Hills Like White Elephants

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Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Hills like White Elephants” discusses the decision one girl must make and the consequences which accompany her choice. A “white elephant” is a valuable possession which its owner cannot dispose of but whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) exceeds its usefulness. The “white elephant” in Hemingway’s story is the unnamed situation and the choice which Jig, the protagonist, must make. This drama takes place in Spain in the 1920’s, during which time the majority of the population was strongly Catholic. Jig’s “white elephant” is her unborn child. The story is set in a bar located between two sets of train tracks; one track symbolises keeping the child, and the other track symbolises disposing of it. Hemmingway uses the symbolism of the opposing landscape settings to illustrate the consequences of either having the baby or aborting the baby, and to explore the choice Jig has to make.

Across one side of the train tracks, Jig faces her potential future, should she choose to continue her life with “the American,” the antagonist in Hemingway’s story. Up to this juncture, Jig’s lifestyle with him has been one that is carefree and consists of travelling from place to place, drinking non-stop, and having unprotected sex. Although Jig tires of this lifestyle, she yearns to please the American and looks to him for constant guidance and approval. The side of the tracks where “the country was brown and dry” (210) symbolises the life Jig would lead if she chose the abortion. The dryness symbolises Jig’s fear of a life devoid of fertility or vitality. In the 1920’s, being labelled baron would imply failure as a woman. This side of the tracks is outlined with shade and shadows. The darkness is associated with death, and perhaps hell. Death could refer to either the death of Jig’s unborn child, or the death of her independence, should she choose to stay with the American. Jig, living among the strongly catholic population of Spain,...
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