Analysis of Abortion and Ambiguity in Hemingway’s ‘Hills Like White Elephants’

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Updated: Sep 13, 2023
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Written In 1927 by Ernest Hemingway, the short story “Hills Like White Elephants” tells about a young woman named Jig and an American man drinking at a bar close by a train station in Spain. Throughout the story, the author gives us dialogue of the conversation between the two but many readers actually misread the ongoing tension between the two characters. Ernest arranged what is called the “Icebreaker theory”, meaning that the underlying theme of the story is hidden, a big portion of the context is excluded, which leaves the readers to come up with their own interpretation.

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When reading, the story begins to unfold as the American and Jig discuss an “operation”, it is not obvious to what the operation actually is, but my interpretation is that the two are discussing an abortion from the very little context given in the story.

First, Jig describes the mountains she sees as “white elephants’’ white elephants is an old saying meaning an “unwanted possession.’’ The phrasing hints that Jig is pregnant by the American. Pressure is intentionally on the woman to make a decision to go through with the abortion or her relationship with the American man will come to an end. ” I think it’s the best thing to do. But I don’t want you to do it if you don’t really want to.” (275) The American expresses that he thinks it would be the best thing for her to get the abortion because he truly loves her, but if she didn’t, he feels that things wouldn’t be the same for the both of them, which is why he would leave her. Jig on the other hand wants to have the baby and still be with the man but it clearly isn’t an option.

The big question about the story is why does The American want Jig to get an abortion? If he really loves her having a baby should be a blessing but in this case it is a burden. Coming from an historical approach, the author’s own life experiences play a big role in the plot of the story. Throughout Ernest’s life he experienced many misfortunes which led him to bring out his experiences through the characters.Ernest had 4 wives throughout his life. My thought is that one out of the 4 wives he had became pregnant and he wanted her to get an abortion. Giving up a child in the 1920’s wasn’t very viable so abortion was the only option. (424)

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Analysis of Abortion and Ambiguity in Hemingway's 'Hills Like White Elephants'. (2021, Mar 09). Retrieved from