hemmingway’s short story can be viewed through the critical lens of formalism. Formalism is a literary theory that focuses on the context of the story and or literary work, making the context of the story clear and understandable. The use of formalism is to take aspects such as symbolism, tone, characters, and structure to create the overall meaning behind the story.
Geography plays a major role in literature. Geography can develop characters, can be a part of the plot, symbol, mood, tone, and/or symbol (Foster). Geography in this short story shows the positive uplifting side of the situation at hand but as well shows the downfall and negativity. The setting contributes to the conflict and the tension that lies between the couple, showing the literal and figurative aspects of the situation (O’Brien). The station, an important attribute, lied between two lines of rails in the sun, I felt like this represented the two different point of views of the operation. . The couple sit facing the side of the valley where there are no trees, there is a country side in the distance that is brown and in much need of water. On the opposing side of the valley, there are “fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro.” But as she watches the scene, “the shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain,” foreshadowing the death of her unborn child (Johnston). I also feel like when the girl said that the hills look like white elephants, she looked upon the hills like they were beautiful in every way, something sacred and so giving to the earth. All the while she feels the same about the decision she has to make. She feels that it would be no change between her and the man, she feels that they can still love the same. As for the guy when he states that he never seen a white elephant, I felt like he didn’t view the hills as she did, like he didn’t care as much as her for him to be the person pushing the girl to go forward with the operation, he doesn’t want change. I truly believe that he feels that if she doesn’t go forward with the operation then their relationship won’t be the same and he doesn’t want to be around when whatever happens, happens.
Another thing to keep in mind is the cultural aspect of the setting. Hemmingway placed his story in Spanish territory. It may be a bit ironic that Hemmingway placed his characters in this setting. Most Spanish speaking countries are mostly catholic countries, which means they don’t agree with abortions. “However, the girl does not understand Spanish, a fact which helps to reveal her essential helplessness and dependency. She is a stranger in a foreign land where her male companion is her only interpreter and guide.” Their luggage shows that they are not from around the area and their luggage also hints that they have two options once they leave the station. They can go towards Madrid and become a family or go to the same place and get the abortion (Johnston).
Another Symbol that is being used is White Elephants. “White elephants are paradoxical in nature” (Weeks). “A white elephant, in one meaning of the term, is anything rare, expensive, and difficult to keep; any burdensome possession; an object no longer esteemed by its owner though not without value to others” (Johnston). This aspect and view of the elephant is how the man feel towards the unborn child. It seems as if he is ignoring the fact that it’s a child’s life. White elephants are sacred yet a burden to the ones that keep them. Elephants in general are very valuable and sacred but white elephants are rare and were used to show justice and fairness in Asian countries (Weeks). These elephants are a burden because people believed that these elephants should not be used for work but they had to be fed and token care of which cost a lot of money. Jig’s reference to white elephants; The fact that she feels like they can still have the whole world means that jig would accept the consequence a lot more than her supposed significant other, he feels it’s a burden that is going to keep them from having the world. It is both barren and fruitful (Johnston).
What kind of operation was Jig supposed to be having? At first I didn’t recognize what kind of operation the man was trying to get the woman to go through with, I actually had to read the story twice. It’s a certain part in the story that made me feel like the man was trying to convince the girl to get an abortion. When the man said “I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air in.” I instantly tried to think of what operation let’s air in, but then as I continued to read and the story described the way the woman reacted to the topic of having an “operation” I realized that maybe she wanted whatever it was not the same as the man but I did realize that they were talking of an abortion. They are always trying new things, the baby would have been a burden upon their relationship. The couple was not ready to commit, well at this moment it seems like the American man is trying so hard to make her choose the decision of going through with the operation. The choice of words that Hemmingway uses when the male talks to Jig are much repetitive. Using words like “just”, “really”, and “reasonably” shows which side the man stands upon with the idea of abortion, even though his words were describing everything else around him. Hemmingway used these words to show an exaggerated typical male view on life (O’Brien).
