Hills Like White Elephants was written by Ernest Hemingway in 1938. It is an enigmatic narrative about abortion. The story is about a man, identified as the American, and a girl. The American is trying to convince the woman to have an abortion. Jig, the girl in the short story, is socially and financially dependent on the American. Jig’s inferior position to the man is further demonstrated by her inability to speak Spanish. The couple has had an untroubled relationship until the woman became pregnant. The writer does not use the word abortion in the narrative; hence, readers have to read in between the lines to figure out the source of the couple’s conflict. As the conversation in the narrative unfolds, Jig’s character develops from a weaker to a dominant individual. This assignment analyzes the development of Jig’s character from a weaker character to a dominant character in the narrative.
The title of the narrative is derived from the hills that the girl and the man are looking at while having their conversation. It is the woman who describes the hill as “white elephants;” hence, bringing up its analogy. Jig’s observation of the hills is essential in the text because it makes it possible for readers to understand the significance of the discussion between the two characters.
The entire story unfolds while the couple is seated by a table outside a bar at a Spanish train station. The train station setting depicts that Jig and the American are both figuratively and literally at a crossroads. As they sit at the train station, the couple has to decide which train they are going to take. The train station is situated between two tracks heading in different directions. The rail tracks go through a river valley and emerge on different parts of the hill. One part of the hill is described as barren and dry, while the other has beautiful scenery with green trees and flowing rivers. The arid region of the hill is interpreted as signifying abortion and death, while the other side can be translated as signifying life. As they sit drinking their beer, the couple has to choose the path they will have to follow.
It is evident that Jig wants to take the path filled with life. Hemingway writes, “The girl walked to the end of the train station…. on the other side was fields of trees and grains” (Mays 634). As such, this is the dramatic part of the narrative where Jig finally realizes what she truly wants. She goes to the end of the train station, distancing herself from the American. When Jig goes back to the table where the American is seated, he keeps talking until Jig finally shouts, “Stop talking” (Mays 634). Her sudden outburst silences the American who watches their luggage with the hotel labels still attached to them. The American’s reaction to Jig’s outburst illustrates that it has dawned on him that the fun times were finally over. However, he tries one more time to convince the girl to have an abortion, to which she responds, “I will scream” (Mays 634).
The train station and its surroundings play a critical part in understanding the narrative. The American finally realizes that Jig will not go through with the operation and he moves their bags to the other side of the rail tracks. It seems that the couple will not take the train leading to the barren side of the hills. The American’s action can be interpreted to mean that the couple has decided not to go through with the operation. Hemingway uses both dialogue and setting as a tool to give meaning to the narrative. Likewise, since she is unable to confront the American directly, Jig uses the train station and its surrounding to outsmart the American.
“Like white elephants” is used a total of five times in the short story. By repeating the phrase, Hemingway highlights the importance of the title. The short story’s title is based on an idiom, “white elephant,” which refers to something that is perceived as a burden. Hence, this means that the couple believes that the pregnancy is a burden. Furthermore, it also depicts that the short story is enigmatic and readers can interpret it in different ways. The questions asked by the characters are another example of repetition in the text. Jig asks a total of 17 queries, with 13 of those being simple questions that can be answered with a yes or no. The American, on the other hand, asks four questions, with three of those being asked towards the end of the narrative. The questions and their placement in the short story illustrate the shift in command.
At the beginning of the narrative, Jig is portrayed as the weaker character, while the American is described as dominant. At the end of the tale, the American is more reactive and interrogative, suggesting that the girl has become the active force. Even though the American appears dominant, Hemingway incorporates stylistic signs in the story to illustrate that he does not have complete control of the couple’s situation. The writer’s use of repetition creates a story that has context and meaning. The narrative highlights the power of a woman’s will while critiquing the man’s conduct.
- Mays, Kelly J. The Norton Introduction to Literature, W.W. Norton & Company, 2015.