All Good Things Come to an End

Category: Literature
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Pages:  6
Words:  1766
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According to an article by the Atlantic, in the United States, “In the late 1920s some 15,000 women a year died from abortions.” Abortion has always been a wildly controversial topic that eventually became politicized. For years, people have argued that it’s either something that should or should not be practiced. Something that isn’t talked about as much, is the difficult conversation one must have with their partner or themselves to determine if this is a good option. In Ernest Hemingway’s, “The Hills Like White Elephants,” a young couple faces the struggle of having to decide if an abortion is best for them and their hedonistic lifestyle. Hemingway uses symbolism to show the conflicting feelings about this subject with the main characters Jig and the American man.

Having a child changes a woman’s life the second she knows she is pregnant, and leads to many lifelong hurdles one cannot even imagine unless they’ve dealt with it firsthand. A lot of people plan pregnancies out, but they often happen on accident too. For some, getting pregnant could be their worst nightmare. Jig looks over at the hills nearby and says, “They look like white elephants.” The white elephant in this simile can be interpreted to be the child this couple is thinking of having, because a white elephant is a symbol of something unwanted and unavoidable. Similar to how an elephant is used in the saying, “the elephant in the room.” The couple has been living lavishly and was about to continue their romantic European escapade to Madrid, it is clear that a baby is the last thing that was on their minds and has put their plans to a halt. This is the first big issue the couple has faced together, the American man says, “It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy.” You learn about your partner when you’re dealing with a difficult situation, you see how they react and how they handle pressure. This couple is about to see each other’s true colors. To ease the burden of having this dreaded conversation of keeping the baby or not, the American man orders two beers, “big ones.”

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When we are faced with stress and hard times in life, we often turn to vices to help us deal with them. It’s a way to have a break from reality when being forced to face something you are not ready to deal with. Hemingway used multiple alcohol references to not only refer back to the lifestyle the couple is used to, but to also show that too much of a good thing, is never a good thing. When Jig says, “That’s all we do, isn’t it – look at things and try new drinks?” she is implying she is ready for something else, something more. She is tired of this meaningless and empty life of pure pleasure and distraction. The thought of how much her life could change, made her completely re-evaluate her current situation. Instead of endless trips and drinking, she thought about how exciting the next few years could be if they revolved around a child. All of a sudden she had to start imagining how life would be as a mother. Maybe she wasn’t as satisfied as she thought she was with her and her partner’s self-indulgent lifestyle. The American man thinks otherwise.

At one point, Hemingway chooses to reference Absinthe when Jig is comparing the licorice tasting spirit, “Anis del Toro,” to it. When this story was written in the late 1920s, it was during America’s prohibition era and Absinthe had been banned there since 1915. To some, it represented creative freedom and liberation and to others it was known to be not only destructive but a very addictive substance. It had a bittersweet and twisted reputation just like this situation that the couple is faced with. On one hand, Jig could have the baby and potentially lose her partner leaving her to raise the child on her own. On the other hand, she could go through with an abortion and continue living a life with no meaning except trying to make this man happy. Jig says, “Everything tastes of licorice. Especially all the things you’ve waited so long for, like Absinthe.” Here Jig could be implying how skewed the priorities have been of the American man and everything they’ve been doing together thus far. He answers back, “Oh cut it out,” Jig hit a soft spot with that remark and the conversation between the two starts to get more intense.

During this time period, women didn’t speak up. They were often raised thinking they had to find a man to marry and have a family with. Women were taught to be submissive and listen to their partners. After the American man orders another drink, he says Jig being pregnant is, “The only thing that’s bothered us.” This reinforces the carefree and toxic life the American man wants to keep living with her, and knows he wants her to get an abortion but also knows he is going to need to do some more convincing. He tries to make it seem like it isn’t a big deal by saying, “It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig… I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig.” As if this decision wouldn’t have a lifelong effect on her. Even though he later says she doesn’t have to go through with it if she doesn’t want to, he makes it clear that he doesn’t want her to keep the child, and that has an obviously strong effect on Jig. She tries to see his side of things, telling him she knows other women who have gotten an abortion before and “they were all so happy.” She asks him straight if he’ll love her if she goes through with this and eventually says, “Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me.” Even though they are not married, this shows how much Jig is willing to risk for him. She doesn’t care what she wants or how she feels, she cares about what she has to do to keep this man smiling, even if that means destroying the thing that could get her out of this unhealthy path she has taken.

We get to a point in life when we try to find a deeper understanding in what our purpose is. Jig is craving that more than anything and sees this unborn child as that opportunity. Despite knowing what will please the American man, and already considering it, she can’t help but dream of what else is out there, and what this child could do for her. She walks over to the end of the train station. “Across the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river through the trees.” This detailed and bliss description of nature symbolizes the new life growing inside of her. She tells the American man they “could have everything… the whole world… we can go everywhere.” As he repeatedly says, “No, we can’t,” back to her. She feels like she is so close to starting fresh if she has this baby, and the possibilities of her life ahead are endless. She could finally become someone and feels motivated by the whole idea of motherhood, only to be shot down by her negative partner who is too selfish to think of anyone but himself. He then dares to tell her, “You mustn’t feel that way,” and to go, “back in the shade,” where he is standing. The shade is a symbol of their dark lifestyle revolving around his own happiness. It becomes apparent to Jig that the American man isn’t considering her feelings at all and can’t help but feel hurt. She was willing to listen to his opinions on this decision, but he is closed off and completely unwilling to see anything positive that can come from them raising a child together. He tries to make it seem like he feels this way because he loves her by saying, “I don’t want anyone but you. I don’t want anyone else.” What he really wants, is to continue their life as if nothing happened. He wants what is convenient for him and what is easy. He doesn’t care that that would mean Jig would have to make this huge sacrifice and has the nerve to call the situation, “perfectly simple,” which sets Jig over the edge.

A common stereotype for women is that they are notorious for not saying how they actually feel. The story ends open ended with the American man unable to see the train when he brings the bags to the train tracks. This could symbolize not knowing what the future would bring and what the couple would end up deciding. Jig’s attitude suddenly changes shortly after she said, “I’ll scream,” if the American man didn’t stop talking when he made infuriated her with insensitive comments. She smiles at him when he comes back and states, “There’s nothing wrong with me, I feel fine,” when he asks her if she is feeling better. Jig decides to bite her tongue and doesn’t have the energy to argue anymore, or not speak for their whole train ride to Madrid, so she says she feels fine but really she’s far from it. She still has to make this life changing decision, and since the American man is unsupportive, she realizes how alone she is in this.

Few decisions we make can compare to having to decide if an abortion is right for you or not. It is something that will always stay with you and it takes a lot of strength and time figuring out what to do. Hemingway used symbolism to show the challenges of having to go through this problem with a stubborn partner who has his own interests at heart. Jig wasn’t just considering having a baby but a whole new life altogether, far from the one she has been living with this man. A life with meaning and substance because at the end of the day, that’s all we really want as humans. We want our lives to matter, we want to have a purpose on this earth.

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All Good Things Come to an End. (2021, May 17). Retrieved from