Hills Like White Elephants – Ernest Hemingway
“Ernest Hemingway was an American journalist and novelist. He was born on July 21st, 1899 in a well-known Chicago suburb called Oak Park, Illinois. His father was a doctor and his mother taught voice and music lessons. After graduating from high school, “he wanted to enlist in the army, but his father forbade it” (Beegel). Instead of joining the army, he began a job as a reporter for the Kansas City Star. He eventually found his way into World War I as an ambulance driver in Italy for the Red Cross. During his time in World War I, Hemingway was severely injured which led to him to need several surgeries. While recovering from his injuries, he decided to return to the United States to pursue a career in writing. Throughout his career he traveled to many countries such as Spain and France. Although he was married four times and had three children, he was able to maintain a successful writing career. Hemingway is most recognized for his novels “The Old Man and The Sea” and “The Sun Also Rises”. Despite having a great career as a journalist and novelist, he suffered from alcoholism and severe depression. Like his father, Hemingway’s depression continued to affect him severely which eventually caused him to commit suicide at the age of 61. The American, one of Hemingway’s characters in his short story “”Hills Like White Elephants”” is remarkably relatable to Ernest Hemingway himself because this character has relationship issues, a connection to Spain, and travels a lot. Therefore, the American is a manipulating character who suffers from possible alcoholism, relationship issues, and selfishness as him and his significant other debate on whether she should get an abortion or not.
In the beginning, Hemingway introduces his readers to the two main characters of the story, the American and the woman. The two are at a train station in Spain where they are currently waiting on the train to arrive. It is unclear why the two are at the train station in Spain, however the reader can define that they both travel a lot because their travel bags have labels on them from every hotel they previously stayed at. According to a commentator named Enrique Lafuente Millán, “The reader does not know much about the characters, or about what has happened to them before” (Millán). Throughout this story, Hemingway does not disclose many details about these characters. In fact, the reader never learns their real names or learns their exact appearance. However, the American does call the woman Jig at one point in the story. The reader receives a hint from Hemingway in the beginning of the story that the American possibly enjoys drinking. The American states, “It’s pretty hot, Let’s drink beer” (Hemingway 785). Although this is just a small hint, the reader can define that the man does like to drink. Another hint the author gives is when the American states, “We want two Anis del Toro” (Hemingway 785). This is yet another drink he orders after he already drank the beer he received in the beginning. The reader can also define from this statement that the American can speak Spanish because he knew how to read the name of the drink. Towards the end of the story Hemingway states, “He drank an Anis as the bar” (Hemingway 788). From this statement, the reader can clearly identify that the man suffers from alcoholism because he has drunk several drinks within the short 40 minutes of being at the train station. Although this trait may not seem big when compared to others, this in fact is a very relatable trait to the author himself.
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Furthermore, the reader can quickly define that the American has relationship issues with his significant other. The first argument between the two occurs when they begin talking about white elephants. The woman insists that the man has never seen a white elephant. However, the man states, “Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything” (Hemingway 785). In this statement, the reader can clearly see that the two characters seem to be holding in something that is causing tension and senseless arguments between the two. As the story continues, the man states, “It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig” (Hemingway 786). Here the reader can define that the man is suggesting that Jig should get some type of operation. Although Hemingway never directly states the exact type of operation the man wants Jig to have, it is strongly hinted that it is an abortion. The man claims that her pregnancy is the only thing that is causing them to have relationship issues when he states, “That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy” (Hemingway 786). The reader can define that the American does not want her to have the baby simply because it is making them unhappy. The two continue to go back and forth arguing about this situation. After Jig begs the man to stop talking about the abortion he states, “I’d better take the bags over to the other side of the station” (Hemingway 788). From this statement, the reader can define that the couple does have communication issues as well because the man had to walk away before the argument intensified. Therefore, the couple cannot agree on the situation or even have a simple conversation about the baby which leads to them having relationship issues.
Lastly, the reader can identify that the American is very manipulative and selfish towards Jig because she does not want to have the abortion. The reader can first identify that the man is selfish when he states, “We’ll be fine afterward. Just like we were before” (Hemingway 786). The man is insisting that Jig must get the operation for their relationship to be fine. He continues to manipulate her by saying, “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 786). Here the reader can see that he is trying to be sympathetic, however, he suggests that it is simple, which defeats his statement of trying to show sympathy towards Jig’s feelings. Jig questions his love for her and he responds by saying, “I love you now. You know I love you” (Hemingway 787). In this statement the reader can define that the man does love her, however, he does not state that he will continue to love her if she has the baby. His manipulative and selfish ways continue when he states, “I’d do anything for you” (Hemingway 788). This statement is the most manipulative of all because what he really means is that she should do what he is pressuring her to do. He believes that she should get the abortion not because that is what she wants to do, but because that is what he wants. Although Jig is indecisive on whether she should get an abortion or not, the man remains selfish and does not show any true sympathy towards her feelings. Therefore, the American’s manipulative and selfish behaviors result in the couple never deciding on what to do about the abortion by the end of the story.
As can be seen, the pregnancy is the main issue in this story. The American’s manipulative ways cause the couple to have an unhappy relationship as they continue to debate about whether Jig should get an abortion or not. His alcoholism plays a significant role throughout the entire story because he continues to order several drinks as the two argue about Jig’s abortion. It is very well known that Jig’s pregnancy is what makes the man unhappy. He believes that having an abortion will save their relationship from its current issues and put everything back to normal. However, the American’s selfish and manipulative attitude proves that he only cares about himself as he continues to pressure her about getting the abortion throughout the entire story. The end of the story leaves the reader wondering if she ever made the decision to have the abortion or not. Some commentators believe that, “The existing relationship between the American and the girl will deteriorate, or terminate” (Hashmi). One can only wonder about what the couple decides to do because Hemingway never reveals the final decision. There are many themes within this story, but the most important seems to be choices. Neither the American nor Jig can completely decide if the abortion is the best solution, however, the final decision they make will indeed have consequences. Overall, this story provides a great example of how some decisions are not as simple as one may make them seem.”