Hills Like White Elephant

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Misleading Image of the Girl in “Hills Like White Elephants”
In Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “Hills Like White Elephants,” the male character serves as an obvious antagonist, shown by his unsympathetic behavior towards his lover who contemplates having an abortion. The girl is faced with two choices – to protect their relationship by having an abortion, or keep her baby, but have the man leave her. Though the operation is physically done to her body, the girl does not have much power in the decision making because the man dominates their relationship. As a result, the girl represents the stereotypical image of women, lacking independence and strong-will. However, after the story is taken into historical context of the time period it was written, the readers are able to understand her failure to withstand the man’s manipulation. Therefore, though it is unclear whether Hemingway purposely portrays the girl in a negative light, his use of characterization, symbolism, and dialogue illustrates the subjugation of women in the 1920s.

Hemingway sets up the story by putting the girl in an inferior status to the man through his descriptions of both characters. When he introduces them as “the American and the girl,” he shows the unequal balance of power within their relationship (Hemingway 1). Whereas the man is given an identity as an American, the girl completely lacks any source of identification because she is just referred to as the girl in the beginning of the story. Ironically, the readers are only able to find out her name, Jig, through the man’s dialogue, but never through the author’s characterization. In doing so, Hemingway puts the girl in a lower status than the man because the American, not even the author, is the one who gives her an identity. Not long after she is introduced, the girl looks at the bead curtain and asks, “What does it say?” (Hemingway 1). This reveals that she is in a foreign country, unable to understand its language. Consequently,...
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