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Abortion in “Hills like White Elephants”

“Hills like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway documents a story between two people, a man, and a woman waiting to board a train in Spain. The story takes the form of a dialogue between the man and woman about a contentious issue. Throughout the book, Ernest displays the difference in opinion between women and men about abortion and pregnancy. Furthermore, the author captures the emotions of the characters using metaphors. When the conversation begins in the story, the author does not reveal to the audience what the story is about, but as the dialogue progresses, it is clear that the two characters are talking about abortion.

While waiting and drinking beer, the man attempts to convince the woman to consider abortion; however, the woman does not welcome the idea.

Hemingway documented his story about abortion back in the 1920s when the thought of abortion was a taboo. People lived in a carefree world that believed children were a blessing no matter the circumstance surrounding the pregnancy.

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Unlike in the modern world, no one was aware of the possibility of abortion during the nineteenth century. The few who knew could not either afford or consider aborting. The author concealed the idea of abortion using metaphors due to this reason. Today, people are more enlightened than before about abortion due to the widespread education and forums such as the internet. Symbolism, as a style, is vivid in the text. One realizes latter that the story does not talk about a “White Elephant” but about abortion.

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Back in 1927, when this book was written, no one openly spoke about abortion. Strong symbolic characters and objects help the writer to convey his message to readers. Hemingway uses a station between two tracks, a good hill, beer, and a bad hillside to reveal the themes in the book. “Beer” in this case refers to a couple while “girls” and “America” represent the things they do while together. Additionally, the “Hill” represents pregnancy, while a “white elephant” symbolizes unwanted pregnancy. Ernest uses the word “jigs” for girls. The train trip shows options for the girls. These options include boarding the train, go back, abort, or keep the baby. The writer also reiterates the different choices girls make before settling on abortion.

Throughout the story, the author depicts the man as one against abortion. Although the woman does not welcome the idea of abortion, the man tries to convince her by using the words, “not really an operation at all.” The man promises the woman a bright future after the operation is complete. He reiterates this using the words “this is the only thing bothering us.” We notice the woman is pregnant when she poses a question to the man, “you want to?” meaning the man has a stake in the pregnancy. The man replies, “I do not want anybody but you. This statement signifies that the man does not want the child but only the mother. The woman further tries to convince the man by saying, “willing to go through with it if it means anything to you.” She talks about going through with the abortion if it will be of importance to the man. In this case, keeping the child is something to go through. Overall, abortion is a controversial topic debated globally, and the author acknowledges this fact by using the characters to impart an understanding of the issue.

Works Cited

Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills like white elephants.” Men without women (1927).

Cite this page

Abortion in “Hills like White Elephants”. (2020, Sep 28). Retrieved from

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