“Hills like White Elephants” and “Girl” Themes and Symbolism The themes and symbolism for the stories “Hills like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway and “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid work with the structure of said stories to create an understanding of a girl’s sexuality and how others attempt controlling it by providing symbols that uncover the truth that lies behind the words. In, “Hills like White Elephants”, the American man consistently and angrily persuades his girlfriend to have the operation based on a foundation of false promises.
Symbols that undercover that message are “Jig”, drinking, white elephants, and communication issues. In, “Girl”, the daughter’s mother attempts to control her sexuality through advice and scolding. The symbols in that story include food, cloth, and Benna. The themes in the said stories are similar in they attempt to control the girls’ sexuality, yet they are different, in their approach to doing so. In, “Hills like White Elephants”, the American man consistently and angrily persuades his girlfriend to have the operation based on a foundation of false promises.
The theme being talking verses communicating and the power it has to build up or tear down. Although “Hills like White Elephants” is mainly a conversation between the American man and his girlfriend, neither of the speakers truly communicates with the other, stressing the fissure between the two. Both talk, but neither listens or fathoms the other’s point of view. Angered and placating, the American man will say about anything in persuading his girlfriend to have the operation, which, although never mentioned by name, is understood to be an abortion. For example, he says, “I love you now. You know I love you.
” (Hemingway 214) The girl, in the meantime, wavers vacillatingly, at one point agreeing she’ll have the abortion just to make the man stop talking. When the man persists, she pleads him, “Would you please, please, please, please, please, please, please” (Hemingway 215) stop talking, realizing the uselessness of their banter. In “Girl”, the daughter’s mother attempts to control her sexuality through advice and scolding; the theme being the danger of female sexuality. Even though the daughter seems to not have reached puberty yet, the mother fears that her existing behavior, if continued, will lead to a life of promiscuity.
The mother deems that a woman’s standing or decorum governs the quality of her life in the community. Sexuality, therefore, must be wisely guarded and even hidden to maintain a proper front. Subsequently, the mother bonds many vague objects and duties to the distasteful topic of sexuality, such as, “always squeeze bread to make sure it’s fresh” (Kincaid). Much of her advice focusses on how to sustain respectability. She scolds her daughter for the way she walks, how she relates to other people, and the way she plays marbles, “don’t squat down to play marbles” (Kincaid 381).
The mother’s continuous stress on this theme displays how much she wants her daughter to realize that she is “not a boy” (Kincaid 381) and that she needs to act in such ways that will earn her respect from the community. Many symbols are found in the said stories that undercover the messages found in the themes. In “Hills like White Elephants”, the symbols include: the girls name “Jig”, drinking, white elephants, and language barriers. The girl’s nickname, “Jig,” signifies that the two characters simply dance around each other and the matter of discussion without ever saying anything noteworthy.
Both the American man and the girl drink alcohol during their conversation to eschew each other and the issues with their relationship. The moment they begin talking about the hills that look like white elephants, the girl orders more drinks to postpone the unavoidable conversation about the baby. By the end of their conversation, both characters drink alone; the girl at the table and the man at the bar. This proposes the two will break off their relationship and go their own ways. A white elephant symbolizes something nobody wants. In this particular story the girl’s unborn child.
The girl’s remark in the start of the story, that the nearby hills look like white elephants, primarily seems to be a spontaneous remark, however, it actually assists as a segue for her and the American man to confer their baby and the option of having an abortion. The girl later withdraws this comment with the remark that the hills don’t really look like white elephants, a hint that perchance she wants to keep the baby now. The American man misses this hint. The girl’s failure to speak Spanish with the bartender not only exemplifies her dependency on the American but also the struggle she has expressing herself to others.
In, “Girl”, the symbols include food, cloth, and Benna. Frequently, the mother stresses food during her lecture to underline her belief that happiness comes from domesticity. The art and acts of making pumpkin fritters, tea, bread pudding, doukona, and pepper pot, therefore, take on grander importance as elements that bond women to their families, community, and households. Food will also be the mother’s grandest heirloom as she passes old family recipes and traditions down to her daughter and future generations of women.
Cloth and its connection to appearances and suitable housekeeping resurface during the story to stress the significance of respectability. The mother knows that a person’s clothing exposes much about personality and character as well that raggedness suggests poverty and laziness. Ironing, washing, and sewing permit women to not only project their status but their efficiency and value. Trimness in appearance also resembles the community’s discernment of a woman’s sexual ethics and respectability. Lastly, Antiguan folksongs, or benna, symbolize sexuality, a theme the mother fears her daughter already knows too much about.
Therefore, singing benna in Sunday school signifies defiance and also sinful, prohibited knowledge that should not be discussed amenably in public and especially church. The themes in the said stories allow the reader to better understand the oppression of sexuality females suffer in society from mothers to men that are linked with communication issues and forms. While the symbolism in “Hills like White Elephants” opens up new ideas as to why the American man and his girlfriend act the way they do and say the things they do. The symbolism in “Girl” uncovers further expectations the mother has for her daughter.