Essay on Setting in Hills Like White Elephants, by Ernest Hemingway
881 Words4 Pages
In the short story by Ernest Hemingway, "Hills Like White Elephants," a couple is delayed at a train station en route to Madrid and is observed in conflict over the girl's impending abortion. In his writing, Hemingway does not offer any commentary through a specific character's point of view, nor, in the storytelling, does he offer his explicit opinions on how to feel or think about the issues that emerge. The narrative seems to be purely objective, somewhat like a newspaper or journal article, and in true Hemingway form the story ends abruptly, without the couple's conflict clearly being resolved. The ambiguity of the ending has been a subject of much debate; however, the impact of what is not said in words can be gleaned through the…show more content…
Being at a railway junction (a parallel to the junction in their lives) they are in veritably the "middle of nowhere" in northeastern Spain. This physical isolation The time constraints imposed by their mode of travel only magnifies the exigency of their decision. They are only at this junction for forty minutes, and once the train arrives they have only two minutes to board. The detail that it is the "express from Barcelona"(142) is a contrivance employed by Hemingway to add a sense of urgency to their situation. The two tracks, each one representing an individual and their wishes, run parallel to each other, never crossing, and hence leave no room for compromise. It is either one track or the other.
The pair is sitting outside at a table facing the dry hills. The girl looks out at the bleak, arid landscape and comments to her paramour that "[the hills] look like white elephants"(143). He brushes off this remark as a flight of fancy; after all, the hills bear no physical resemblance to white elephants. The girl is looking at these hills as being emblematic of their current lifestyle, and is trying to find some good in it, perhaps to convince herself to heed her partners wishes and go through with the abortion. She is trying to find magic in something very grim, but this self-pacifying tactic fails. His callous response to her attempt at finding beauty only furthers the emotional and ideological
"Jig vs. the American"
In Ernest Hemingway's 'Hills Like White Elephants' the girl (Jig) and the American man are discussing the possibility of Jig, getting an abortion. The reader feels that Hemingway uses "Hills" as a pregnant woman's stomach and the "White Elephants" as unwanted gifts; for the title. Jig decides not to go through with the abortion in this story. This is shown through the choices they have to choose from, their feelings about the abortion, and the reactions of the American man in the end.
Jig and the American are at a train station during a short pause in their trip. The trip was not explained in the story, but, it was only for a few minutes. According to Renner, like the train journey, they have two things they can do: they can continue with their trip or they can go back home. The pregnancy can be looked at in the same way, an obstacle in their lives. They can either go ahead having the baby, or they can go back to the way things were before she became pregnant. One set of tracks lead to the abortion and the other set leads to the way things were (29). The decision has to be made now. There is no turning back once the decision is made. The train is stopping for only two minutes. But like a train ride they can only go in one of these two directions. As seen in the story Jig realizes that if she gets the abortion that she will never be able to get the baby back. According to Stanley Renner, Jig decides to go with her own feelings about not only what to do about the baby but also the most rewarding way to go in life. One side of the station presents a barren vista, which could represent abortion, while the other side presents a fertile field, an image associated with life (27).
Jig and the American have very different feelings about having an abortion. In the view of Consigny, the curtain in the story symbolizes the differences in Jig and the American - the girl's desire to have the baby and the American's desire to do away with the pregnancy (54). According to the story, they are separated from the people that are inside the bar by the bamboo bead curtain (54). When the girl reaches out and takes hold of two strings of the beads she talks about the two of them. In the conversation if she had been including the baby she would have taken hold of three strings of the beads. The inability to communicate throughout the story creates tension between the man and Jig. This is seen through Jig's sarcasm when talking about the licorice. When the girl say's, "Everything tastes of licorice. Especially all the things you've waited so long for (212)" the reader feels the conversation is not at all about licorice. It just builds the gap between them. Jig does not say exactly what is on her mind. Instead, she hints about her frustration. Lanier's opinion is that the American's thought of the relationship is one of a temporary state. Unlike Jig, he wants to do what ever it takes to keep this relationship from becoming one of a permanent nature (287). Seeing that all they do is travel from place to place staying in hotel after hotel and drinking all the time shows that this relationship is merely a temporary one. There is not any type of commitment in this relationship.
The American refers to the operation as if taking importance off it. He says it is not important and very easy, "just to let the air in." The American wants Jig to think the decision is hers by saying that he only wants her to get the abortion if she wants to and that he knows it is a simple operation. He is the only one who does not have any doubts about the abortion. She is having the normal doubts that any woman in the same situation would have. The American feels the baby is an obstacle in their lives. He feels that an abortion is a simple, quick remedy to a removable annoyance. This all ties to the belief that the American feels the relationship is temporary. Jig is thinking over her situation because she realizes that once she gets rid of the baby it is a final decision and there is no getting the baby back once the operation is performed. According to Passey, Jig feels the natural bond between mother and unborn child. The man tries to convince her the abortion is natural and simple, Jig feels that motherhood is more natural (33). The reader feels she is bored with traveling from place to place and drinking all the time. She is ready to settle down and start a family. She is ready for a change and she does not want life to be the way it was. She does not want to have the abortion.
It seems as though the American is the strong one in the relationship in the begining. Jig is used to following along with whatever the American wants. But, in the second half we see the tables starting to turn. Jig is not comfortable with his decision this time and she starts to stand up for herself. She seems to know how to play him. Referring back to the story, Jig stood up and walked to the end of the station. "Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Embro." According to Renner, the sentence, " Across, on the other side were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Embro" stands in pointed contrast to the story's second sentence: "On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun." " On this side" are the values associated with abortion: Sterility, the taste of licorice, and the pregnancy. "Across, on the other side" are the values associated with having the child: fertility, the water of life, and fruitfulness (29). Urgo states that the American's attempt to convince Jig to have the abortion comes too late that she has already made up her mind to have the baby (36). He feels that Jig will always resent him because, she would be getting the abortion to make him happy and she does not really want the abortion. According to Renner, he picks up the bags and carries them around the station to the other tracks. One set of tracks lead to the abortion and the other back to where they came from. They had come to the train station with the plans of taking the tracks that lead to the abortion, but he takes the bags around to the tracks that lead back to where they came from (39). Jig does not get the abortion. This story does not give everything to the reader. We only see the surface of what is happening. The reader is able to have his own ending and take part in the story. The reader feels the ending to this story is that due to the choices they have to choose from and the consequences, Jig's feeling about having the abortion and the American finally realizing her feelings that they decide not to have the abortion.
Renner, Stanley. "Moving to the Girl's Side of 'Hills Like White Elephants.'"
The Hemingway Review 15.1 (1995): 27-41.
Lanier, Doris. "The Bittersweet Taste of Absinthe: Hemingway's 'Hills Like
White Elephants.'" Studies in Short Fiction 26.3 (1989): 279-88.
Passey, Laurie. "Hemingway's 'Hills Like White Elephants.'" Explicator 46.4
Urgo, Joseph R. "Hemingway's 'Hills Like White Elephants.'" Explicator 46.3
Consigny, Scott. "Hemingway's 'Hills Like White Elephants.'" Explicator 45.5