The Exaltation of Women in the Stories of Shiloh and Hills Like White Elephants

Imagine, a woman living in the 1900s. Is she the typical housewife or is she an independent woman making her own decisions, and standing up for herself? When comparing Norma Jean in Bobbie Ann Mason’s “Shiloh” with Jig, Ernest Hemmingway’s lead character in “Hills Like White Elephants,” one may see the vast differences between the characters in terms of their perspective on life and relationships. Bearing in mind these considerable differences, one may argue that both authors use their dominate female roles to reveal a common theme of developing self-esteem as a female.

Mason’s short story features two main characters: Leroy and Norma Jean, a married couple, whom is not your typical family within the time period the story is set. The couple has not got out of the honeymoon stage of their marriage for the reason that they never had the time to see each other due to their jobs. Leroy was once a truck driver, but due to an accident he now spends every minute at home with Norma Jean. Leroy instantly realizes that Norma Jean is not the same woman when he first married her. Norma Jean pushes the limits of the female identity during this time period. She now goes to school, works out, and is now the main provider for the family. Another factor that put a strain on the couples’ relationship was that they once had a child, but due to SIDs. The couple never grieved together over the loss of their first baby. Although, Leroy still has the dream of giving his wife everything she wants, and that log house she has always wanted. Though, Norma Jean portrays she is this independent lady, she self-doubts herself when her mother-in-law finds her smoking. At the end of the story it says: “Now she turns toward Leroy and waves her arm.” Leaving the readers to infer if Norma Jean left her husband or not.

Hemmingway begins his short story with a long description of the story’s setting in a train station surrounded by hills, fields, and trees in Spain. A man known simply as the American and his girlfriend sit at a table outside the station, waiting for a train to Madrid. While, waiting for the train, the man orders two alcoholic beverages for the two. As the two sips on their beverages, they start to talk about an unknown operation. Throughout the story the narrator never specifies what the operation is. Although, through careful analyzation the reader can conclude that the operation is an abortion because of what the American says. The American says things like: “it’s just letting air in and after it is done, we will be better.” Meaning, if she gets rid of the baby, they will be perfectly fine, if not better than before. However, Jig is unsure about the whole situation, and remains uncertain throughout the story, until the end of the story when she basically tells him to shut up. At the end of the story, it says the train is approaching and the couple board the train to Madrid. The readers are left clueless and must infer if Jig went through with the abortion or if the couple remains together.

Norma Jean is not your typical housewife, and she honestly does not care what thinks about it. Norma Jeans relationship reminds her of the time she was caught by her mother smoking and feels as if both treat her as the young girl she once was. Norma Jean even says: “she won’t leave me alone—you won’t leave me alone” (Mason, 821). Now that she is the main provider of the family, she has a sense of independence, and even has the courage to leave him. She says: “I want to leave you,” and he replies with, “I won’t let you” (Mason, 820). In response to what Leroy said she says: “you can’t stop me” (Mason, 820). For Norma Jean to say this is very brave because, women in this time period is very old fashioned. Which means, women should be stay at home mothers and never leave her husband. Though, one may not see much change in Norma Jean, there’s a drastic change in her. This once insecure women is now a proud independent women, and is not afraid to break the norms.

Jig shows little to no emotion or care for most of the story, which is likely caused by the unescapable situation she is in with the American. This unexpected pregnancy brings out a surviving mechanism in Jig that causes her to overpower her feelings and remain cold from the problem at hand. She speaks in a symbolic voice, almost to herself when she says things like “They look like white elephants” (Hemmingway, 785). As the story continues Jig displays a minor irritation towards the American that was not addressed in the earlier dialogue of the story. There is an observable change in Jig by the change in tone and the way she speaks towards her partner as he continues to completely manage the situation. At the very end of the story is when the audience finally realizes that Jig is a dynamic character. Meaning, she changes over the period of the story. The example of her displaying that is when she says: “Would you please please please please please please please please stop talking” (Hemmingway, 788).

Both women show developing self-esteems in both stories in many ways. Norma Jean demonstrates that by doing things she loves and what can better prepare her for her future. She is not afraid to express her emotions and is not even scared of leaving her own husband. While, Jig shows the biggest change throughout the story. She first starts off as a submissive personality and allowing her significant other to persuade in one direction. Though, at the end of the story she stands up for herself; basically, telling him to be quiet. Even though, the audience does not know if she got the abortion or not, one can still tell the growth in her personality throughout the story.

When relating Norma Jean in Bobbie Ann Mason’s “Shiloh” with Jig, Ernest Hemmingway’s lead character in “Hills Like White Elephants,” one may see the massive variances between the characters in terms of their perspective on life and relationships. Considering these significant differences, one may argue that both authors use their dominate female roles to reveal a common theme of developing self-esteem as a female and defying stereotypical norms.