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Analysis of Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”

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Analysis of Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”

In Ernest Hemingway's short story "Hills Like White Elephants," the decision on whether or not to have an abortion puts strain on the characters’ relationship. The two characters, Jig and the American, have differing views on abortion. Hemingway uses the elements of symbolism and dialogue to portray such a serious conversation in which a major life decision is about to be made. Like the proverbial elephant in the room that everyone sees, but no one wants to acknowledge, not once is the subject of abortion mentioned, but it is implied. The reader must be willing to read what is not there. While most writers set the stage for their readers, Hemingway leaves the interpretation completely up to the reader.
This story takes place in 1926 in Spain, a country where abortion was illegal until 2009 (“History of Abortion”.) The fact that the procedure was illegal is probably why the word abortion was never mentioned during their public conversation in the bar. Money is obviously not an issue for the American as referenced to the many hotel stickers on their suitcases and as we know, money can buy anything including medical services. Jig is interpreted as a young and naïve girl, who is struggling with the decision that is laid upon her. The American is interpreted as an harsh, manly man who is adamant during his dialogue about what he wants, even to the point of trying to downplay the procedure by stating that it was an “awfully simple operation” that was “not really an operation at all” and “it’s just to let the air in” (Hemingway).
The American seems to backtrack in his stance when Jig makes the statement, "I don't care about me." He then says that he would “be perfectly willing to go through with it if it means anything to you.” He goes on to say “But I don’t want anybody but you” when Jig asks the question, “Doesn’t it mean anything to you?” (Hemingway). It is during this dialogue that we see just how manipulative the American is and how he is using a play of words for his own agenda. Jig, even in her naiveté, seems to realize that this conversation is going nowhere, just as their relationship is, so she moves to end the conversation. Her various statements such as referring to the hills as looking similar to white elephants, her gazing across the fertile side of the train station and musing that “we could have all this,” and “once they take it away, you never get it back” reveal that she is thinking much more deeply about the issue at hand than the American, who seems to take everything casually (Hemingway). By the end of the story, the man takes the couple’s bags around to the other side of the station to wait for the train – the fertile side. Jig’s response is a smile. After another drink of Anis del Toro, he rejoins her and he asks her, “Do you feel better?” and she replies, “I feel fine,” she said. “There's nothing wrong with me. I feel fine” (Hemingway). It’s here that the ambiguity of the story leaves a good deal of room for interpretation. What happened or didn’t happen is left up to the interpretation of the readers.

Works Cited
Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills Like White Elephants.” Men Without Women. New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1927. Online reprint. Scribd.com, 2011. Web. 14 April 2011.
“History of Abortion.” Wikipedia.com. 11 April 2011. Web. 15 April 2011.…...

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