Hills Like White Elephants was written by Ernest Hemingway, and first published in 1927. Although its title leads you to believe the story is going to be about landscape or animals, it is in fact, about a couple’s struggle over whether or not to go through with an abortion. This short story takes place in Ebro, Spain during the middle of the summer, at a train station. The two characters in the story are a man referred to as ‘The American’, and a woman referred to as Jig. The nonchalant attitudes of the main characters shape the thought and introduction to the presentation of the story.
As the story starts, you get the feeling that this man and woman are just out for a friendly drink and some traveling, until they start to mention the ‘procedure’, but this leaves you wondering what outcome they chose. The word abortion is never directly printed in the story, but the author gives us clues as to what he is talking about, “it’s a really simple operation Jig,…. I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air in” (Hemingway 42, 44). The American thinks of the abortion as a ‘procedure’.
The way he views and describes the ‘perfectly simple procedure’ is unfeeling towards Jig. He keeps telling Jig, “I don’t want you to do it if you don’t really want to” (Hemmingway 57), but at the same time, he keeps trying to sell her on the idea by telling her how perfectly simple it is. From his point of view, he even goes as far as to tell her that “we can have the whole world” (Hemmingway 76), and everything will be as it was before. Jigs point of view on the procedure is not the same as the Americans. She is really struggling with the idea of the abortion.
Her reply to the American when he says that they could have the world again was, “And we could have everything and every day we make it more impossible” (Hemmingway72). In that quote, she tells us that she is starting to love the baby, or love the idea of how the baby will change her life, and how as each day passes, it’s harder and harder for her to give it up. Jig also has a sarcastic reply to the American when he says that he had known a lot of people who have had an abortion. Her reply was, “So have I, and afterward they were all so happy” (Hemmingway 54).
Her sarcastic tone tells you she is tired of the Americans point of view, and the way he keeps trying to talk her into doing it. Jig also says “It (the world) isn’t ours anymore” (Hemmingway 79), and “once they take it away, you never get it back” (Hemmingway 81). This shows you she has put some deep thought in trying to make the right decision. She even goes as far as to ask the American, “And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you will love me? ” (Hemmingway 59), but the American doesn’t answer her question directly, instead he says “I love you now, You know I love you” (Hemmingway 59).
The girl tells the American she does not care about herself and that if she does it, it will only be for him. By making this comment she is showing that she actually loves him. I think the woman is torn between making the right decision for her own happiness or the American’s. On one hand she loves the American and wants to make him happy, and on the other hand she is starting to love the baby and how she thinks it will change her life and give it some meaning. There are a few elements of symbolism in the story. One is when she says, “they (the hills) look like white elephants (Hemmingway 9).
To me when she refers to the hills as big white elephants, it goes along with the saying of ‘the big pink elephant in the room’, meaning there is a problem and it’s big and obvious to them, yet no one is talking about it. Maybe the reason she called it ‘white’ was because she was symbolizing the baby as being innocent and not at fault for its being. The woman fingering the two strings of beads, I think, reminds her of her Catholic roots, and the rosary beads, ”The girl looked at the bead curtain, put her hand out and took hold of the two strings of beads” (Hemmingway 51).
She is probably thinking how she should not go through with the abortion because it was against her upbringing and religion. The third element of symbolism I would like to talk about is the landscape, “On this side there were no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun” (Hemmingway 2) and, “Across on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro (river). Far away beyond the river were mountains.
The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river hrough the trees” (Hemmingway 71). For her, these two very different landscapes represent her problem. She sees her boyfriend and behind him is the dry and desolate land, like behind his choice, her life would be dry and desolate as well. On the other side, she sees green and fertile land with lush mountains and rivers, like behind her choice her life would be full and have meaning. In conclusion, we would all like to know what outcome was chosen, but that is for the reader to decide.
There are a few key points I would like to couple together, one was when Jig said “Oh yes. But I don’t care about me. And I’ll do it and then everything will be fine” (Hemmingway 68), and the last sentence of the story, “I feel fine,’ she said. There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine. ” (Hemingway 110). She said if she ‘did it she would be fine’ and ‘everything would be fine’, and then at the end she simply states that now she is ‘fine’. I think it shows that she chose to go through with it.
The other outcome would suggest that the American, after looking at the tags on their bags and remembering all the places they have been together, finally changes his mind and tells her that he doesn’t want her to do it, and then he gets their bags and moves them to the opposite platform, “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 they had spent nights. But I don’t want you to” (Hemmingway 99, 100). This story, even though it is old, shows the struggle that a lot of people go through today, and the difficulty of living with the choices we make.