The Effect of Decision Making
Decision making is something that everyone does everyday, whether it stands an effortless or a difficult decision. Many elements in life influence decisions and make them easier or more complicated for people to come up with an agreement or a compromise. Sometimes an agreement or compromise is not possible, and someone does not get his or her way. In Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “Hills Like White Elephants,” a couple waits at a train station in Spain and they begin conversing over drinks and it becomes clear that the girl is pregnant. The man wants her to abort their child, but the girl does not know if that is what she wants to do. This conversation reveals a lot about their character, but the decision the couple makes remains unclear. Therefore, the reader is left to infer as to whether the girl decides to have an abortion or not. Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “Hills Like White Elephants,” illustrates gender inequality and a carefree relationship to create the central conflict of the difficult decision a young couple needs to make.
During the beginning of the couple’s conversation, the status of their relationship becomes clear through Hemingway’s word choice, euphemism and irony. The couple’s flawed relationship is first revealed in the story through their names. After Hemingway establishes the setting, the couple orders drinks, and the woman working at the bar “put the felt pads and the beer glass on the table and looked at the man and the girl” (Hemingway 1). Throughout the entire story, the couple is referred to as the “man and the girl” which emphasizes the dominance the “man” has over the “girl”. Hemingway’s word choice serves to illustrate that the “man,” is more of an adult than the “girl” and has more experience.
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Therefore, he feels he possesses the power and control to make decisions for both of them. The “girl” does not contain enough knowledge and lacks maturity, thus, she is unable to make decisions on her own for she is only a “girl” and not a ‘woman.’ Constantly influenced by the “man’s” opinions and views, she is manipulated into doing what she may not want to do. As the couple keeps conversing over drinks about their decision to terminate her pregnancy, the man continues to make the situation seem less important. The man first says, “‘But I don’t want anybody but you. I don’t want anyone else. And I know it’s perfectly simple’” (Hemingway 3). He then goes on to say, “I’d do anything for you” (Hemingway 3).
Through euphemism, Hemingway creates the man to be extremely manipulative and selfish. An abortion is the loss of life, and the man makes it seem like it’s a “simple” procedure that won’t make a difference in their lives. The topic is not lighthearted and shouldn’t be taken lightly. The man clearly wants the girl to follow through with the abortion, but he tries to comfort the girl and give her assurance, saying that he would “do anything for her.” This displays irony as he persuades her to abort the baby because it seems like no matter what choice the girl makes, he will be happy. In this way, he is manipulates her into going through with an abortion because he states what he desires and then follows it with how much he cares about her.
The girl gets the feeling that if she does not have the abortion, then he won’t love her. Alex Link, a literary critic, reveals the influence the man has on the girl through the man’s words. Link expresses, “The movement of the text from a prominence of ‘want’ and ‘know’ to one of ‘realize’ and ‘feel’ suggests that the man is not seeking a compromise, but instead a means of getting what he wants by manipulating how Jig feels and thinks” (Link 3). Link suggests that the man shifts from telling her that he “knows” what is best for her to how he “feels” about her to win her over and bring her to go through with the abortion. He first states what he has heard about others that underwent the procedure, then he changes to acknowledge how much he loves her and only her.
This influences the girl’s decision because he does not want anything or anyone to come between their relationship. In reality, this decision has already put a dent in their deteriorating relationship. Finally, the girl gives in and is done having the conversation. This is made evident through Kenneth G. Johnson, a literary critic from Short Stories for Students, when he expresses: “He [the man] is not even listening. Finally, against her better judgement, her instincts, and her moral principles, she agrees to ‘do it,’ because ‘I don’t care about me’” (Jonson 168).
Johnson indicates that the girl does not want to be abandoned by the man, thus she feels the only way to keep their relationship is if she aborts the child. She does not obtain much self-respect and makes her decision based on what the man thinks is best for her and their relationship. This is ironic for the girl does not want to be abandoned by the man, yet she is abandoning her child. Hemingway creates the couple’s relationship to embody gender inequality and promotes this as a cause to the overall conflict.
As the story continues, there is no clear title of the relationship of the man and the girl, but their bond is illustrated as carefree through the use of a rhetorical question and symbolism. Starting to realize that her relationship is superficial and not realistic, the girl fails to bring the man to see this because he is content with his lifestyle. The girl says, “‘I wanted to try this new drink. That’s all we do isn’t it – look at things and try new drinks?’” (Hemingway 2). Through the use of a rhetorical question Hemingway exposes how the girl feels about the relationship. She knows that all the man wants to do is travel and have fun, but she is starting to realize that maybe that is not what she wants.
The rhetorical question serves to bring the man to think about their one-dimensional relationship and what they could possibly acquire if the girl gives birth. It is made clear that the girl makes her decision based on how her life was before the baby came into the picture. She just wants the man to love her and stay with her, “‘And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?’” (Hemingway 2). This indicates the girl does not care about her happiness, but rather the happiness of the man and the status of her relationship. If the girl didn’t want the baby, there would be no need for the couple to suffer through this conversation, therefore, she wants the baby.
