The scene opens on a railway station in Spain where in fact the Barcelona-to-Madrid express is expected in 40 minutes. A guy known as "the American" and his girl, Jig, sit at a table beyond your station's bar drinking beer. The landscape surrounding the station is referred to as the valley of the Ebro River, with long white hills on each side and brown dusty ground among. Jig remarks that the hills appear to be white elephants, and the remark is not well received by the American.
The two decide to try a fresh drink, the anis del toro, with water. Jig remarks that it tastes like licorice, and the two commence bickering again. As they start on another round of beers, the man introduces a new motif in to the conversation, saying that a particular operation is very simple which Jig would not mind it. If she has got the operation, he says, their relationship will be fine again, as it used to be before. Jig is quiet and obviously skeptical.
The American says he will not want Jig to have it if she will not want to, but he says it would be best if she did. He maintains, however, that he loves her and this he is snippy only because he is worried. Jig says in exchange that she'll get the procedure because she does not care about herself, which guilt-trips her boyfriend into saying that he does not want her to obtain it if she feels that way.
Jig pauses to contemplate the scenery and says they might have everything. If the American agrees, she contradicts him, saying it offers all been recinded from them and that they can never get it back. Then she asks him to avoid talking.
They are silent for some time, but the American brings the operation up again, and Jig tells him in exchange that they could get along if she didn't have it. He counters that he will not want other people in his life but her and that the procedure is correctly simple. She asks him to avoid talking again.
The barmaid brings another round of beer and the announcement that the train arrives in five minutes. The American brings the bags to the other side of the tracks, drinks an Anis at the bar and returns to the table. Jig greets him with a smile and in response to his question says she actually is fine.
"Hills Like White Elephants" centers on a couple's verbal duel over, as strongly implied by the written text and since widely believed by many scholars, if the girl will produce an abortion of her partner's child. Jig, evidently reluctant to have the operation, suspects her pregnancy has irrevocably changed the relationship but still wonders whether getting the abortion will make things between the couple as these were before. The American is anxious that Jig hold the abortion and gives lip service to the fact that he still loves Jig and will love her whether she's the procedure done or not. As the story progresses, the power shifts backwards and forwards in the verbal tug-of-war, and at the end, though it is a subject of fierce debate among Hemingway scholars, it seems that Jig has both gained the upper hand and made her decision.
Hemingway's feat in this story is to perform full, fleshed-out characterizations of the couple and a and complete exposition of their dilemma using next to nothing but dialogue. This dialogue even omits the key causes of disagreement: what "abortion" and "baby. " He also gives the reader a clear sense of the way the power shifts in the couple's relationship.
The American is anxious for Jig to have the abortion because he "doesn't want anybody but [her]". He's interested in his life with Jig continuing as it has, globetrotting, and having sex in various hotels, as Hemingway's description of the couple's bags confirms: "Helooked at the bags from the wall of the station. There have been labels on them from all the hotels where they had spent nights. " To make the operation appear less frightening, he asserts that it's properly simple. Interestingly, he never mentions that the operation is "safe, " a notable omission.
Ultimately, the American's ammunition in this verbal duel with Jig is the capability to make the relationship emotionally hostile on her behalf, as evidenced by his reactions to her comments about the appearance of the hills and the actual fact that everything she waits for tastes like licorice. Hemingway implies Jig is more emotionally invested in the relationship, which for the American is obviously mostly about sex.
Jig, on her behalf part, is very reluctant to really have the operation, cares to some extent about the baby ("Does it not mean anything to you?"), believes the couple's relationship has been irrevocably altered simply by the pregnancy ("It is not ours anymore"), and will not believe an abortion will solve their problems anyway. Jig's ammunition is that the American will probably have to support her and the kid in some way if she forgoes the abortion; the fact that he has not already left her signals that she has some kind of hold over him, though she may not be married to him. Perhaps he does actually love her, as he claims.
