Ernest Hemmingway tells the story “Hills like White Elephants” nearly through pure dialog about two lovers conflicted over a serious decision. As the story progresses and through their tight conversation he
reveals to us a great deal about their personalities, but leaves the details of the relationship between the two hidden.
He gives his audience just enough information to find out the details of his story through detective work instead of coming outright by writing “Their relationship has suffered a great deal because of this decision…” etc. He leaves it up to his readers to basically solve the mysteries of his literature, which in return grasps our interest to his work even more. Perhaps this intentional way of writing is the reason for his name being so well known in the literate world.
The first thing I thought of while reading the title of this short story was the symbolism of the White Elephant. As many would know, they do not exist unless they were born with an albino deformity. This of course is something unwanted because they burn easily from the sun’s UV rays, thus helping make the white elephant symbolize something unwanted. The same goes as well for humans. And according to www.wikipedia.com, “A white elephant is a supposedly valuable possession whose upkeep exceeds its usefulness, and it is therefore a liability.” This unwanted issue of our couple is hinted to us through the story as the burden of a possible child.
The lack of communication throughout the story creates tension between the American and the girl, whose name is later on revealed to us as Jig. This is seen through many areas of our story such as when Jig talks about how everything tastes the same, and “Everything tastes of licorice.” (pg 351). She does not come out and say what is exactly on her mind, but rather hints her frustration immaturely by throwing little fits or being short with her American lover. By being referred to as the girl and by her communicative actions we can assume she is very young, which would make this decision even harder for her.
It is clear to us that both the American and Jig have differentiating opinions on what action to take about the abortion. The American refers to the abortion as “the operation” as if taking the crucial importance away from it. He’s more nonchalant about the ordeal and to him; it’s more of a simple decision than the girl is making it out to be. To him it’s very simple. He believes this annoyance in their lives can be removed and never thought of again. Jig believes that whether or not she keeps the baby their relationship will never be as it once was. “And once they take it away, (they) could never have it back.” (pg 352).
The difference is that the American is unattached because the fetus is not inside him. Jig on the other hand is carrying the life of a possible new human being inside her and feels the natural bond between a mother and her unborn child. The American tries to convince her that the abortion is simple, while Jig feels otherwise. She is tired of traveling and ready to settle down and start a family of her own. She is bored with her current lifestyle and longs for motherhood. The only thing holding her back from this is the disapproval of her man. She is trying to make a more mature outlook on life by debating the possibilities of keeping her child. Once she has come to these conclusions, Ernest Hemmingway gave her a name, instead of calling her just the girl, symbolizing the importance of her becoming a more mature woman able to make wiser decisions.
Ernest Hemmingway’s work is so wonderfully written and the way he narrates his stories makes them flow so smoothly. As you stated earlier in class today, every word he uses needs to be there. He does not give us extra to read, but gets straight to the point and makes you really think along the way. He gives us just enough details to spark our imagination and gets us to think while allowing us to get inside the heads of our two main characters.