Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway
In Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway we have the theme of reliance, communication, discontent, change and conflict. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unknown narrator and is set at a train station in Spain. The setting of the story is important because it acts as symbolism for where both protagonists are in life. They are at a crossroads, unsure of which direction to take as can be seen through the conversation they have. Though the reader never fully knows what the American and Jig are talking about (simple operation), it is widely accepted by critics that both are discussing whether or not Jig should have an abortion. It is obvious to the reader that the American thinks Jig should have an abortion, while she remains unsure (sense of conflict between both characters).
Hemingway uses symbolism to highlight to the reader the possibility that Jig may be pregnant or is pregnant and has to make a decision. On one side of the landscape there are no trees (barren) and no shade while on the other side there are fields of grain and trees along the banks of the River Ebro (fertile ground). Also the two sets of train lines that the narrator describes to the reader at the beginning of the story act as symbolism to suggest to the reader that there are two ways that Jig can go. She can agree to have the abortion (which is what the American wants) or she can decide that she wants to keep the baby.
Hemingway also uses symbolism very early on in the story when Jig tells the American that the hills ‘looked like white elephants.’ This is important because it is through this suggestion that the reader gains some insight into what Jig and the American may be talking about. A white elephant is a gift that a person may not particularly want or something that doesn’t fit into their lives. In this case it is Jig’s unborn child (the white elephant). It is obvious that the child doesn’t fit into the American’s life, hence him asking Jig to have the operation. An operation that he assures her is ‘really an awfully simple operation.’
From the beginning of the story it is also obvious that Jig relies (or is dependent) on the American. An example of this reliance is when they order drinks. Jig doesn’t speak Spanish so she is relying on the American to order the drinks for her. However by the end of the story the reader is not as sure as to whether Jig still needs the American. There is no doubt that she is discontent with the way they live their lives as can be seen when she tells the American ‘that’s all we do, isn’t it – look at things and try new drinks.’ This remark by Jig is important because it not only suggests to the reader that Jig is unhappy about how she and the American live their lives (in essence out of a suitcase) but also suggests that she is open to change (open to having the baby). There is also a sense that the relationship between Jig and the American may have run its course, a point that can be seen at the end of the story when the American is at the bar in the train station having a drink while Jig remains sitting down at the table. They are separated from each other.
There is also a sense of confinement in the story, particularly with the American. He believes that a child would change the relationship. While Jig is telling him that they ‘can have the whole world,’ he tells her that ‘No, we can’t. It isn’t ours any more.’ This suggests to the reader that things would change for the American if Jig has the child and that the change (in the American’s eyes) would not be for the better. A child would restrict the American from living the life that he wants to live.
Hemingway ends Hills Like White Elephants with an open ending. It is never certain as to whether Jig will agree to have an abortion, though there is the sense that she is no longer reliant on the American. She realises that the relationship may have come to an end and that it is time to move on and live her life without the American. The idea that she is stronger now than she was at the beginning of the story can be seen in the way she asks the American to stop talking (end communication). It is as if she has heard all she needs to hear and her mind is made up (about the child and the path the relationship is taking). However her decision is not made clear to the reader. What is clear to the reader at the end of the story is that the American is using logic to try and persuade Jig to have an abortion (no child means they can continue living as they have been) while Jig knows that even if she does not have the child things will not be the same with the American.