Jig is an important character in Hemmingway’s short story. The name Jig, means a dance, music for the particular dance, or something that is to be taken as a joke. Her name develops central conflict. The way the man treats her and speaks to her is kind of like he doesn’t care, like everything she is saying is irrelevant. Jig can also mean many other things. Her name could be associated with “jigger” which refers to the whisky measures, or even a phrase like “thinger ma jigger” in a way dehumanizing her making her seem like she is a tool or object. Hemmingway knew what he was doing when he purposely had the first appearance of Jig come up after the idea of having an operation (O’Brien)
The whole story is about having something that can be very beautiful and can bring much joy but can also stop you from doing the things that one would love to do or can even become a burden. Choices and decisions can be very difficult to make but reading this story also shows how people can be on two totally different paths in their life. Like how the station sits between two lines of rails, the couple could be on two different paths of life. Hemming way used significant words, techniques, and word play to bring his story to life. No one really knows how this short story ends, but it creates such a cliff hanger that it gives the reader no other choice but to use their imagination, and the dialog between the characters to create an ending of their own.
A Theme Of Lack Of Communication Within A Relationship In Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants
Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ dramatizes a perennial issue we have all more than likely encountered: a lack of communication within a relationship. Hemingway narrates this short story through a continuous conversation between the story’s two main characters, the American and Jig. The conflict at hand is inferred through both context clues and dialogue, and seems to be what most readers concur to be an unforeseen pregnancy. The overall issue throughout the piece is the couple’s inability to express their thoughts on the matter, specifically their differing opinions. A clear absence of communication is essentially what creates a rift between the couple, and further drives Hemingway’s take-home message of how we as individuals do not fully communicate our feelings, either to protect others or to protect ourselves. We can commence by considering the American’s point of view. From superficial assumptions, he is clearly a younger and carefree man, and makes it quite evident that he is extremely fond of his current lifestyle, specifically his ability to travel and explore new horizons as he pleases. Thus, he would not be too enthusiastic about becoming a father in the near future.
The American makes it obvious that he’d like for Jig to undergo the abortion procedure, yet his dialogue does not express this opinion to the degree it should. He interjects his opinions by stating, “It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig. It’s not really an operation at all… I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig”. This brief statement speaks volumes of the American’s character. In an attempt to define the reality of the situation, and draw a conclusion for the both of them, he reiterates what the operation “really” entails, twice. By suggesting how simple the abortion is, he radically minimizes the severity of the operation. Clearly his comment is false, and the hastened mentioning of the procedure cheapens said comment entirely. It ultimately makes the American out to seem deceptive with regard to the matter, since he brings the topic up in a blunt manner. If the operation had truly been as minor as he implies it to be, he would have no need to exaggerate its simplicity, nor would Jig have the emotional response she does to his suggestions.
The American’s stance on the matter shines through repeatedly in the story. In one instance, he replies to Jig’s hesitation by stating, “Well, if you don’t want to you don’t have to. I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple”. The American frequently makes passive-aggressive comments towards Jig, perhaps to protect her feelings, or to protect his own image. His communication to her can, without a doubt, be interpreted as manipulative. Whilst he’s admitting that the decision rests with Jig, he still manages to find a way to promote the safety and simplicity of the operation. In spite of the fact that he never lucidly states what he wants to happen, he does not stop bringing the idea up, in hopes to persuade her. Rather than showing his true colors, he treads lightly when discussing the topic, and leaves the decision-making entirely up to Jig. The American’s statements throughout the piece illuminates the theme of miscommunication, and how it plays out within the story.
Conversely, we can devise an assumption that Jig was contemplating keeping the child, but was hesitant out of fear of what the American would think of her. She specifically states, “And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?”. With this statement, it becomes apparent that Jig is extremely concerned about keeping her relationship intact throughout this time. At one point in their conversation, her fear is apparent with her claim “-we could have all this”, implying a happy and nonchalant life with one another, “-we could have everything and every day we make it more impossible”. Jig is aware that having the child could very well take away that opportunity.