She also wants the man to stay with her which is not realistic because he does not want the lifestyle that consists of raising a child. She starts to realize that the man does not want the burden of a child, and he only cares about living a life with no worries. Starting from the beginning of the story, it is made clear that the couple enjoys drinking. They are especially into drinking absinthe, a highly alcoholic beverage. The drinks serve as a means to avoid talking about the decision and brings up the quality of their relationship. Doris Lanier, a literary critic, explains the symbolism of absinthe in the story: “The addictive quality of the drink most certainly is meant to emphasize the addictive nature of the couple’s lifestyle.
Like the person addicted to absinthe, the two are addicted to a way of life that will lead to destruction…” (Lanier 5). Lanier suggests that the use of absinthe in the story symbolizes the couple’s relationship to reveal how obsessed the man and girl are with their lifestyle. Their style of living is not realistic long term and is strictly based on fun without thinking of the repercussions their actions hold. Absinthe is known to cause hallucinations and euphoria which also symbolizes the couple’s relationship because they, especially the man, are extremely caught up in their lifestyle that they don’t know anything other than having “fun.”
The man thinks the lifestyle they live is perfect and does not want it to change hinting to the hallucinatory quality of the drink. The hallucinations or ignorance, leads to euphoria. This suggests that the couple thinks living the lifestyle they choose to live will bring them happiness when really, they remain too caught up in the superficial lifestyle to see that their happiness will not last. The quality of their lifestyle and the symbolism of the absinthe serve as a whole to articulate the couple’s carefree relationship and how this factors into their decision making.
The central conflict of the short story is the couple’s decision to terminate their child and their surroundings play a big part in illustrating the difficultness of the decision. Hemingway uses symbolism and a simile to reveal the outcomes of the decision and how the man and girl both feel about the situation. When the story opens Hemingway establishes the setting: “The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun” (Hemingway 1). The setting takes place at a train station emphasizing the crossroads of the couple. Their decision has two outcomes, one of life and one of death.
They can choose to move one way or the other. One side of the station contains hills and trees which embodies purity and innocence and the other is dry and bare which represents the death of the unborn child. The setting serves to symbolize the conflict of the story and how the two possible outcomes remain completely different (Johnson 167). Along with the setting, the story title plays a big role in symbolizing the decision of an abortion. In the beginning of the story, the girl says, “‘They [the hills] look like white elephants…’” (Hemingway 1).
The simile of the hills looking like white elephants, compares the unborn child to an unwanted gift (Johnson 167). When the girl states this, it sparks the argument of the abortion and reveals how the man and girl feel about the child. Later on in the story, the girl voices, “‘They don’t really look like white elephants’” (Hemingway 2). This reveals that the girl may want to keep the baby, but she does not know how to directly tell her partner, therefore, she takes back what she said about the “hills look[ing] like white elephants.” The man completely misses the girl’s hint of wanting the baby, which is not surprising due to his selfish character.
Although the term “white elephants” means something negative, it also embodies another, more positive meaning. Alex Link, a literary critic, suggests that “…a ‘white elephant’ is not only a rare and sacred creature, but also a metaphor for an expensive and burdensome property…[the] burden at issue in this story is the unborn child” (Link 2). The simile and symbolism of the white elephant represents the opposing views of the couple, the girl being in favor of the “rare” and “sacred” child and the man wanting an abortion and views the child as “burdensome.” Link brings about two different meanings to the phrase and embodies the couple’s contrasting views about the decision. Overall, the story focuses on the difficult situation a couple faces based on their actions.
On the surface level, “Hills Like White Elephants” is about a couple’s decision to go through with an abortion and that is it. However, digging deeper into the story there are remarkably more elements the story offers. “Hills Like White Elephants” provides an insight to gender inequality, especially in the decision of an abortion, to illustrate how men can think they have power over a girl’s decision to abort their child.
The story also emphasizes the effects an unrealistic relationship or lifestyle can have on one’s decisions. Additionally, the story provides symbolism to reveal many elements of the characters and setting which play a part in portraying the main conflict. Even though the story consists of mainly dialogue, the couple never fully communicates with each other and never understands the other’s point of view. The man feels it is his place to take the initiative to tell the girl to abort the baby while, the girl wants the conversation to be over and complies to the man’s wishes.
This emphasizes the theme of language and communication and how the lack of understanding of someone’s views causes wrong decisions to be made. Overall, this short story is important because it consists of issues that still go on today, the biggest one being gender inequality. The story embodies how men try to control women and how women feel pressured into giving into it. Although this story displays how a woman gives into the man, the world today is moving away from that and growing apart from this stereotype. This story serves as a valuable example of how not to act in a relationship and how not to make excellent decisions.