Ernest Hemingway shows remarkable writing and hidden meaning in his short story, “Hills Like White Elephants”. Not only does this story demonstrate a well-written plot, it also distributes different message to anyone who interprets it. To one reader, the story may just consist of two people have a complex, if not frustrating conversation; on the other hand, a more complex reader who would look into the plot of the story would conclude the story being about the issue of abortion. After reading the story myself many times and carefully analyzing and further researching the context of the story, I have came to a solid conclusion that this story is about a Spanish woman, named Jig, who is reluctantly going to have an abortion.
To begin with, my main focus of this story is not to answer the question of whether or not Jig will go through with the abortion, because I have already come to answer it myself, but rather how she convinces herself that it is okay to follow through with the procedure. Through the entirety of the story we see that Jig is struggling with her choice by her own mind and values placed upon her. The story never mentions the deeper connection between the two main characters other than the undeniable fact that they are a couple. However, there is nothing written in the story to suggest that Jig and the American man are married; therefore, I believe it is safe to assume that this story was written in a time era where women are frowned upon for two decisions: carrying through an abortion or having a child whilst being unmarried. To help ease her possible guilty conscience, Jig uses multiple ways to help her process her decision on the abortion. Throughout the story, Jig is constantly debating whether or not she is going to have her baby. Even though she knows, in her mind, that she will be going through with the abortion, she openly objects towards her decision whilst engaging in a conversation with her companion.
An example of this would be when Jig points out loud to her boyfriend that the land surrounding them is so pretty and fertile (Hemingway, 274). By stating those observations, she implies that she is fertile and pregnant, and she likes it that way. On the contrary, she then proceeds to contradict herself by saying that the hills, which symbolize her baby, look like white elephants (Hemingway, 247). This is an important statement that she makes for allowing the readers to understand that Jig does not want the baby, or she does not like that fact that she has to choose between two disliked options. The symbolism in the use of white elephants can be defined as something people want to avoid, thereby implying that she wanted to avoid a baby. This is very critical because she is traveling on to the infertile ground, which can easily symbolize her abortion. As I read this the first time, I admit that I was a believer of Jig choosing life her her unborn rather than abortion but as I read more times over, I came to ask myself: if she plans following through with the abortion, the “infertile ground” then why does she try to persuade her American companion that she does not want an abortion?
Well, how I came to this answer was looking at another way to see in Jig’s mind and discovering how Jig may feel as a possible mother figure. I have and ideal reason to believe that maybe Jig’s “motherly instincts” may have kicked in. An example of this is accusation in the story is when the American asks Jig, “Doesn’t it mean anything to you?”(Hemingway, 279) causing Jig to then reply, “Of course it does.” (247). The “it”they are discussing may not be the abortion but the baby, also showing that wanting to defend a baby is only natural for a woman to want to protect her young. Despite this reason to keep the baby, Jig only lets this effect show through her physical reactions because she understands, in her mind that she is still going to do the abortion.
Another important symbol that needs to be recognized in the same reasoning of Jig’s initial decision is the alcohol. As alcohol has a negative reputation for fetuses, one would think that being pregnant would cause Jig to think twice about drinking, but Jig embraces the idea of trying new alcoholic beverages. In fact, the drink mentioned in the story, Anis Del Toro, is actually illegal in most parts of the world, not including Spain (Lewis E. Weeks Jr.). This detail in the story sees the choice that Jig makes in accepting the abortion by not only having one drink, but nearly three. I believe this shows that Jig has allowed herself to believe that her unborn child is essentially doomed anyways, because why else would she drink something that is known to harm a fetus? Jig probably convinced herself that she will never conceive the child that she is carrying, most likely meaning that her baby would not be healthy. This unfortunate and saddening truth helps pJig persuade herself that the abortion is justified. Furthermore she will not have to feel guilty because she thinks she is doing the baby a favor.
This next point addresses Jig’s American companion. When in a situation that calls for an action that would potentially make the person feel guilty, one would try to place the blame for the decisions on another, instead of accepting the guilt. I think Jig tries to place the blame on her companion for convincing her to follow through with the abortion. Possibly convincing herself that he may even be the “bad guy” in her story. Though Jig makes the decision herself, it does not help that the American is overly persistent in voicing his opinion towards Jig carrying through with the abortion. He voices several times, “It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig.” (Hemingway, 279), Jig then replies, “And you think then we’ll be happy?” (279). Here Jig tries to justify that her companion believes that if she goes through with the operation, then they will be happy together in the future. These two lines also provide a perfect idea of Jig subtly disagreeing with the American. Thus allowing her to keep her innocence and her conscience from faulting her. This quote is relevant because Jigs it shows that her values that she possess attempt to tell her that going through with the abortion is not right, but she constantly ignores her “inner voice” trying to ration through multiple reasons to put her conscience at ease. Delving into the mind of Jig makes this simple story become more complex than a reader may have realized.
This allows the reader with multiple possibilities for what the story is about, also showing us how Jig deceives her mind to change what her conscience had once told her was wrong to accept that her decision will be the better for everyone. “Jig and the American understand that the unborn child has become a white elephant” (Avitzour, Daniel) . Also, using a type of manipulative style of communication, Jig forces her boyfriend to make her decision and tries to use that as a reason as to why the abortion is right. Blaise Pascal once said, “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” (Pascal).
Hemingway allows this short story to consist of various symbols but lack of explanation towards the objective of this story, allowing his readers to interpret it as they will. He writes at the end of the story from Jig’s point of view, “I feel fine, there’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.” (Hemingway, 278). This may not actually be Jig expressing this to her American companion but rather to her own self, as if she were reassuring her mind aloud that there is nothing wrong with going through with the abortion.
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