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The Hills Like White Elephants

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1534 words Published: 11th May 2017

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The twenties opened up writing to a time of self- indulgence and free spiritedness. It was a normal thing at that point in time for the wealthy people within the US to freely move to Europe. Being amongst these groups was a young man by the name of Ernest Hemingway. By the year 1926, he wrote the short story, “Hills Like White Elephants,” which deals with a foreign couple in Spain and the way they handle an unwanted pregnancy. Hemmingway wrote this book while living in France, with the first and second world wars providing the context upon which this story is based. The main location is in Ebro River Valley of Spain at a bar by a train station.

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The male character in the story is asking the female character, Jig, to get an abortion so they can continue with the trivial life to which they were accustomed. At this point Jig seems hesitant to go ahead with such procedures. Hemingway however shows off the dark side of their relationship, especially through their anxiety, disinterest and miscommunication. He does this by limiting the action, conversation and flow of the narration. He displays lack of equality in relationship as the story progresses, and at times creates a general idea of men over women.

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Furthermore, the description of the narrative sets up a disagreement as one area opposed to the other that may be repeated thematically. As Hemingway noted, “On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun,” this can additionally address that there being no shade and no trees assumes that they can be established on the other part of the vale. The “two lines of rails” paints a clear picture that the lines are parallel which does not intersect metaphorically the relationship of the foreign couple are unable to communicate with each other.

The plot of the story is the first thing that gives us an idea of male domination within the story. As the protagonist, he is able to capture a lot of attention and being the main character and the main points in the story is based on what he wants. His main goal throughout is to convince Jig that she should get an abortion, but she is against this idea, making her the antagonist. She tries hard to make her point but keeps getting shut down. This simply proved that the actual plot of the story gives us that feeling of male empowerment. The mere fact that the man can be referred to as “the American” and the female as simply, “the girl” and not woman, places in perspective this major theme of gender inequality.

However, Hemmingway portrays Jig as a weak character who negotiates with the American before she makes a decision. “What should we drink?” (Hemingway 86) “Should we have another drink?” (Hemingway 87) It seems like she is unable to make her own decisions and must consult with him before doing anything. Dialogue between Jig and the American throughout the story is mainly about keeping the baby or not and by this we recognize that she is willing to give up her happiness to please him. “And you think then we’ll be alright and be happy” “And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?” (Hemingway 88) This shows more than her inability to be independent, but also how mediocre she was in the relationship. She also has to depend on the American as she cannot read or converse in Spanish. She moves further into a state of inferiority and thinks lesser of herself. “Oh, yes. But I don’t care about me. And I’ll do it and then everything will be fine” (Hemingway 88) The American however displays his dominance through his commands and continuously acknowledges the extent better their lives would be after. “You don’t have to be afraid, I know lots of people that have done it” “I won’t worry about that because it’s perfectly simple.” (Hemingway 88) It’s as though he knows every way to deceive her and he is doing so successfully by his commands, his persistence and his comforting words. By observing their conversation, we realize that the American is in total control. “The American gives several very important gender-linked conversational clues. Shutting down Jig’s attempt at intimacy with terse phrases and insistence on facts reveals the American’s attempts to control the conversation and, by extension, the relationship” (Smiley, Pamela 1988 “The Hemingway Review”)

Through repetitiveness he is getting closer towards persuading her to have an abortion. “Well,” the man said, “if you don’t want to you don’t have to. I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple.” (Hemingway 88) By the continuance of pressuring the girl, the man is being defensive and is perhaps threatened by the girl in the situation as also, it would be a financial burden upon him. The thought of the burden seems to reflect the relationship of the couple and the problem they are dealing with the prospect of the girl having an abortion.

Finally, Jig retaliates out of frustration saying, “Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?” (Hemingway 89) This shows her final outburst after being frustrated and overpowered for quite a while. He has a heavy influence on all her decisions and this is her reaction after enduring such a process, but cannot avoid him. He expresses confidence in all his words and actions while she displays anxiety and timidity.

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However, reading the narrative forth and back initially it seems like Jig displayed an attitude as one of anxiety and timidity but consider the fact that it could show supremacy in terms of her cleverness and experience. (Burroway, Janet 2003 “Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft”) Consider, for example how Jig twists or manipulates each conversation and also initiates the conversations with the American, “What should we drink?” or “They look like white elephants” (Hemingway 86) This may have seemed insignificant at first thought but she was also aware of his response. By her comment about the white elephant is really a metaphorical explanation of her environment. His response however, was like she had made a factual statement. This example shows that the couple really does not understand each other, their mode of thinking is definitely different as this sets up the rest of the plot and the couple’s disastrous relationship.

Therefore, the story’s dialogue maintains a distinction between “male language” and “female language” as they share their ideas. “Jig’s pattern of dependency on the American suggests that this tactic has proven successful before in their relationship. But this time, when Jig asks about the taste of Anis del Toro, the American answers politely but distantly, avoids even the most trivial personal disclosure” (Lakoff, Robin 1975 “Language and Woman’s Place”) This, according to Lakoff’s paradigm of masculine language is to tell, “As little as possible about the speaker’s state of mind.”

In addition, when the Anis del Toro was mixed with the water the girl insisted that it tasted like licorice. Keeping in mind that licorice is sweet but in medicine stimulates vomiting, the American said, “That’s the way with everything” (Hemingway 86). This implies that everything has both a positive and negative nature for example being jolly cannot exist without having sorrow. They both see life from different angles and as a result, their views continue to clash. “The man insists on the “facts” and “proof” while Jig talks of fantasies, emotions, and impressions.” Feminine language tends to be relationship-oriented while masculine is goal-oriented” (Haas, Adelaide 1979 “Male and Female Spoken Language Differences”)

In conclusion, Jig’s wittiness and her competence with gestures of ironic sarcasm, all of which came together and give full meaning of the last line, a line that by the way corresponds with Jig’s own theatrical manifestation. “I feel fine,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine” (Hemingway 89). The flow of the story combined with the actions, all depict an idea of male dominance not only in relationships but also in society. Hemingway also portrays the woman as being submissive to the man who plays more of an authoritative role. “The story functions not only as a powerful critique of man’s sexual politics, but also as a complex portrayal of woman’s, not just Jig’s, final compliance” (Hashmi, Nilofer 2003 “The Hemingway Review”) Hemingway leaves us now to wonder which figure is the more dominant, not only in relationships, but within society also.


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