Ernest Hemingway's - Hills Like White Elephants essay

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Final Act

It is quite possible that Ernest Hemingway was being deliberately deceptive when he wrote "Hills Like White Elephants," which first appeared in 1927 in the collection of short stories entitled Men Without Women. Regardless of his intention, when the story is read outside of the social and cultural context in which it was written -- as is the case when a contemporary reader peruses this manuscript -- the text has a certain aura of duplicity in which undiscerning readers may be lulled into misinterpreting its meaning: or possibly even thinking that there is no meaning. Close analysis of literary criticism, as well as an examination of biographical information in Hemingway's life, however, informs readers that there is a crucial debate occurring between the two main characters regarding whether or not a young woman, named Jig, will have an abortion (which was certainly taboo, shocking, and largely illegal during the time the story was written) (Anderson, 2009). Hemingway deliberately ends the short story without climax or without an answer to the conundrum that has absorbed the interest of the characters for the duration of the tale. Yet a close reading of the dialogue, characterization, and symbolism that figure prominently in the story reveal that by its conclusion, Jig has decided to not get an abortion and keep the child she is pregnant with.

One of Hemingway's primary tools of communicating to the reader that Jig has been swayed to keep the baby she is pregnant with is through the dialogue. Fairly early on in the story, as well as in a number of separate instances within the text, it is abundantly clear that when Jig and her lover, who is only referred to as an "American" in the story, are speaking to one another, they are actually talking about different things. The effect of these differences is quite significant, as the following quotation, in which Jig is looking at and seemingly speaking about the surrounding scenery, readily demonstrates. "And we could have all this,' she said. 'And we can have everything and every day we make it more impossible.'

'What did you say?'

'I said we could have everything.'

'We can have everything.'

'No, we can't.'

'We can have the whole world.'

'No, we can't.'

'We can go everywhere.'

'No, we can't. It isn't ours any more.'

'No, it isn't. And once they take it away, you never get it back.'

'But they haven't taken it away'.

'We'll wait and see'."

In this quotation, Jig is actually talking about the fact that her having a baby would significantly alter her life (and conceivably that of her lover, if he chooses to stay with her). In her initial statement in this quotation, she is referring to the scenery when she says we could have "this." Yet in her ensuing sentence, what the American misses is the fact that she acknowledges that despite all of the things she and her lover could have, that it would be "impossible" to have those things once the child was born. Such an impossibility would increase with "everyday," due to the fact that the child would be growing and getting bigger and requiring more attention. Jig's implicit reference to her child is why she repeatedly tells her lover that they cannot have everything, which is why she says that the world is no longer for her and her lover -- because it has been replaced by the life within her body. It becomes more explicit that Jig is talking about her baby, while her lover continues to talk about the surroundings and the life that he and Jig could have, when one analyzes her usage of pronouns in her second-to-last sentence in this quotation. The "they" she is referring to is actually the doctors and hospital staff who would conduct the abortion that her lover is proposing (despite the fact that he continually refers to it as an "operation") while the "it" which can never be returned after the doctors take it away is of course the child.

Additionally, Hemingway utilizes various aspects of characterization to emphasize the fact that Jig is growing increasingly disenchanted with not only her lover, but also with his position that she should have an operation to abort her child. The American is fairly dogged in his approach to persuade Jig to abort the baby, which is a growing cause of discomfort for Jig, as well as a reason to dislike his position on the issue, as the following quotation indicates. "Would you do something for me now?'

"I'll do anything for you.'

Would you 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 they had spent nights.

'But I don't want you to,' he said. 'I don't care anything about it.'

'I'll scream,' the girl said.'

This passage is fairly revealing about the character of the American, and shows the degree to which he is obsessed about Jig getting an abortion. He tells her that he's do "anything" for her, yet he will not do the simplest thing which happens to be the one thing she asks of him -- to refrain from speaking. Instead, he takes this opportunity to bring up the subject of the abortion again. After asserting that he will do anything for her and then flatly failing to do the one thing that Jig asks of him, the American shows both the reader and Jig that he has absolutely no conviction (which is also why he can say that he is unconcerned about the issue of the abortion, because it is not true). This one passage indicates that the American actually does not care about Jig as much as he cares about her having an abortion. The fact that he will not do "anything" for her, as well as do this one thing for her, further solidifies in Jig's mind that the American is of questionable character. Jig's assertion that she will "scream" suggests how exasperated she is getting with her lover, as well as his stance on the issue of her abortion.

An analysis of the symbolism of the concluding paragraphs in "Hills Like White Elephants" indicates that the Hemingway is significantly implying that not only will the Jig not have an abortion and keep her child, but that in all likelihood she will be separated from the American while raising that child. After threatening to scream, the only thing that visibly brightens Jig's mood is the news that the train is coming. She responds favorably to this information because the train symbolizes an escape from her current location and situation in which her lover is attempting to persuade her to do something she does not want to do. The fact that the pair will likely become separated while Jig keeps the baby is strongly implied in the story's ending, as the following quotation -- which directly follows Jig's request for the American to return from depositing their baggage at the station so that they can finish their beer together -- proves. "Coming back, he walked through the bar-room, where people waiting for the train were drinking. He drank an Anis at the bar and looked at the people. They were all waiting reasonably for the train. He went out through the bead curtain. She was sitting at the table and smiled at him. 'Do you feel better?' he asked.

'I feel fine,' she said. 'There's nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.'

This ending is highly significant and reveals a number of factors about the result of this particular tale. First, it is symbolic that the American does not come back to Jig and finish their beer, and that he instead opts to drink a beer (without her) at the bar. This action on his part represents the literal and figurative separation of the American from Jig. This notion is further reinforced by the American's observation while drinking in the bar-room. Hemingway writes that the people who he saw were "waiting reasonably" for the train. The author's choice of diction in this observation is noteworthy, because in describing the people in the bar as waiting reasonably, it sets up a comparison between them and Jig, who is waiting outside of the bar, in a way that is definitely not reasonable since she recently threatened to start screaming if her lover would not stop trying to convincing her to have an abortion. The reasonableness of the people not in this situation, those who are inside the bar, is contrasted with Jig's unreasonableness outside. Significantly, the American is in the bar with the reasonable people.

Yet the final three sentences of this quotation are perhaps the most revealing, since they demonstrate that Jig has every intention of having the baby and not getting an abortion. In this quotation she asserts…[continue]

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