The American, as scholars have noted, obviously wants Jig to state she wants the operation in order to absolve himself of blame, and Jig clearly refuses to give her partner that satisfaction. If she has the operation, she maintains wordlessly, it'll be because he has forced her to. That, at least, is her attitude throughout the storyline. Whether an inner struggle will create a different attitude later on remains unclear. However, at the end of the storyplot, Jig appears to have gotten the upper hand. Jig suddenly begins smiling at the barmaid and at the American; she seems to have a fresh confidence and serenity about her, and the American gives up the argument to use the bags to the other side of the tracks. It appears that he realizes he has lost the argument and he takes a few minutes away from her to drink another liqueur in the bar before returning to their table. Once there, he asks if she feels better and she smiles serenely at him, telling him she is fine and betraying no anxiety of any sort.
One of the very most notable areas of this story is the fact that Hemingway breaks with his typical "bitch goddess" characterization of women. Jig is a sympathetic character, eventually more sympathetic, scholars have argued, than the American. She sees the problem of the abortion as a multilayered question, and considers the impact it will have after her relationship with the American, after the child itself, and upon the couple's economic means ("We're able to get along. ") The American, on the other hand, considers only that he wants life to keep in a carefree fashion and that he wants to evade the duties of fatherhood. Accordingly, he tries to bully Jig in to the procedure, which very bullying, and Jig's resistance to it, make her the protagonist of the storyplot.
Another important feature of the storyline that backs up the idea that Jig is the protagonist is the fact Jig appreciates the wonder of the train station's natural surroundings. Hemingway was a great believer in the energy of nature to edify and uplift people, and the fact that Jig understands and values "fields of grain and trees across the banks of the Ebro, " with their attendant mountains and shadows of clouds, indicates that she actually is the type with her priorities straight. Later in the story, Hemingway states, "the lady looked across at the hills on the dry side of the valley and the person looked at her and at the table. " Once again, Jig is seeking to nature as helpful information in her time of crisis as the American ignores the scenery.
The title of the story has led many to take a position on the particular "white elephant" symbolizes for the couple. A white elephant is generally regarded as unusual and cumbersome, in a nutshell, a problem. Various theories exist. The white elephant may be the pregnancy, the infant itself, the abortion, Jig's reluctance to have the abortion, the American's insistence that Jig abort, Jig herself and the American himself. The most popular choices among scholars are that the white elephant is the baby/pregnancy (the evident choice) and the American himself, given his bullying of Jig.
"Hills Like White Elephants" is full of similes and metaphors as the language is throughout devoid of the words "abortion" and "baby" while that is all the characters are talking of. For instance, at the beginning, Jig comments that the anis del toro tastes like licorice, and the person says that's the way with everything, to which the girl replies "Everything tastes of licorice. Especially all the things you've waited such a long time for, like absinthe. " The man then replies, "Cut it out, " rather a solid a reaction to a seemingly innocuous comment. It is possible that "absinthe" means something to the couple that the reader is unaware of, but additionally it is possible that Jig is referring to how she has waited her very existence to get pregnant and have a child however now it has been spoiled for her by the American.
Study Questions for "Hills Like White Elephants"
1. Looking back on the storyplot, list the evidence that tells the type of operation Jig is confronting. How risky could it be physically and emotionally?
2. Are you surprised that story was compiled by a guy? Why or why not?
3. How do the hills in the storyplot spotlight Jig's decision? How exactly does Jig start to see the setting as symbolic of her choices?
4. How can the fact that Jig sees the setting symbolically get us to identify with her more readily than if the writer had suggested the symbolism to us directly? Note the symbolism of the two different landscapes on either side of the Zaragosa place, in addition to the possible symbolism of the curtain, as suggested in the commentary beside the story.
5. Hemingway once suggested that his purpose in that story is to share with the reader less than possible directly yet to reveal characters' motives and their conflict. How can this principle operate in this story? Where would you like to have significantly more information (besides "he said" and "she said")?
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