Ernest Hemingway tackles the idea of abortion in “Hills like White Elephant” effortlessly without using the word “abortion” itself. In this story, Hemingway presents the Girl’s – Jig – hesitation related to a “simple procedure” and manipulative scheme of the American’s long for making things right between the two of them. In other to show that idea, Hemingway’s spotlight on the story is the emotion and behavior of two characters rather than the raised moral questions regarding to abortion.
In “Hills like White Elephant”, the point of view from a third-person narrator is presented in which imply the storyline rather than showing what is on character’s mind and thoughts.
The scenario of the couple takes place at a train station. To others, this just seems like a typical location, quietly meaningless. To Hemingway, however, there are many explanations of what this location could really means. The train station can be viewed as a center-point between the present and the future which is going to be decided by their decision.
In a fictional meaning, places of transportation usually create a transitional situation. They can illustrate the moving from one experience to another, often presenting that something new is found after another is left behind. For the couple in the story, this description is really applicable, since having a baby is a significant conversion in one’s life, the turning point from husband and wife to father and mother. The main question that sticks around readers’ minds in this short story is whether they are heading to their undefined location together or separately.
The train station symbolizes as a point of changing in this couple’s life, either becoming parents or choosing to live with suffer which is the result of pregnancy ends. Hemingway uses repetition as a great tool in the story in order to represent the manipulative scheme from the American when he keeps insisting that he does not want Jig to do the abortion if she does not want it or how he loves her and her only. These statements seem to be sincere at first but since he repeats it so many times, it shows that he is the one who desperately need the abortion rather than the Girl and he is just trying to manipulate her into that to get off the blame.
From the beginning, readers can sense that the American is the one who is in charge of this relationship. First of all, his name is the American, presenting something big and powerful, while his partner is the Girl (or Jig) showing powerless and dependent. She has to rely on the American to order drinks, she cannot even decide if she should take Anis Del Toro with water or not until he says so. It is a submissive nature and a regular pattern in showing that the man is the one who makes decision. Another point could be taken into account is that their luggage, which is also associated with transportation, is something that establish a deeper context. In the story, their luggage has “labels on them from all the hotels where they had spent nights” (Hemingway). They are not only in the time of changeover, both symbolically and literally, but it seems to me that they are used to this way of living because they have travelled so many places together and stayed in many nights in different hotels. In order to raise a child appropriately, they have to postpone or end this lifestyle. It is clear that the American does not want to stop this style of living presenting by the scenario at the end of the story when he keeps looking to these luggage while standing in the middle of the station “look up the tracks but could not see the train” (Hemingway). It appears to be really clear that the American is trying to manipulate the Girl into abortion in order to make her takes all the responsibility by saying all the words related to how he loves her no matter what and then keep implying that she is the only one he wants; that he does not need anybody else and it is simple as that; or how he says it is the best thing for their relationship and how their love would not be the same if the baby is not abandoned. These sentences show that he is not supporting Jig in getting what ever she wants or best for her, he is shaping her mind in order to achieve his scheme.
Another symbol in this short story is the “white elephant”. It is defined as having two different yet somehow related in connotation. The first meaning is an undesired present and the second one is a valuable item that requires expensive preservation. In the case of the story, white elephant is the unborn child that is unwanted. In this situation, they are disagreeing on whether they should keep the baby or not. It seems that while the boyfriend is very much in favor of manipulating the girl into abortion by saying that it is such a simple procedure or there is a lot of people get out of it happily, Jig seems to be hesitated, she does not know what to do and wavering in her decision. This delaying in making the decision makes the audience believe that she is the one who wants the abortion. However, at a closer look, we can see that Jig is just a girl; she is dependent and seems to be young comparing to the American, and obviously she does not wish to break up with him. The only reason she might refers the abortion is because she wants to be with the man, and it might also be the safe bet in maintaining this relationship.
In the story, hills are described by Jig literally in the distance which can be seen from the train station. This represents for the potential “hills” that will be shown in the Girl’s belly if she decides to keep her baby. Hemingway’s usage of the word “hill” instead of “mountain” since he wants readers to question his word choice and notice that hills are simplified for obstacles in life, which people gets over it. On the other hand, mountain seems to be unbearable. There is a metaphor under this word “hills”. It can be interpreted that the pregnancy presents as a hinder in this Girl’s life, however it is not going to ruin her. She will somehow defeat this situation and overcome this, just as simple as walking over a hill. There is a scene where Jig looks into the hills and say that it looks like white elephants at first glance. Later on, she seems to realize it does not look like them at all and they are “actually quite lovely” (Hemingway). This doubtful and hesitation shows that perhaps Jig wants the baby after all. It is understandable for a woman to be scary and unappealing at first when she finds out that she is having a baby unexpectedly. However, it turns out to her that pregnancy is not so bad after all, the more she thinks about it, the more she sees that this child is worth to keep and capable of bringing joy to her.
By leaving the readers with all the disorientation of whether the Jig is going to get an abortion as she wishes or base on the manipulative scheme of the man; or end up having the baby and remain their relationship, Hemingway chooses not to expose this answer to the readers. It seems to me that he wants us to carefully read, think and interpret this short story more by leaving it unanswered. Moreover, there are a lot of metaphors and symbolic images in the story, clearly presenting the ending might make this piece becomes absurd.
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