Thus, she feels a need to protect her relationship from this “hiccup”, for lack of a better term. When the operation begins to be brought up more than once in their conversation, with credit to the American’s persistence, Jig cuts him off by saying, “Can’t we maybe stop talking?”. Despite her becoming uncomfortable, the American resumes speaking, even after she pleads him to stop repeatedly afterwards. This clear disregard for her wishes, shows that even though the American believes the conversation needs to be had, they both are not listening to one another or communicating in the way that a couple should. All in all, Jig’s opinion throughout the story seems to be neglected, and as readers, this assumption is confirmed when she states, “I feel fine. There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine” (Hemingway 206). We are not made aware of whether she’s “fine” with the abortion, or with remaining pregnant.
It’s clearly a defining moment in the story, yet the audience is still left with an inconclusive ending. Jig has come to a decision by the story’s end, and it most likely is not a choice she made with her own wellbeing in mind, but rather for the relationship. Unmistakingly, and indirectly, literary components, such as narration, setting and symbolism, also contribute to the development of the overall issue of miscommunication in this story. “Hills Like White Elephants” is written in the third-person objective point of view, meaning that the story offers no insight into the thoughts of characters; the plot is told mainly through observations. Having the narration in this fashion does not allow the audience access to exactly what each of the characters are thinking with regard to the surgery. We, as the audience, are forced to work off of their dialogue and body language in order to get a sense of where the character’s heads are at, with regard to the idea of aborting their child.
I believe Hemingway used this narrative point-of-view to additionally make his audience feel uncomfortable, as well as to mimic the sense of being an eye-witnesse to the event; further placing his audience into the shoes of the couple. Moreover, the setting of “Hills Like White Elephants” serves as a symbolic contribution to the piece’s theme of communication. The train station is representative of the fact that the couple’s relationship is at a crossroads. The station is a stopping point between Barcelona and Madrid, and the main characters must decide where to go. In their situation, it’s a choice of whether to go to the place of the operation or to stay; thus, deciding to keep the child. Furthermore, the contrast between the white hills and barren valley described can highlight the difference between fertility and sterility, alluding to the choice Jig faces. The story explains Jig’s appreciation of the landscapes, as she states, “They look like white elephants. They’re lovely hills. They don’t really look like white elephants. I just meant the coloring of their skin through the trees”. Further into the story, she admires the landscape on the opposite side of the station, “The girl stood up and walked to the end of the station. On the other side, were field of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro”. Jig seems to be torn between the two landscapes, just as she is with regard to the operation.
An additional note, the waitress at the train station speaks solely in Spanish, and the narrator acts as a translator for the audience; likewise, the American translates for Jig during the story. This serves as an ironic, playful jab to the matter of miscommunication in “Hills Like White Elephants”. In sum, Ernest Hemnigway depicts an apparent lapse in an individual’s capability to always communicate to their full potential. In the piece, the couple experiences a difficulty in letting their opinions be known on the topic of an issue they’re facing. By not being able to express themselves, mostly out of fear for their own separate reasons, the couple creates a fault in their relationship. Doubly, the story ending on a note in which readers are forced to devise their own conclusions as to what the couple has decided, is representative of a theme of miscommunication. Ernest Hemingway does not communicate to his audience what is to come next for this couple, if they decide to take the train for the procedure or keep the unborn child, just as the American and Jig were not entirely verbal about their feelings to one another. Perhaps this was done as a way to replicate the true confusion the couple faced during this time, and their inability to communicate efficiently, much like many people do in any relationship, not just romantically.
