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Hills Like White Elephants: An Endeavor to Justify Earnest Hemingway is one of the greatest American authors to ever live. He displays remarkable wit and depth in the short story Hills Like White Elephants. Not only does this story incorporate a sophisticated plot, it also conveys a different message to everyone who reads it. To one reader it may appear as though the story is about a couples struggle to decide to have an abortion. Yet, to another person the story may just be a simple plot consisting of two people engaging in conversation. After reading the story many times and carefully reviewing it, I have concluded that it is about a Spanish woman, named Jig, who is going to have an abortion.
Now, my point of interest is not that she is having an abortion, but rather the way she deals with the abortion. Jig is struggling with her own mind, and values in a dismal attempt to ease her conscience. Jig uses her mind, both consciously and subconsciously, 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. When, in reality, she knows in her mind that she is going to have the abortion, but she does not allow her feelings to show externally. She keeps this thought hidden well by vocally expressing opposition to the abortion to her American boyfriend.
An example of this is when Jig tells the American that the land surrounding them is so pretty and fertile (Hemingway, 274). By saying that she implies that she is fertile and pregnant, and she likes it that way. Then, ironically enough, she contradicts herself and says that the hills, which symbolize her baby, look like white elephants (Hemingway, 247). This is a critical statement in understanding that Jig does not want the baby, as white elephants are generally something people want to avoid, thus implying that she wants to avoid a baby. This is very important because she is traveling to the infertile ground, which symbolizes her abortion. If she plans on going to the infertile ground, why does she even bother to persuade her American friend that she does not want an abortion?
Another way to look at Jigs mind is how she is feeling as a mother. Could it be possible for her motherly instinct to try to persuade her already-abortion-set mind to continue with the pregnancy? An example of this is evident in the story when the American asks Jig, Doesnt it mean anything to you? (Hemingway, 279). Jig then replies, Of course it does. (247). It is only natural for a woman to want to protect her young. Despite this reason to keep the baby, Jig only lets its effects show through her physical reactions.
Another important symbol that needs to be reviewed in the same context as Jigs mind is the alcohol. One would think that being pregnant would cause Jig to think twice about drinking. The reputation of alcohol as a narcotic began around 1790; in fact, the drink Anis Del Toro is illegal in most of the world excluding Spain (Doris, 283). Not only does Jig have alcohol, but she also drinks at least three glasses. Again, sub-consciously she knows she is having the abortion and therefore drinks the alcohol. Why else would she purposely put something into her body that would harm her baby?
Also, the alcoholic drinks just give her another reason to have the abortion. She tells herself that the child is already doomed from the start. Jig surely knows that she will never bear the child that she is carrying (Abdoo, 239), meaning that the baby will not be healthy. This unfortunate truth helps persuade Jig that the abortion is the right plan of action.
Furthermore she will not have to feel guilty. She thinks she is doing the baby a favor. My next point is relative to her American friend. She is trying to make him the bad guy, in other words, make him responsible for her abortion. The American is very persistent in his efforts to persuade Jig that the abortion is right. He says several times, Its really an awfully simple operation, Jig. (Hemingway, 279), Jig then replies, and you think then well be happy? (279).
These two statements are perfect examples of Jig passively disagreeing with the American. Thus leaving her innocent and her conscience at ease. This quote is relevant because Jigs heart and values tell her that the abortion is wrong, while her conscience is ignoring her heart. Jigs mind is a mysterious, yet simple, aspect of the story.
It provides the reader with an array of possibilities for what the story is about. This means that Jigs use of her mind, is for the most part, pointless as she is only using it to change a wrong to a right. Jig and the American understand that the unborn child has become a white elephant (Consigny, 54). Also, using an obscure style of communication, forces her boyfriend to make her decision. Jig tries to express various reasons as to why the abortion is right. Blaise Pascal once said, The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. (Pascal).
Jigs conscience tends to ignore the reasons of her heart. Thus, Jigs attempt to ease her conscience is a success as at the end of the story she states, I feel fine, theres nothing wrong with me. I feel fine (Hemingway, 278). Jig feels that she is no longer responsible for the abortion. She will have the abortion and be free from the values and motherly instinct that annoyed her conscience.
Jig succeeds in deceiving the American in to accepting the responsibility for the abortion because she feels that the American has forced her to have the abortion. Hemingway wants his message to come across differently to everyone who reads it. This idea is especially evident in Hills Like White Elephants. Hemingway's attempts to show a woman debating to have an abortion. Though, he keenly displays the womans hidden desire to have the abortion. Obviously this is because the man is to be forced into deciding whether or not the abortion is right.
This in turn forces Jig into a struggle with her mind and values to maintain her innocence. Abdoo, Sherlyn Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants. The Explicator Vol. 49, no. 4, 1991 Summer, p. 238 - 240. Consigny, Scott, Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants...
The Explicator Vol. 48, no. 1, Fall-Summer 1989 - 1990, p. 54 - 55. Hemingway, Earnest Hills Like White Elephants The Short Stories, p. 273 - 278. Lanier, Doris The Bittersweet Taste of Absinthe: Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants Short Stories in Fiction, Vol. 26, no. 3 Summer 1989, p. 279 - 288. Pascal, Blaise Quote Land. com, web November 17, 2000.
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Hills Like White Elephants: The Symbolism of the Setting
In Ernest Hemingway's story "Hills Like White Elephants" an American couple is
sitting at a table in a train station in Spain. They are discussing beer,
travel, and whether or not to have an abortion. The train station and its
surroundings are symbolic in this story. The station itself represents the
choice on whether or not to have the abortion. There is a set of tracks on
either side of the station, each representing one of the choices. On one side of
the station, the tracks run through a lush, green landscape full of grainfields
and trees. A wide river runs lazily in the foreground of some tall mountains.
It is almost like a paradise. This side of the station symbolizes the choice of
going through with the abortion. As it is now they travel all around the world,
drinking and staying in hotels, and seeing all the beautiful places in the world.
They have no responsibilities or schedules in their life. With an abortion,
they could continue their party- and fun-filled, although meaningless existence.
The other side of the station is dry and barren of plantlife. The ground looks
as if there has been no rain for quite some time. There are hills in the
distance that have a whitish color as the sun radiates on them. The woman said,
"They look like white elephants."(343) White elephants are known to symbolize
unexpected gifts, which is certainly what the baby would be should they choose
not to have the abortion. The barrenness of the land refers the tame life--
settling down and having the responsibilities of parenthood--that they would
have to start living when the baby came; a life that would be duller but would
have a purpose. The bead curtain represents the fact that once they choose a
side, to have the baby or not, they cannot change their minds and then switch
sides. Once the decision has been made, it will affect their lives forever.
The man wants to have the abortion so they can continue to have the luxuries
they enjoy now. On the other hand, the woman is tired of the wilder life and
wants the baby and to settle down.
Hemingway, Ernest. "Hills Like White Elephants" Literature and the Writing
Process. Eds. Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X Day, and Robert Funk. 4th ed. Upper
Saddle River: Prentice, 1996. 343-46.
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