Hemmingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"
Ernest Hemmingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" is not a story in the clasical
sense with an introduction, a development of the story, and an end. We only get some
time in the life of two people, as if it were just a piece of a film where we have a lot do
deduce. This story does not give everything done for the reader, we only see the
surface of what is going on. It leaves an open end, readers can have their own ending
and therefore take part in the story. A masterpiece of external narration, there seems
to be no focal point in the characters. One must only here what is said, not what is
thought by the two main characters, the American and Jig. Hemmingway's third person
narrator takes an objective position outside of the characters, thus providing a look from
an third person point of view.
The story told is that of a woman and a man during their trip to a place where
she can have an abortion. Everything in the tale is related to the idea of fertility and
barrenness. This main topic can been seen from the title, where "Hills" refer to the
shape of the pregnant belly, and "White Elephants" is an idiom that refers to useless or
unwanted things. In this case the unwanted thing is the unborn baby the couple is
awaiting to abort.
One can see that the story setting is in Spain, but one does not know the final
destination of the train which they are awainting. It is not known exactly where they are
or the time or date in which the story takes place. We do not even know if they really
take the train.
The train is symbolic of change or movement. Most people are afraid of
change, as this couple, since movement is not always forward, but can also mean
moving backward, as in their relationship. It could in contrast mean "the train of life".
The limited time in which the train will be stopping, two minutes, symbolizes the time
that Jig has to make her decision since she cannot risk her health in waiting for a long
period of time.
The first impression one will get when reading the text is that one is in
the middle of a dry, barren place under the sun, with no shade or trees. This reinforces
the idea of lack of life, but in contrast, they are in the warm shadow of the building
where life is. This emphasizes the contrast between the pregnancy of the woman, as
being fertile, and everything around them. The American should also be included in
this idea of fertility, as he is also apart from the barrenness and sharing the shadow.
The characters in this tale are very mysterious being that the reader knows
nothing about their lives. Sex and drinking seems to be their whole existance. Since
Jig orderes "Anis", wanting to try something different, she may be contemplating a new
relationship or a new experience in life. But, when she tastes the Anis, she complains
that is tastes like licorice, a very common, nonexotic flavor. She adds that everything
tastes like licorice, especially the things that one wants for so long. This implies that
when one waits for something for a long time, for instance a relationship, once it is
obtained, it looses the origional appeal.
The American wants Jig to have the abortion by emphasizing how easy the
procedure is. He compares the operation to opening a window, an easy task "just to let
the air in." In reality he is the one with the doubts. He knows that having a baby would
mean changing their lives, settling down . Being that their suitcases are full of labels
form all of the hotels they had spent nights, it is obvious that they enjoy living a nomatic
existance. Jig is having the normal doubts any woman can have in her situation. She
knows that her decision may change their relationship forever.
At the end of the story, the American tells Jig that they can have the world. She
replies no, they cannot. Once something is taken...
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