Historical And Social Contexts In Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants
“They look like white elephants” says a girl, referring to a burden that is never called by its name in the story. Although, the girl and her companion have a conversation through the story, neither of the speakers truly communicates with the other, highlighting the distance between the two. Both talk, but neither listens or understands the other’s point of view. 1920s has a political, and social phenomena clearly influenced Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”. In 1918, a year after graduating from high school in Oak Park, Illinois, Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) volunteered as an ambulance driver in World War I. At the Italian front, he was seriously wounded. This experience haunted him and many of the characters in his short stories and novels. In Our Time (1925) is a collection of short stories, including “Soldier’s Home,” that reflect some of Hemingway’s own attempts to readjust to life back home after the war. The Sun Also Rises (1926), A Farewell to Arms (1929), and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) are also about war and its impact on people’s lives. Hemingway courted violence all his life in war, the bullring, the boxing ring, and big game hunting. When he was sixty-two years old and terminally ill with cancer, he committed suicide by shooting himself with a shot-gun.
Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants” concentrates on the couple on their way from Barcelona to Madrid. They are waiting for a train at a bar, and having a conversation about the decision they have made. A couple who are considering an abortion is an American man who is quite sure in that decision, and a girl Jig who is hesitant. The short story ends up with an indeterminate ending, giving a chance to think up the story independently. Hemingway’s use of symbolism in “Hills Like White Elephants” illustrates that they continued their intended way, and that historical and social context has a big influence in this story.
Hemingway presents two main characters. An American man is older, and he speaks Spanish. For him “everything” seems to mean a freedom, so when they are intensely speaking about it, he is threatened to lose it. A girl nicknamed Jig is younger, she does not speak Spanish and needs a help of the man to understand the world outside, for her “everything” seems to mean a baby, settling down with making a family with the man near her. The girl’s inability to speak Spanish with the waitress shows her dependence on the American, but also the difficulty she has expressing herself to him. Both characters are flat, their characteristics are simple and can be briefly described, though Jig towards the end becoming dynamic.
Jig refers to a child, “… And once they take it away, you never get it back”. While the American thinks that they will be happy without a child, “… You don’t have to be afraid. I’ve known lots of people that have done it”. To that Jig sarcastically answers, “So have I.” “And afterward they were all so happy”. They are arguing about their “everything”, which actually means their different points of view to the world. “Everything” in the story illustrates that the American surely wants Jig to have an operation. Though he says ‘If you don’t want to you don’t have to. I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to,’ he is not sincere. His honesty in this dialogue is questionable. From his earlier statements, it is obvious that he does not want to settle down, nor does he want to take responsibility for an operation; it is clear, he strongly wants her to have this operation and surely seems to remain deaf to her desires. The beginning of a story has a description of land with a train station located in Spain.
There are two sides of rails where Jig and the man waits for a train: “On this side there was no shade and no trees …”. And “… on the other side, were fields of grain and trees …”. The author describes the shadow of a cloud across the field of grin where Jig stood up. The shadow of cloud can be accepted as a literary symbol of impending trouble. The setting is important in this story. It indicates two possible results out of Jig decision. The road to the Madrid where they are heading to has a negative description of the land with no trees and no shade, that if Jig will go through with the abortion. The ground looks dry, as if there has been no rain for quite some time. There are hills in the distance that have a white color as the sun shines on them. And a road to Barcelona that has a vivid description of life. The Ebro River represents life, as it irrigates the fields. The fields of grain and trees also represent fertility and fruitfulness. The story unfolds in the 1920s, which is in history known as “Roaring Twenties,” with its alcohol prohibition, flapper culture, bohemian life and extended women rights. The prohibition was caused by the women, believing it would protect families, women and children from the effects of abuse of alcohol.
The prohibition has been successful only in some parts of the country, whereas more had its “side effects,” such as alcohol poisoning, and an increase in lawlessness. Mafia became more powerful because of prohibition. Arguments raged over the effectiveness of prohibition. The more people are restricted, the more they eager to do it and crave to find a way. That is how flapper culture appears, mostly recognized by a women’s short hair-cuts, unlikely for the ladies behavior as smoking the cigarettes, and becoming more sexually free than generation before. Modern society was appearing in fashion, jazz and women getting rights to vote. That was a start of propaganda women’s beautiful life in Hollywood, in its turn advertising a freedom among people also known as bohemian people. Bohemian lifestyle rejected permanent residence, pursuit of wealth, alcohol and sexual freedom restrictions. As the characters in “White Hills Like Elephants” lives in the 1920s, they are affected by a time of prohibition and bohemian lifestyle. It can be seen by them travelling in Europe, drinking and having a freedom in choosing a partner. “… there is a common bond between Jig and the man;… We know the couple were lovers, which means at one point in their lives they had a common ‘level’ of communication…”. The relationship between Jig and the American clearly represents Bohemian lifestyle.
