The short story “Hills Like White Elephants,” by Ernest Hemingway, is about a young couple and the polemic issue of abortion. However, since the word “abortion is found nowhere is the story, it is mainly understood through Hemingway’s use of literacy elements: setting and imagery/symbolism. This story takes place in a very short period of time, but yet tells a tale that is much bigger than itself. The woman is named Jig, where the man is known simply as “a man” or “The American.” Although the relationship between the two is unsure of, they are clearly not married, but have continued a relationship which resulted in the girl becoming pregnant. It seems that the couple are travelers who stop in different cities before moving on to the next. However, to the reader, their relationship could play out as being shallow.
Jig is a young woman who is pregnant. The entire focus of this story is Jig being pregnant, and the topic of abortion being brought up through the different scenes and images Hemingway employs. Hemingway’s purpose in creating the character of Jig was probably reflective on his feelings on abortion to an extent. However, it can also seem like a look at human nature, about how we go against ourselves and do something undesired just to please someone else. The man, otherwise known as “The American”, is the only logical antagonist in the story. Hemingway’s portrayal of him is less flattering than his portrayal of Jig. He comes off as being insensitive to Jig’s feelings, despite his kind words. As the reader, different opinions that Hemingway portrayed the man as, leads us to believe that he is someone who is putting his own needs first. He is not given a proper first name in the story, while Jig is. His preference is not clear on the matter.
From the first paragraph the setting immediately introduces the tense atmosphere that will reflect the rest of the story. The story takes place in Spain and although the time period is never stated, it can be assumed to be around 1927. The first use of imagery is in Hemingway’s introduction of the setting of the story, “The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. [â€¦] The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went to Madrid.” Just like the two rail lines that passed by the station, there were only two choices and two directions in which the couple had to decide as they seemed to be in the middle of making a drastic decision. She seemed to care a great deal about the man, to the point where she as a character, is torn between two decisions. The landscapes and surroundings of the station play a fundamental role in the story through its broad symbolism. When the girl sees the long and white hills she says that they “look like white elephants”. A white elephant is a metaphor for an expensive possession that is a financial burden to maintain. The color white seems to symbolize the innocence and purity of her unborn child.
She also admires the rest of the scenery: “The girl stood up and walked to the end of the station. Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the bank of the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river through the trees” It seems that the fields of grains and trees represent fertility and fruitfulness. The Ebro River could also represent life, as it develops the fields. As the girl appreciates the scenery and it’s “connection” to her unborn child the “shadow of a cloud,” which represents the thought of the abortion, overcomes her happiness. The man is obviously in favor of the abortion, as everything he says is an in persuading her into it. “It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig.” the man said. “It’s not really an operation at all.” “I’ll go with you and I’ll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural.” They sat down at the table and the girl looked across the hills on the dry side of the valley and the man looked at her at the table. As Jig considers his point of view she looks at the dry side of the valley, which is barren and sterile, which could symbolize her body after the abortion. The man and woman argue and soon stop when she says “Would you please please please please please please please please stop talking? 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 where had spent nights.”
The American apparently wants this abortion because he wants to keep his current lifestyle. His vivacious spirit is shown through the bags with all the hotel labels on them. He realizes that if Jig were to continue with the pregnancy, he would have to settle down and consider raising a family, which would mean putting an end to seeing the world. Their lifestyle would not be possible with a baby, or at least it would be difficult to continue in its current form. Therefore, the man thinks an abortion is the best solution. This is very much clear due to his general affirmations of an abortion or operation being an “easy” and “simple” process, and that things will be as they were after it is carried out. His comments of “I don’t want anyone but you” and “I don’t want anyone else” illustrate his desire to keep their relationship at it is by not introducing a child into their life. Jig has obvious doubts, but she goes along with it for the sake of continuing their lifestyle that they are accustomed too.
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As the story ends with the couple expecting their train’s arrival in five minutes, there is no resolution and there is no decision stated regarding the abortion. Hemingway’s interweaving of the two literacy elements, setting and imagery helps him provide to the reader each sentence with maximum detail. It is obvious that Hemingway intentionally left the readers to conclude for themselves what will happen next.
“Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway was by far one of the best stories that I enjoyed reading. Looking beyond the text in this story required critical thinking that continued to remain interesting. The use of images throughout the short story reflects on the couple’s situation in every aspect. The author employs images that required the reader to think beyond the text and realize what some average young couple went through in the 1920’s. Although the couple’s relationship played out as being shallow throughout the story, I feel that the abortion never took place as he realizes that his selfish thinking was not the best decision to live off of.