However, as Bohemian lifestyle rejects the permanent relationship “their efforts are futile and we see, after knowing they have treated each style of communication, that their once 1iving relationship and feeling for each other is now dead and empty. It is time for them to part as two people would who had met one evening and found they had nothing in common”, their relationship needs to be defined for the defining further direction. At first the story appears to be a conversation. We see a hint about the topic in the man’s addressing to a Jig, “It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,”… “It’s not really an operation at all.” The American does not perceive her abortion as an operation. The title also reveals a child, meaning an elephant for the characters. Elephant figurative. A burdensome or costly objective, enterprise, or possession, esp. one that appears magnificent; a financial liability. So, from the story it is seen that a Jig is hesitating about her decision of abortion.
A child is considered a burden, and a financial liability. “As Kenneth G. Johnston writes, Jig’s ‘instincts tell her that their relationship will be radically altered, perhaps destroyed, if she goes through with the abortion. But if she refuses, she knows full well that he will leave her’. In the dilemma of having to choose between the man and her unborn child, Jig does not seem to even consider the option of unwed motherhood”. Though, at the time of the story it was already more or less acceptable for the American couple to travel through the Europe unmarried, nevertheless, American society expectations still were harsh to a thought of raising a child alone. Moreover, it is practically impossible for her to have the baby without the American’s support. She is totally dependent to him, so in agreeing to the abortion she can save her relationship with him. Assumingly, finally they will have a train to Madrid. In fear to lose his freedom, the American man will say almost anything to convince a Jig to have an abortion. For instance, he tells her he loves her, and that everything between them will go back to the way it used to be. While the girl is indecisive, at one point conceding that she will have the abortion just to shut him up. When the man still insists, she finally says him “Would you please, please, please, please, please, please, please stop talking?” taking a time to think. When Jig asks the American to stop talking, she has a time to make a decision. So, when the waitress came to say that 5 minutes left and Jig smiling to her brightly means that she made a decision to succumb. Eventually when American comes, she says, “I feel fine”.
To conclude, Hemingway suggests many hints to understand his short story. The outstanding usage of symbolism to describe an abortion helps to find the main topic of the story. The setting is described ambiguously, the fields of grain and trees symbolize her current pregnant state and the life in her womb, while the “shadow of a cloud” illustrates its possible ending. Along with the conflict of the story between Jig and the American, Hemingway was able to make a story based upon the facts of life using all of these social and historical factors.
- Hemingway, Ernest. ‘Hills like White Elephants.’ The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction, edited by Ann Charters, Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2003, pp. 475-478.
- Meyer, Michael. The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking, Writing, 10th edition, edited by Michael Meyer, Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, pp. 165-166.
- Oxford English Dictionary. White elephant. 26 Sept. 2019, https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/399143;jsessionid=EBF9CF37FD122F3262EA8375C 0379DB?redirectedFrom=White+elephants#eid
- Pavloska, Susanna. ‘Pregnant Parataxis: Teaching Hemingway’s ‘Hills Like White Elephants’.’ Doshisha Studies in Language and Culture, vol. 4, no. 2, 2001, pp. 467-487. ProQuest, https://library.pittstate.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/85556083?accountid=13211.
- Ramsey, Jeff. ‘An Interactional Analysis of ‘Hills Like White Elephants’.’ The Journal of the Linguistic Association of the Southwest, vol. 4, no. 3, 1981, pp. 260-268. ProQuest, https://library.pittstate.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/85477123?accountid=13211.